by Bethany M. Dunbar
NEWPORT, VT — About 100 people turned out to celebrate the publication of Jack Lazor’s new book, “The Organic Grain Grower; Small Scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer” in a celebration at the Gateway Center recently.
Among them was Earl Ransom of the Strafford Organic Creamery. Ransom brought ice cream to the party, and when people were asked if they wanted to comment, he told a story about the book’s author, who is from Westfield, VT. When he was thinking of getting into dairy production, he came to Lazor for advice. Should he start a creamery?
Lazor’s advice: “Why not? Just go ahead and do it. You can figure it out.”
Ransom said the advice was good. He said he’s heard a comment that the two most important words in farming are “Oh well.”
“I think maybe the two other most important are, ‘Why not?’” he added.
Lazor’s book includes the history of growing organic grains, stories from Lazor’s family farm, Butterworks Farm, and all kinds of suggestions and things Lazor has learned over the years from other farmers and his own trial and error.
Vermont Senator Anthony Pollina was on hand, along with Eliot Coleman of Maine, a leading organic farmer in that state and author of the book “The Winter Harvest Handbook.”
Those who are considering growing grain in Vermont can look to the past to know that it can be done. Lazor’s book has a quote from Samuel Williams’ “The Natural and Civil History of Vermont” written in 1794, which says “the first crop of wheat will fully pay [the farmer] for all the expense he has been at, in clearing up, sowing and fencing his land.” It also says many farms were fully paid for in one season with a good crop of wheat.
In more recent years much of the agricultural land in Vermont has been used for dairy farming. But lately there is some renewed interest in growing grains, both for human consumption to avoid overly processed foods, and for animals because the cost of buying grain is extremely high.
“Until recently, local grain production in the Northeast has been a weak link in the localvore diet. Bulk bins at food co-ops and health food stores were filled with dry goods from everywhere but here,” says Lazor in his introduction.
Studies were done to see if it seemed like this demand was a fad or something steadier. It seemed that demand for local beans, grains and oils was something fairly definite and growing.
“And as it turned out, homesteaders and back-to-the-landers also wanted to begin growing small amounts of their own grains on a garden scale for home consumption….,” the book’s introduction continues.
“My own personal farming saga began in the early 1970s. While attending Tufts University in politically turbulent times, I somehow decided that a simple life providing for myself from the earth would be more fulfilling to me than political protest.”
In 1975 he and his wife Anne came to the Northeast Kingdom “equipped with a lot of idealism and a truckload of old farm antiques we had brought with us from Wisconsin.”
The couple bought 60 acres and went from there. Today, Butterworks Farm is 400 acres, 90 cows, and three generations. The Lazor family and their employees milk Jersey cows, make yogurt, cheese and other dairy products, and grow much of their own family’s food as well as food for their animals. They also grow barley, oats, wheat, corn, soybeans, dry beans, field peas, sunflowers, flax, and buckwheat.
“Crop growing continues to be my primary agricultural passion along with grain processing,” Lazor wrote.
Lazor said a few days after the book celebration he was thrilled to see so many people at his event, which had to be postponed when he had to go to the hospital one day two weeks earlier.
“It was kind of heartwarming because I feel like I’ve done something with my life,” he said.
by Bethany M. Dunbar