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The Store Is The Garden: Reflections On Growing Enough

Sean and Denise Breeden Ost standing in a wood framed greenhouse with tables piled with dried plant matter. They are lifting a sheet cradling some dried beans plants)

Sean and Denise Breeden-Ost gather the corners of a sheet filled with dried bean plants in order to take them outside to thresh. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“There’s a feeling to it that’s kind of satisfying in that way. It doesn’t feel so much like we could survive on it, as we’re able to provide some of our staple foods.”

On today’s show we visit a farm East of Bloomington Indiana, to speak with Denise and Sean Breeden-Ost about growing food, preserving food and eating food. We check out their dry bean threshing techniques and reflect on the notion of self-sufficiency in the midst of a pandemic. 

Denise and Sean Breeden Ost looking down and walking on a bumpy light blue sheet, with greenery behind them.
Denise and Sean cover the dry bean plants with a second sheet and then walk on it to loosen the dry beans from the pods. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Regular Earth Eats listeners might remember my audio essay from earlier this year, in the Spring, about pandemic gardening trends. I was curious about the notion of first time-gardeners planning to survive the year on food from their veggie patch. 

Later in the summer I learned that a couple of growers, with many years of experience, had planted a decent amount of beans for drying and corn for cornmeal. I thought to myself, "well, they might be growing enough food to survive on!"

These particular farmers also grow and put-up a lot of fresh produce from their garden--you know, canning, freezing, drying, curing. So, perhaps they could be eating their garden’s bounty all year long. 

And then I started to think more about the complicated notion of self-sufficiency. I knew that these growers were thoughtful people, so I sat down for a conversation with Denise and Sean Breeden-Ost.

Sean Breeden Ost in a face mask, holding several ears of corn in one arm,  standing in rows of tall dry corn stalks, reaching above his head for a dry ear of corn.
Sean Breeden-Ost reaches overhead to grab an ear of Hickory Cane seed corn from a tall stalk in the field.(Kayte Young/WFIU)

I also had the chance to visit their farm during the corn harvest season. They walked me through the steps of getting dry seed corn from the field to the table. 

They also demonstrated their dry bean threshing methods, which Denise says are "made up." Denise mentions her novel, and how she consulted with her mom and her granny on the term for the part of the corn ear that you break off once the husks are pulled back. Her novel, Making It All Right is full of lovely descriptions of growing food, harvesting and processing food and so many more details of rural life in Indiana in the 1940s.  She was recently featured on WFIU's The Poet's Weave.

Sean and Denise Breeden Ost standing near a wooden farm cart with face masks, and hats. They are holding ears of corn and pulling off the husks. There is wild drying vegetation behind them
Sean and Denise Breeden-Ost shuck the corn out in the field before stacking it loosely in crates and bringing it indoors to finish drying.(Kayte Young/WFIU) 
Two hands holding an ear of dry yellow seed corn with a reddish-brown cob, over a metal bowl partially filled with corn kernals
Once the corn is dry, it is shelled off the cob by hand. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
Denise Breeden Ost in profile with face mask holding a back under a grain grinder attached to a motorized juicer in a room with woodwork and a yellow wall.
They use a grain mill attachement for their Champion Juicer to grind the corn into cornmeal. They pass it through once to crack it, then a second time to grind it. After sifting it through a mesh sieve, the cornmeal is ready to be made into polenta, grits or cornbread. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
Denise and Sean Breeden Ost, in face masks, kneeling on a white sheet, lifting dry chaff and holding it in fron of a fan.
To process their dry beans, they use an electric fan and gravity to winnow the chaff away from the bean. Wearing facemasks is useful, even when we aren't in the midst of a pandemic. The dust can cause irritation.(Kayte Young/WFIU)
A close up of multi-colored beans in a metal bowl.
These beans are called Taylor Dwarf Horticultural. They are similar to an October variety, and can be used the way you might use a pinto bean. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Dosh and the artists at Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

Denise's Hot Water Cornbread

Ears of white seed corn stacked loosely in 3 wooden crates on a brick floor.

This cornbread is best made with coarsely ground cornmeal, like the kind Denise Breeden-Ost processes from their own seed corn.

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