Maine Grain Alliance rare and Heritage

Seed Restoration

Our seed restoration project aims to restore rare and heritage variety grains by turning handfuls of carefully kept seed into commercially viable quantities for farms.

The project is building a supportive network of farmers that can learn from each other, share resources and share equipment. Additionally, we are engaging bakers in the development of marketable products using restored seed.

Photos of Grain Taken July 2020

Grain Varities Under Restoration

Hulless Black Emmer

Banatka Wheat

Goldblume Wheat

Poltava Wheat

Einkorn

Hulled Emmer

Bere Barley 

Italian Durham

Spring Rye

Yellow Spring Wheat

Purple Spring Wheat

Babuska Barley

Amy Spring Wheat

ND Spring Wheat

Italian Barley

Spelt

Swedish Spring Wheat

In 2020 MGA received 6 varieties of grain from Denmark and Buck Farms in Mapleton, ME agreed to be one of the 7 farms in our grow out program. As it turned out the final site in Mapleton was going to host a trial of barley run by the University of Maine. MGA sent the samples to the University and they were included in their trials along with some spring wheats commonly grown in Maine as comparisons.  The university planted them and Richard of MGA helped to harvest the entire crop.

Enjoy the photos from Buck Farms!

The Maine Grain Alliance is currently restoring seed for three different strains of Einkorn, black Emmer, flint corn, and several strains of rare and heritage ryes & wheats.  After several years of restoration, the Maine Grain Alliance now holds the western hemisphere’s largest supply of a rare Estonian wheat called Sirvinta.

Richard, our Rare and Heritage Seed Restoration Program Director and Vice Chair of The Maine Grain Alliance, walks us through his seed plot in Solon, Maine. Richard works to gather and grow heritage seed varieties, testing their viability in the Maine climate.

In this video, Albie Barden gives historical context and shares current uses for the flint corn varieties he is stewarding and resorting.

 Albie is one of the founders of the Maine Grain Alliance and helped initiate the first Kneading Conference in 2006. Professionally, Albie is a 40 year veteran oven, cooker, and masonry heater designer, including the Tiny House heater; and builder and the co-founder of Maine Wood Heat Company, Inc. He is also the co-founder of the Common Ground Country Fair, the Masonry Heater Association of North America, and of Flint Corn in Maine. Albie has been a lifetime organic gardener and is passionate about growing and preserving heirloom varieties of flint corn.

Learn more about Seed Restoration with the Somerset Woods Trustees on Taylor Field in Skowhegan

At the beginning of the spring planting season for 2020, there were already a substantial number of winter grains that had been planted in the fall of 2019 and were beginning to take off.  An eighth of an acre of hull-less emmer that had been developed by Richard Roberts had been planted the previous fall as well as some banatka hard winter wheat, poltavka hard winter wheat, some einkorn that had been sourced from Daniel Des Rosiers, some einkorn sourced from Henry Bieler and a small amount of Goldblume hard winter wheat sourced from Dennis Christensen in Denmark.

Over the winter the Maine Grain Alliance sourced 6 varieties of spring grains from Agrologica, a seed company run by Anders Borgen in Denmark. Four of the grains were hard wheats, one was a spring spelt and one was a barley. We received about 12 lbs of each of these grains and each variety was divided up into 1.5 pound lots. Seven different farmers were contacted and agreed to plant all six of these varieties at their locations.  The sites were chosen at different locations around the state.  One location was in Freeport, near the coast; 4 were in central Maine and 2 were in Aroostook county in northern Maine.   We began by planting at Land Trust Farm owned by Richard Roberts, MGA’s Restoration Project director using 2 Earthway hand seeders bolted together.  It was determined that each 1.5 pound lot would need 50 x 50 feet.  We asked each of the other participants to prepare a 50 x 150 foot plot for all six varieties and Richard traveled to 5 of the 6 remaining sites and planted all 6 varieties by hand.  As it turned out the final site in Mapleton was going to host a trial of barley run by the University of Maine.  We sent the samples to the University and they were included in their trials along with some spring wheats commonly grown in Maine as comparisons. 

The sites varied in preparation and fertility and weed control became a problem at some of the sites. Six weeks after planting, a foliar spray of seaweed fertilizer from Maine Organics was applied using a backpack sprayer and later each site was weeded using a hand wheel cultivator.  In August each site was harvested using MGA’s BOAZ mini grain combine and the seeds were cleaned and weighed.  The results varied due to site fertility and weed pressure.It was good having the varieties grown in the controlled environment of a University trial for comparison.  We plan to replant the seed harvested from these sites with these and additional farmers to determine which varieties do best with the goal of making them available for farmers in the future.

In addition to the Denmark varieties and the winter grains, a number of other small plots of spring grains  were planted at Land Trust farm.  These varieties are part of the ongoing grow out program of the MGA: Small plots of Arentes, a spring rye; some Italian Duram; some Bere, a Scottish malting barley, and 4 varieties of spring planted Einkorn and a spring planting of emmer.  In addition small plots of an Italian barley and some Dalar, a Swedish spring wheat as well as a handful of Zanduri, an ancient wheat.  2020 was a good year for these varieties and we hope to replant and increase our yield again in 2021. 

MGA also had a demonstration plot at Maine Wood Heat in Skowhegan.  Maine Wood Heat has provided a space in the front of their factory for a number of years and this year we planted some spring wheat, barley, oats, emmer, einkorn and buckwheat.   We also had a small planting of flint corn.  There was significant weed pressure at this site this year and we may plant the demonstration plot into field peas this coming year as a cover crop to smother the weeds. 

MGA also partnered with the Old Canada Road Association to plow up two ¼ acre demonstration plots at their scenic overlook on Rt 201 on the Madison/Solon town line.  The plots were plowed and disked, limed and then later planted with a cover crop of winter rye.  We plan to plant some grains there this coming spring.  We are also working with Maine Organics, the seaweed fertilizer company on this site.  They are very interested in helping us with these demonstration plots and plan to supply us with their foliar spray fertilizer for trials.

We also worked with Herron Breen from FEDCO on our Byron flint corn grow out program.  Herron started about 1200 plants from seeds prodded by Albie Barden.  These seedlings were planted at a field provided by Richard Searls in Solon, ME. MGA split the cost of pelletized chicken manure which was applied at the site and a number of our board members came and planted about 750 of the seedlings there.  Herron also planted some winter squash there as well for a seed crop.  This corn did very well  because the site is bottom land on the Kennebec River and has adequate moisture.  A large amount was harvested and is now drying on the cob.  

Some of the seed will be returned to Albie Barden and the rest will be made available for growers.  Some of the remaining plants were planted at Taylor field in Skowhegan but did not do well as that site was too dry.  Some of the remaining seedlings were given to the Anton Farm in Solon and they report that they have enough seed to plant 4 acres in 2021 and are looking for additional seed to plant. 

The Seed Restoration Program purchased a backpack sprayer for applying foliar spray and also a small gasoline engine powered grain thresher.  Both of these pieces of equipment are available for members to use.  We also hope to be able to provide soil amendments for our Denmark grain growing team.

Our work is possible thanks to generous support

Supporting Sponsors

Our work is also made possible through cooperation with the following farms and individuals:

Our work is also made possible through cooperation with the following farms and individuals:

  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension
  • Land Trust 45 Farm, Bingham
  • Groundswell Seed Farm, Solon
  • Songbird Farm, Starks
  • Grange Corner Farm, Lincolnville
  • Maine Wood Heat, Skowhegan
  • Blue Ribbon Farm, Mercer
  • Richard Searls,  Solon
  • Jeremy Gibson,  Solon
  • Somerset Woods Trustees
  • Taylor Field.  Skowhegan
  • Buck Farms, Mapleton
  • Ben Hoffman, Bradford
  • Gromaine Farm, Woodland
  • Aurora Mills and Farm
  • Dale Inman, Freeport
  • Hilton Farms, Starks
  • Rusted Rooster Farm

Richard Roberts 

Learn More About Harvesting Grain on Small Scale

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