Join me on September 20th at 5 PM at the Saint Peter food Co-Op. I’ll be giving a talk for the global climate strike on an agricultural response to climate change.
Here’s a quick summary:
Agriculture and food production is the foundation of modern society and reflects our values, our views of the self, science and technological practice. As one of the oldest and most important professions it is intimately tied to our future survival on earth in the age of climate change. In this talk, local organic wheat farmer Ben Penner will present some possible responses to climate change through agriculture, including a discussion of a novel new crop called Kernza that represents a huge step forward in how farmers can help sequester carbon in their fields while producing feed, forage and a nutritious grain that can be used for milling, baking, brewing and many other uses. A Q & A will follow.
I have a poet’s sensibility around agriculture. That’s not to say that the hard numbers don’t make a difference to me, they certainly do. What gets me out of bed is that I get to work outside in a nearly magical landscape with machines and scientific principles that I understand and yet do not fully comprehend to do meaningful work in the world. You could try to capture this fully on a spreadsheet, but you would fail to grasp what is really happening.
The mission of my farm is to inspire human flourishing through agriculture. This mission is decidedly social, even theological in scope. I believe in agriculture and the cultures that support it. So much so that I think it’s one of the best ways to live even despite the frequent hardship and uncertainty that surrounds it.
I think agriculture and the communities that support them need to keep this aspect in mind when considering policy, or even how to talk to one another about the work. It’s more than a job – it’s an investment in intangibles that in their total make up the tangible product that is food – cultural, social, communal and vital for our very existence.
Eating local is good, but alone it is insufficient to address human flourishing. Taking care of one another as stewards and shepherds of the land, and of each other is crucial to this understanding. How we go about that is another matter altogether, and will take all of us reflecting, writing, thinking and being human with each other.
Thank you for joining me on this journey, and for your support of my partner stores and bakeries.
Jill Shellenberg from Hillsboro, Kansas shares her recipe for Zwiebach (also spelled Zwieback), a traditional Mennonite bread. [Updated and Edited March 9: Jill made some changes to the recipe!]
1 package yeast
½ cup water
2 tbsp. sugar
1 can of evaporated milk
Add milk to evaporated milk to equal 2 ½ cups
½ cup canola oil
3 tsp. salt
Approximately 3½ to 4 cups Flour – half whole wheat – half white
In a large microwave proof measuring cup, combine the can of evaporated milk and milk to measure 2 ½ cups. Add water, oil, and sugar and heat in the microwave for two minutes. Mix in yeast and let it rise for at least a half an hour.
In a larger bowl combine the salt and a few cups of flour. Add the yeast mixture. Add flour by the cup and knead the dough until it isn’t sticky.
Let the dough rise for several hours.
Shape the dough into zwiebach and let rise for at least a half an hour.
Bake at 375ᵒ for about 15-20 minutes
Friends of the farm Dan and Jenny Kapernick made this amazing whole-grain pizza dough on Superbowl Sunday.
Here’s the Recipe:
18 oz. whole wheat flour
11 oz. water. 1/2 oz. yeast.
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
Mix by hand, dough should be wet and sticky while kneading. Lightly flour counter top and shape dough into a ball. Let rise for at least and hour in a warm spot covered with a floured tea towel. Divide dough in three, knead a second time and form into a balls again. Allow dough to rise once more while you prep pizza ingredients and warm oven to 470. Shape dough into a 9” crust, top with whatever is local and tasty! Slide pizza into oven and reduce heat to 460, cook for 10-12 minutes.
Makes three 9” pizzas.
This morning as I drove onto my farm, I noticed that most of my 1874 Turkey Red Winter Wheat was lying flat on the ground. It was planted in the most protected area of the farm. Most storms and wind come from the West here and there’s a hedgerow to the West, but this was must have blown in a bit more from the South.
Just the other day, it looked more like this.
And a few days ago, it was blowing nicely in the breeze, like this.
As I began to assess what to do next, I thought that maybe it would be best to just process what was happening. To acknowledge that this was happening, and just to sit with it for a while.
So that’s why I’m writing this post.
My farm is built on the assumption that while agricultural knowledge through science is vast, there is still something to learn about how agricultural systems (and economic and cultural systems) as a whole work together. This is knowledge that could be called ecological, or cultural or sustainable.
And so the bedrock value of my farm is experimentation, learning and and the resulting knowledge gained from success and failure. My hunch is that in the tension between success and failure (however defined) is the beginning of knowledge, and the essential part of learning.
So, for now, I will sit with this fact, and see what I can learn from it.
UPDATE: 12 hours after this was written, the wheat stood back up (for the most part). See standing “resurrection” wheat below.
Ben Penner Farms is a 36 acre certified organic farm located in Belle Plaine, MN. I grow alfalfa, hard red winter and spring wheat, food grade soybeans, lentils, black beans, pinto beans and organic vegetable starter plants. If you are interested in buying organic whole grains and beans, please email me at email@example.com.