By Richard Roberts, MGA Board of Directors Member and Heritage Seed Restoration Project Manager
I met Bo Dennis, the farm manager at Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC), during the summer of 2016. Bo had an acre of land available and wanted to plant some grain. We both agreed that a partnership between MGA and KVCC would be a great idea and in September of last year I drove our 6 row seed drill down to the campus and we planted an acre of Sirvinta wheat. Here’s Bo using MGA’s planter.
The KVCC farm has an interesting history. About 5 years ago, KVCC acquired the farm that was part of the Goodwill-Hinckley School campus in Fairfield and created a Sustainable Agriculture program. The farm is organically certified and supplies food for KVCC’s Culinary Program. KVCC’s Hinckley campus on Route 201 in Fairfield has undergone a major renovation over the past five years and both the facilities and programs are remarkable and innovative. Whether you have college-bound high school students or just have a general interest in a modern community college, it is worth a tour.
We had good success with overwintering : the farm is right along the Kennebec River and has a lot of clay, so some of the lower areas didn’t do well, but generally the wheat survived the winter. This is Bo standing in the Sirvinta just before harvest in August of this year.
I arrived with our BOAZ mini combine and with the help of Bo and his Sustainable Ag students Sharon Coolen, Darren Derrico, Heidi Duncombe and Sarah Fallon , we got the grain harvested. Unfortunately, there was a lot of Ragweed growing in the wheat and we had to clean it right away to get all of the green ragweed seeds out of the grain. You could feel how moist the green seed was making the grain and we were worried it would start heating up and sprouting. We cleaned the green material out using MGA’s portable seed cleaner and put the grain into a solar dryer, both of which MGA purchased from a company in Searsport, Maine called Adaptive Ag.
This solar dryer has a fan that blows air over the grain, and the heat from the sun dries it . This particular unit has a plug-in fan but some of the units have solar powered fans. After a few days in the sun, the grain was dried to about 11% moisture. Then Bo and his team cleaned it again to get out the dried ragweed seed. Bo has since stored the grain in food grade barrels and they plan on using the Sirvinta wheat to mill into flour to use in the Culinary program at the college.
The KVCC crew has prepared a few areas where we plan on planting demonstration plots of a variety of heritage grains. We’ll be planting those plots in the middle of September. This will give his students a chance to see the entire growing cycle of these fall planted ‘winter’ wheats. It was great working with Bo and his KVCC Sustainable Agriculture students and we look forward to future collaboration with this gem of a community college here in central Maine.