The farmer behind the wheel of the tractor and the co-founder of Tenera Grains, Brad, grew up on the farm with wild stories of climbing silos to catch the sunrise and driving tractors to school. His daughter, Claire, is the other co-founder. Ironically, while she was growing up, she vowed to move far away from the farm and didn’t want anything to do with the country. But a few years after university, she moved back to Michigan to start a new business with her dad. Together, we carry the history of the family farm while starting some new traditions of our own.
The Smith’s have been farming in southern Michigan since 1837, when Azariel Smith cleared the first plot of land. The farm has grown to 2,300 acres and we are just as dedicated to the land and what we plant as he was. Technology and farming methods have evolved since Azariel arrived, but there are still challenges farmers face every day.
The Smiths have been farming here for seven generations.
In the beginning of 2015, corn prices were down to $3.50 per bushel and it was becoming harder to sustain the farm on the dwindling cash crop market. A family friend suggested we grow teff after he saw it in Africa. Rather than stick to the traditional cash crops consisting of corn, wheat and soybeans, we jumped on the opportunity to diversify our crop portfolio while possibly being able to save the farm.
We had been told teff prefers a climate similar to Ethiopia – hot and dry. Michigan is known for its humidity and unstable temperatures due to being surrounded by the Great Lakes. Our first year was filled with uncertainty as to how the teff would react to being in a different climate but we had a successful harvest. Since then, we’ve worked hard to adapt our methods and machinery to best suit the grain.
Our Farming Philosophy
We are proud of our conservation record. We practice no-tillage farming and rotate our crops every year to maximize benefits for the soil and environment. Conventional farming requires the farmer first to plow then to “fit” the fields to disrupt weed growth, bury crop residue left from the previous harvest and create a smooth seed bed for spring planting.
In contrast, no-till leaves the field untouched between the fall harvest and spring planting. No till works in conjunction with crop rotation to maintain the micro-organisms and nutrients in the soil. It also helps prevent soil erosion because the soil is more permeable and absorbs more water.
We are proud of our no-till farm.
With our excellent conservation record in mind, Brad works with our farm manager to decide which fields would best fit teff and which methods to use to produce higher yields. This process is more complicated than it sounds as they have to many things to consider:
- Every field is different in terms of soil composition due to previous crops, presence of clay or sand, and water run off
- Some crops add nutrients back into the soil but strip away other nutrients that it needs in order to grow
- Some fields have a propensity for weeds
Farmers are constantly learning – from new technology to the nuances of navigating weather outcomes, they have to be confident in what they’re doing or risk getting a lower yield than they predicted. If things are really dire, they might plow up the field and start all over with new seeds as long as it’s not too late in the season.
The risk of farming coupled with a steep learning curve of growing teff has made for some challenging years with disappointment and many seemingly wasted hours. But with increasing interest in teff and new equipment, we have become more confident in our ability to grow the ancient grain while creating income for the farm.
Teffola may only need a small portion of the teff we grow right now, but I’m certain that as more people discover our granola and our mission, the farm will grow into something Azariel Smith would be proud of.
Whether you’re looking to maintain a healthier lifestyle or are starting over gluten free, the following links are great resources that may be helpful in making better choices. Some of these blogs promote going gluten free and others include nutritious meat dishes. Regardless of what you prefer, we always support buying local as much as possible and eating more vegetables!
We always support buying local.
The three goals of Erin’s blog are to help you create a recipe, explore any ingredient and stock a pantry. Her blog is a fantastic place to browse if you’re just starting out.
Another great gluten free blogger, Shauna has written several books and won the James Beard Award for her book Gluten-Free Girl Everyday.
Dan experiments with all kinds of food. He eats meat, gluten, and dairy but has vegetarian, vegan and gluten free recipes. His recipes come from 24 different cuisines.
After years of health issues, Karina finally discovered her Celiac’s disease and has been gluten-free for 15 years. While her story sounds familiar, her blog has enough recipes to keep the most ambitious cook busy.
Brian is an Indiana farmer on 2,000acre farm where he plants corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat. He gives readers his farmer’s perspective on important topics like Monsanto and precision agriculture technology.
Andrew and Brian are Associate and Assistant Professors, respectively, at the University of Wyoming. Their research on weed management programs and the long term impact of invasive weeds has led to many publications.
No-Till Farmer takes a close look at agriculture and no till farming. The publication is the host of the National No-Tillage Conference and offers a detailed guide on how to start your no till journey.
If all this talk about cookies has you feeling hungry, check out this recipe for Date Cookies using Tenera Grains’ own teff flour!