Commercial grain growers in Vermont are a tiny group, and Randolph Center's Beidler Family Farm is among them. In addition to a herd of 35 dairy cows, Brent Beidler, along with his wife Regina and 13-year-old daughter Erin, farm 15 acres of wheat, spelt and millet. They sell their milk to Organic Valley and their flour to markets in central and southern Vermont and New Hampshire, where demand is growing.
For three years, they've been cleaning that grain on a machine that dates from the early 1900s — a machine called the Clipper. “It’s a pretty old, antiquated seed cleaner that does a modestly good job, but I won’t be able to get parts for it when it breaks down,” says Brent Beidler. “I realize I’m on borrowed time.”
A used but modern seed cleaner that the Beidlers have their eye on would cost $5,000 and streamline their production of 10 to 15 tons per year. It would also enable them to expand their product line. The Beidlers inched much closer to retiring the Clipper when they found out had risen to the top of a pool of 72 farmers vying for $10,000 “Grant a Wish” award from Stonyfield.
Stonyfield launched the contest a month ago as a way to highlight the stories of the organic farmers who provide milk for their yogurt. The Beidlers are one of six finalists, and the only farm from New England. Whether they win will be decided by voters on Stonyfield's Facebook page, where each of the farmers have posted a video about themselves and their plans.
The Beidlers began growing grain not only because of its scarcity and synergism with dairy farming, but also because of a passionate commitment to seed saving and sharing. Seed industry consolidation and the prevalence of genetically-modified seed “are some of the most alarming situations in our food system. It’s critical that farmers be able to save their own seed," says Bielder, who saves the seed from their Red Fife heirloom wheat, and also sells seed from their Japanese millet to other local farmers.
Whether they win the top grant or one of the smaller awards, the money could be a significant boost for their grain operation. Beidler and his family were overjoyed to learn that they were finalists. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time.”