The complete title of Jack Lazor’s new book is “The Organic Grain Grower: Small-scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer.” But as friends have discovered, and as Steve Getz of Organic Valley puts it best, it could have been called “Jack in a book.” In addition to being the ultimate guide to growing organic grains on a small scale, it’s just like sitting down with Jack and listening to him talk about everything he’s learned over his lifetime of farming. Jack’s a good friend, and it’s fun to listen.
And when I say “everything he’s learned” that’s exactly what I mean. At 412 pages of text, this book contains everything you need to know to be a successful grain grower – especially for folks in the Northeast. Jack spent decades learning from “old-timers” and farmers all over who had been growing grains. In this book he combines their knowledge with his own experiences and study to give you the answers to questions you don’t yet know you should ask. Then he wrote it in his own voice, so that it feels like sitting down with a friend. If you’re going to grow grain, either in your backyard or on your back forty, this is the book to have on your shelf. If you want to read about farming because it is a beautiful and amazing process, and you are a bit of an agriculture geek, you’re going to love it.
In the first eight chapters, Jack gives a careful and complete explanation of the process of growing grains, from soil to seed to weeds to harvest, cleaning and storage. For more than 100 pages, he describes the details of each process so carefully that even when you look up and out the window at snowfall and subzero freezes, you can picture preparing a seedbed and planting. In the next nine chapters, Jack goes through grains one by one, offering a lifetime’s experience with each chapter on corn, wheat, barley, oats, winter cereals, dry beans, oilseeds, and “minor grains” such as buckwheat, grass seed, and legume seed.
Information on equipment is a big part of the book. Having good equipment makes all the difference, and Jack describes his experience finding and operating equipment. Finding a good piece of machinery in good working condition that is the right size for your operation and your budget is all part of the challenge. How and when to use, maintain, and store the equipment is another part of it. Jack shares his stories of buying the perfect piece of equipment, and the duds, throughout the book so we can learn from his successes and mistakes.
While the book is full of technical details, it also contains beautiful images, like the one on page 243, when Jack writes, “Nothing is guaranteed when we put a crop in the ground. We just need to visualize that beautiful day in late July or early August when golden-colored barley is streaming out of the combine’s unloading auger and mounding up in the wagon. It’s moments like these that keep me coming back to planting barley year after year even though things don’t always turn out exactly as I would like.”
Butterworks Farm, where Jack and Anne farm, is in northern Vermont. Being so near Quebec, much of Jack’s knowledge has come from across the border. A good portion of it has also come from other “old timers” in the northeast. As Jack explained, folks used to grow grain in the northeast, and the body of knowledge from that period is what he sought out when he started. Since Jack has farmed in the northeast, that’s the grain growing he writes about. He explains the basis for some of the things he shares, like timing for seed planting and harvest, and methods for storage. If you’re reading this in a different neck of the woods, you’ll be translating some of these ideas for your own use. Even with this leap from region to region, what he shares here is so valuable, it makes the book is well worth its price.
“One of the greatest things about a career in agriculture,” Jack writes on page 344 “is the relationships that are forged among farmers– that genuine love of farming transcends all sorts of other barriers that divide people.” With this book, Jack does what he has done so well all his life. He shares his love of farming to create relationships with all of us.
Want to learn more? Jack will be speaking at the March 13 Annual Grain Growers Conference to be held in Essex, Vermont at the Essex Resort and Spa. Click here for more information, to register, or to download the conference flyer.
Editor’s note: Jack has been struggling with a number of health concerns and is now on dialysis. The cost of his health care has been hard for the farm to bear. But he’s got that same great Jack attitude. Even in the hospital when his kidneys failed, he said, “I’ve been given a gift of life. In the past few days– I have a new sense of gratitude…I’m just happy to be alive. It’s just nice to be here.” There is a site set up to help Jack. If you are able to, please contribute.