the unabridged audio file
“Thanks very much. I really appreciate that warm welcome.
With all the experts out there, I’m reminded of a prayer
I saw in a newspaper last week. It went something like this:
‘Oh Lord, please make me the kind of person that my
dog thinks I am.’
“…Let’s see, I was going to tell you a
little bit about my history. I really enjoy family history
research and I was quite amazed to find a couple of years
ago that two of my great grandfathers, Richard Pace and Samuel
Macox, were farming tobacco in 1618 along the James River,
and that’s two years before the Pilgrims showed up.
Following those lines down fourteen generations that separate
them from me, I found a farmer in every generation somewhere
along the line. So I got it in my blood I guess I came by
“But I didn’t come naturally by being an organic
farmer. I wasn’t born an organic farmer; I had to go
through a conversion. I’ll tell you a little bit about
that. It took 300 years for my family in those fourteen generations…to
cross the country, one generation at a time, everyone moving
a little further west, going on for new land and a new adventure.
“The Quinn part of the family, my Quinn side, came
from Ireland during the last part of the potato famine, and
maybe because of that their first generation was not farmers,
but the second generation returned to the land. My great grandfather
in Nebraska started out in a sod house and went broke there,
and went to Alberta and went broke there, and then went to
Washington. My grandfather, their son, ended up in Montana,
and he was the first Quinn to settle in the big sandy area
of Montana. He had to start out with a milk cow and a rented
parcel of ground in 1920, and we’re still there after
|"But I didn’t come naturally
by being an organic farmer. I wasn’t born an organic
farmer; I had to go through a conversion."
“In those days of course, they all worked with horses.
They cut grain with header boxes and reapers and …with
the thrashing machines that were done by steam engines, and
my great grandfather had one. He was instrumental in introducing
an idea of summer fallow to that part of central Washington,
which means you don’t grow a crop. We do the same thing
in Montana. You don’t have enough rain to grow crops
every year; you have to let the ground go idle to accumulate
water to grow a good crop the second year. That’s what
they starting introducing in Washington. They came from Iowa
and didn’t have to worry about droughts much in Iowa.
“Okay, now we’re in Montana…I live in north
central Montana on the prairie. Big Sandy [is] a little town
of about 800 people, and that’s if you’re counting
some of the cats and dogs. That’s where I grew up. That
was my home town. We farmed about 13 miles southeast of town.
We lived on a little hill…We had beef and cattle, that’s
what I grew up with. This is cattle country and, where you
can farm the land where it’s flat enough, wheat is the
king. That was the diversity I was used to. In 1916, Big Sandy
was just in the height of the homesteading era. They had a
great crop and everybody brought their wagons to town full
of wheat. [A] picture [of that harvest] was published all
over the country in order to lure people in to the region;
the railroad was trying to get them in for business purposes.
That was about the last good crop they had for about 15 years.
“By the time my grandfather showed up in 1920, a lot
of the first wave of homesteaders were going out. The homestead
land was 320 acres by that time. Even that much was not enough
to support a family in this region of the country. My grandfather
got to see the transition from horse power to tractor power.
He stayed on the farm until about ’48, and then my father
returned to the farm after World War II and decided he didn’t
want to be an electrical engineer anymore. He advanced from
pull-type combines to self-propelled combines and expanded
the farm until the point where we did our farming in about
“That’s the farm I grew up on—2,400 acres
may sound like a lot in California, but in Montana it’s
really only average size. It’s all dry land, and it
would be a very small cattle ranch, which we had half (about
50 head) of a great herd of beef cattle, or it would be a
fairly good size grain production of a farm if you had it
all in grains. We were diversified. I came back to the farm
in ’78, and now the combines are not only self-propelled
we have a cab with air conditioning and all luxury we only
dreamed about. Everybody had big machinery and more land and
more depth and less fun.
“I started looking around and saying, ‘What is
really the matter with this picture? Is this really the way
we want to go? Is this what we want in our farms just to have
a bigger machine and far more acres with less people?’
That bothered me a little bit; I didn’t really sit down
and come up with any great solution, but it bothered me. It
wasn’t as fun as I had imagined.
“I went to school to be a plant scientist. I went to
college 10 years; you’d think that would have been enough.
I studied botany and plant pathology and then I came to Davis,
and was at Davis for 5 years studying about chemistry, and
by the time I was finished with all of that I was really disillusioned
with academia. Is that a surprise? What I saw there was people
who were spending their time trying to figure out how they’re
going to get their next big government grant and doing empire
building instead of really cooperative science in pushing
back the frontier of knowledge and all that stuff that as
an idealist and as a kid you think you want to be a part of.
“That’s not what I wanted to be a part of, so I
came back to the farm. I thought’, ‘I’ll turn
my whole farm into a research laboratory and I’ll just
have fun.’ Well, you have to pay the bills too, and I
found that out real quick. So, I started looking at alternatives.
I decided ‘Why not market? We grow the highest protein
wheat in the country, or some of the highest. We sell the best
quality in the country…We weren’t getting credit
for the good quality we produced. So, I thought, ‘why
not get this stuff to people who’d appreciate it?’
And it ended up I found a cousin in Southern California, through
family research, who was a fourth cousin on mine. He was out
of work and he didn’t have anything to do. He wanted to
grow pheasants. I said, ‘Well, instead of growing pheasants,
why don’t you see if you can sell some of my high-protein
wheat to whole grain bakers.’ (I knew you had some here
because I used to live here.)
||"Is this what we want in our
farms just to have a bigger machine and far more acres
with less people?’ That bothered me a little bit.
It wasn’t as fun as I had imagined."
“He called me within less than a week and said he got
a customer for my grain…and we formed a very informal
partnership. He formed a company in California and I formed
a company in Montana. We called it Montana Flour and Grain…but
I started getting all these calls thinking I was the Montana
Wheat and Barley Commission, so I changed that to Montana
Flour and Grains. We started selling grain off our farm to
bakers in the L.A. area who were looking for high quality
grain and they said, ‘This is great stuff!’
“The thing that we did that kept the business going
when we couldn’t provide the grain from our own farm
that met their specs, I went out and found stuff that did
so we kept our customers and kept our customers happy. That’s
the first rule of business, keep your customers happy. That
was my goal, and we were able to do that…I was the quality
control man and wheat locator, and my cousin was the customer-relations
man. He kept the customers happy, and worked out logistics...
“So, the next year they said to us, ‘Can you
find some more organic grain with that same kind of quality?’
and I said, ‘Well, sure; of course we can.’ I
had no idea where there was any organic grain in Montana,
but I made a few calls and checked around. Three hundred miles
away from me in the northeast corner right next to North Dakota,
we found some organic grain. So I went up there and filled
out all the paperwork (these are the days of self-certification
and affidavits), so I went into the certification business—my
own certification business, sort of—and filled out the
affidavits that I didn’t spray and I didn’t do
this and that, and they met all the requirements that California
law had at that time.
“So we started that way, and I started getting acquainted
with organic farmers, and I became very intrigued about what
they were doing and their relationship with their farm. They
were having a good time; they were having fun. I would go
to large organizations that will remain unnamed and they would
be talking about how we’re going to get more money out
of the government for our commodities, our wheat commodities.
That wasn’t fun for me, I didn’t think that was
the direction we should be doing, but that was survival, that’s
how people were thinking about surviving.
“When I first went to an organic wheat growers meeting
because I had now became a little interested in this, I was
astounded at how much fun these guys are having talking about
their farms. This is really appealing to me. I love the idea
of growing my own fertilizer. I love the idea of having alternatives
to spraying herbicides. We didn’t really use much pesticides
in Montana. It’s forty below in the winter and that
takes care of most of the bugs.But the weeds are a problem,
of course, and so we always spray for that. My dad and I farm
together. It’s a big place, but two of us can farm all
of this except for harvest—my wife and my mother and
sister would help a little bit with the harvest.
“But the two of us pretty well farm together and I
always had dad doing the spraying, and this is terrible, but
I figured, ‘Well, he’s all done having kids,’
you see, and I never really liked the smell of this stuff.
He would walk by my garden, my plants had all curled up at
the tree lots—we have shelter at both sides of our place
to protect us from the winds at the prairie—and they
would always be curling from the spray drift. I didn’t
really like it but there was no alternative.
“To find that there was an alternative, this was quite
exciting to me, so we started having some family corporate
meetings. How many of you have a farm corporation? How many
know what it’s like to be in the minority position?
So, I would bring up these great ideas and my dad said, ‘Well
this is really too risky, it can’t be done here. There’s
not enough rain. We can’t grow green manures. There’s
no place to market this stuff,’ and on and on and on.
|"I always had dad doing the spraying,
and this is terrible, but I figured, ‘Well, he’s
all done having kids.’"
“Through Montana Grains (and to get back to that in
a second) in 1985 our customers said to us out in California,
‘You know if you could just now bring us stone-ground
flower, the same kind of quality as the wheat, why we would
buy everything you could produce.’ And so we thought,
‘Wow! This is great!’ So we bought a stone mill
from Austria and all the folks in Austria said, ‘All
you have to do is plug this in the wall.’ So, I had
a friend who sold insurance in Great Falls, and he hated his
job. I said, ‘Why don’t you quit your job and
come work for me and be a flour miller.’ He said, ‘Wow!
That sounds like a great idea!’ And he went home and
told his wife and she cried all night.
“Anyway, we started out with a book and a few phone
calls and within a year or so we were starting to mill our
own flour. Imagine that—our own stone ground flour!
It was great. Everybody loved it, of course, and we called
up our customers in southern California and said, ‘Okay,
how much do you want?’ And this is the guy who said
to me, ‘We’ll buy everything you can produce,
he said, ‘Well, gee whiz, that’s great. I’ll
probably take five-, ten-thousand pounds.’ And I said,
‘Ten thousand pounds?’ I thought to myself, I
didn’t really say anything, but I thought, ‘That
won’t even pay the electricity bill this month.’
And so that’s how we started.
“Luckily, we were still selling grain by the truckload.
The grain sales really pulled along the flour business until
it could get up to paying its own way. So luckily we didn’t
have any big wrecks, and I’m very thankful for that.
We started and, by 1988, we were half organic. We started
transitioning from conventional grain to organic grains. By
1992-93, we were 99 percent organic, so I really specialized
in that. Well, I became converted (and I’ll tell you
about that in a second).
“Then we built a cleaning plant so we had everything
under our own control; we could clean the grain when we needed
it. We either sold it as bagged grain or milled whole grain
flours—stone-ground whole-wheat flour. Getting back
to the farm conversion story, because of this kind of marketing
we started going to natural food expos and we went to the
first one in Anaheim and had our own booth in ’86. My
mother and dad went with me and thousands of people came by
and said, ‘Oh! That’s great! We’re so glad
you’re growing this stuff and thank you and thank you.’
My father was astounded. He came home and he said, ‘Well,
it appears there is a market for this stuff.’ So we
had another corporate meeting and I got to experiment with
20 acres. Now that’s about 1 percent of our cropland.
And I did a 20-acre experiment, and low-and-behold my organic
experiment—which was on old alfalfa ground—was
just as good as the crop, both in quality and quantity, as
the non-organic field. I used a narrow-spacing drill, that
was about the only difference…and it made the rows closer
together and it prevented the light from coming in and growing
the weeds between the rows. The rains came just right so we
didn’t have any early weeds. My organic field was actually
cleaner than our sprayed fields because it had late summer
rains which brought the other weeds up through the grain fields
and the conventional fields because there were a lot of places
for the sun to come through.
“So, that was quite amazing and that was really exciting
to me now because I was starting to get really, really enthused
about converting to organic agriculture. The second year we
went from 1 percent to about 30 percent of the farm, and then
the third year I just went cold turkey the whole rest of the
way. Now that’s not the way I would suggest you do it.
If there’s anyone out here in the conversion mode, please
do it slowly unless you have a big bank roll; then you can do
it if that’s what you want. But I have to be honest, it
can be done over four or five years of conversion where you
won’t be at all affected by the decrease in yields and
the transition period of marketing…and that sort of thing
that you’ll face in your transition. So anyway, we didn’t
do that, we just crashed in but it turned out okay. The transition
was kind of hard. The yields went down, we of course couldn’t
market as organic until it had gone through that period and
so we had the other businesses to sort of pull the farm along,
so that worked out alright.
||"If there’s anyone out
here in the conversion mode, please do it slowly unless
you have a big bank roll; then you can do it if that’s
what you want."
“I’ll talk about my crops [shows family portrait].
This is my most important crop. They matured quite a bit since
this picture; my son is now 10 and my daughters are all, well,
three-quarters of them are all married, so I have five kids
and I have five grandkids, so that’s kind of a shocker!
It’s a lot of fun. So now we’re into the next generation,
and the reason I show this and the reason I showed my ancestry
and talked about that is because I think it’s really important
for us to recall and remember and appreciate the sacrifices
that have been made in the past by those who have really gone
before us and also to farm in a way that’s not only profitable
so that we can raise a family and help them with their needs
but also provide a farm that can be taken over by them or someone
else in the future.
I believe that stewardship really in any part of that is
leaving the land better than we found it, and that’s
why I think it’s important to look to the future. We’re
past the time that my fourteen generations had of moving west
each generation. We’re past that—that’s
gone. Now we must take what we have—we’re covering
the country—we must take what we have and try to undo
some of the pillage of the past and try to make it better
and sustainable for the future.
“I want to tell you a little bit about my grain…how
we plant legumes and grains together…We have normally
about a five year rotation. One year we grow a green manure
crop and that will sustain us for two or three crops after
that. Normally, my green manures are alfalfa and I grow them
under the nurse crop, and when we cut that nurse crop in the
fall the alfalfa can grow if there are fall rains. Then we
store all our grain in steel bins, there are 2,500 to 5,000
bushels. We don’t really worry about bugs if we aerate…We
level everything off so the bugs can’t have a place
to start. We don’t have to worry about too many insects.
“The alfalfa will come up in the spring, we roll the
ground because there are rocks and we have to get down to
where we can get closer to the ground. So we have, with alfalfa,
the advantage in that we have a hay crop the second year and
it gives the plants more time to also keep nourishment in
the ground and we’ll make that into round bails. But
the third year, we plow down the alfalfa and that’s
our green manure year. My neighbors think I’m absolutely
crazy about this, but I used to do it at night. Anyway, and
then we can grow about two or three crops.
“Lentils are the highest value crop we sell; we sell
all of those to Germany, and we don’t sell very many.
The market isn’t that big, but they’re worth a
lot of money. We sell [buckwheat] to Europe, too, because
there’s not a lot of buckwheat market in this country.
I don’t make money on buckwheat, but it’s great
for the soil. It helps me build the soil up, it helps with
weed control—breaking up weed cycles—and that’s
why I do that.
“We also face hailstorms. There’s nothing we
can with cut worms either; we just let them go through the
cycle. They don’t come up very often. Sometimes we get
help from the good Lord, this year a…butterfly larvae
[whose] favorite food is Canadian thistle, so that’s
nice. They don’t come every year. My favorite bug is
lady beetle and we’ve seen a lot more of them since
we’ve started doing clovers and alfalfa in our rotations.
All these and some experiments I don’t have time to
tell you about. There are some biological control experiments…I’m
doing experiments all the time.
“The Kamut story, I started out as a young fellow in
junior high. We went to a county fair one time and here this
old man was passing out this giant grain, and he said it was
King Tut’s wheat. I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty
interesting.’ And it was interesting, but the trouble
was no one knew what to do with this stuff. I mean, he said
his son had gathered a few kernels out of a tomb in Egypt—and
that made a great story—and brought it over, sent it
over to his dad right after World War II. His dad grew it
up and he used to pass it out at county fairs as a novelty.
A lot of people had a little jar of it – that was in
the early ’60s.
“In the late ’70s, I was in Davis. I was pretty
much finishing up there. I was reading a package (on the back
of a package) of corn nuts one day and it said, Corn Nuts—made
with a giant corn. And I thought, ‘Ah, I wonder if Corn
Nuts would be interested in a giant wheat. So I called up
Corn Nuts and I talked to the research people and they said,
yes, that it was very interesting, and so I call up my dad
and I said, ‘Dad, see if you can go find one of those
old jars of King Tut’s wheat that used to be around.’
Dad went all around to his friends and he finally found one,
he found one jar, one cup of this old King Tut’s wheat.
So, he started growing it in the garden; we grew it up a couple
years in the garden. We brought it to some friends in California
and they grew it through the winter, so I had about one hundred
pounds. So, I called the Corn Nuts people and I sent some
samples down and they said, ‘Great!’ And then
I went up, you know how they do in the corporate world, they
go up to the next level and the next level and I got up to
the point where people were saying ‘well, um, what’s
the availability of this stuff?’ Of course, I went back
down and said ‘Well, the availability of this stuff
is one farmer in Montana,’ and they said, ‘Oh,
we’re not very interested in that kind of a situation.’
So, we put our sack on our shelf and that was where it sat
for about four years.
“When we went to our first food show, my dad took his
jar and he was just showing it to everybody. Finally, a fellow
at the end of the show came up and said, ‘Wow! An ancient
grain not hybridized or anything. This is just what I’m
looking for.’ He was a macrobiotic guy. He was eating
whole grains and that’s what he wanted, so we got all
excited. He said to me, ‘If you grow this stuff I will
buy everything you can produce.’ Well, this you know
is the second time now I’ve heard this. We thought,
“Wow, we’ll grow this stuff. We’ll grow
5 or 6 acres and we’ll sell it by the pound in these
little packages and this, well this will be just like a gold
So, we started growing it and a friend of mine in California
who we was working with at the food show said he had an idea
for this, and he took it to a pasta manufacturer and they
made pasta. They had a blind test panel and they picked out
the best pasta taste and everybody picked the same one. When
they flipped over the cards, a fellow was there from somewhere
near here…and he said, ‘Well, I know which one
is my artichoke pasta, it’s the one everybody loves.”
And they flipped over the card; it wasn’t his artichoke
at all, it was ours.
“…And so we started passing it out to our friends,
and I had one friend who had terrible wheat allergies and all
these [other] allergies. She called up the next day and she
said, ‘What is this stuff? When I eat this it makes me
feel better.’ I said, ‘Ooh, well we’ll give
you some more.’ We gave her some more and she gave it
to her sister and her sister ate it for a month and she was
less allergic to other things. Then we got really serious about
this; we thought this is something really special. I started
doing research on it…We told the tomb story as a legend;
it’s a great story, right, but I really couldn’t
say the fact that we could verify that. And then we needed a
name, so I said, “Well, I wonder what the Egyptians call
this?” So I went to the hieroglyphics dictionary we have
in Great Falls, it was kind of an old one, but in the dictionary
it said “wheat”, you could go back and see what
the wheat was, and wheat was kamut. I said kamut, ah that’s
a nice name. So it’s coming from a dead language so we
trademarked it. So that’s our trademark—Kamut. Now
some people think since we’re putting a trademark on a
grain we own the grain. Well I want to make something real clear:
Only the Lord owns the grain. Okay, we don’t own the grain,
but we do own the trademark, you see. So anybody could grow
this grain; they could do whatever they wanted with it really.
We finally figured out it was a near relative of a germ, it
really has never been hybridized or changed in any way but anyone
could really grow it and do whatever they want with it, but
if they want to use the name Kamut, which is a trademark, then
they have to talk to me and I’ll tell them ‘Here
are the rules: It has to be organic, it has to be a certain
purity and all these other things that we put in this trademark
so that it means something, so people can identify with a certain
quality and expect that and receive that. That’s kind
of the 15-year story in a nutshell, and we started with a handful.
||"We’re past the time that
my fourteen generations had of moving west each generation.
We’re past that—that’s gone. Now we
must take what we have—we’re covering the
country—we must take what we have and try to undo
some of the pillage of the past and try to make it better
and sustainable for the future."
Okay, this is my wrap up. Now we’ve gone all over the
world with this stuff and it’s really been a great joy.
So, in conclusion, let me tell you (I know there’s many
success stories out there,. but there may be a few that are
just starting out, so let me tell you this) If we had any
success at all, it’s because of the inspiration I’ve
received from leaders who are here and throughout the country
in the movement that have really inspired me. It’s been
from my family and friends who have really encouraged me and
helped me. It’s been from my Creator who really sustained
me. And I know that that same kind of help is available to
all of you. I encourage you, if you’re just starting
out, to work hard, study hard, pray hard, and see what the
neighbors are doing in this area who have succeeded; take
encouragement and some ideas from them. I wish you great success,
great happiness, and have fun.