Daniel Austin of Green Sprig Ag
On July 2nd, CGA had an educational field day at Daniel Austin’s farm just outside of Rocky Mount, in Franklin County. This coincided with peak harvest time on the farm, and we were very grateful for Daniel giving us a glimpse of the action.
Daniel’s family has been farming this land since 1902, and most of his family is involved in the dairy farm that serves as home base for Green Sprig Ag. This is the name of Daniel’s retail cover crop and forage seed operation, which is the bedrock his farm. He also grows and mixes his own animal feed rations under the brand Little Red Hen Feed Mill, and sells grits flour and cornmeal under the brand Taste of Jubilee. In addition to the family farm, Daniel leases 170 acres in parcels scattered around Franklin county. All of this he manages on his own, with occasional hired help.
The equipment needed for growing seed and feed grains is nearly identical to that for growing food for human consumption. 2016, Daniel planted his first field of Nu-East wheat, which was successfully marketed to a small local bakery. In 2017 he added Appalachian White wheat and Spelt to the food grain lineup, and wants more of his crops to become food for people. Purity and quality can be a little lower for food grade crops than for seed crops, and since food-grade grains can command about double the price of seed, adding them to the mix is almost a no-brainer.
However, Daniel’s customers for bread-quality grains are looking for wheat that has not been sprayed with his typical 10 rounds of fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers. This means savings on labor and inputs, but growing quality grains can be challenging in our humid climate. So far he has been able to pull it off, and has used cover crops, sheep grazing and other techniques for alternative fertility and pest control.
At the end of the process, all of Daniel’s crops come back to the mill. This is where he uses his 1958 Clipper seed cleaner (see picture at top) to do the initial cleaning, which removes most of the chaff and debris from the harvest. He also uses a gravity table to separate seed by density, which is very important for seed crops. Finally, the products are sewn shut in 50 pound bags and ready for the customer.
For bakers Michael and Amy, this was an enlightening trip that taught us a lot about the harvest and processing of the seeds that eventually become our flour. Next for the CGA will be to help farmers like Daniel find markets for their 2018 crops, and to host more educational events on milling and baking.