March 2009

gardeningSpring is almost here! Are you itching to get out and plant something? If you’ve never gardened before, or if you’d like to get a little more organized about it this year, come to our Garden Planning workshop on April 5th, 2-4pm at the Pittsfield Grange. The session will be led by local resident and Preserving Traditions founder Emily Springfield, known to at least a few as the Completely Crazy Garden Planning Lady.

Topics to be covered:

  • Where to start, if you’ve never gardened before
  • Optimal spacing for various vegetables (based on square-foot and biointensive principles)
  • Laying out your garden on paper or with computer help. Whichever you choose, you’ll leave with reusable templates that will make laying out your garden a snap each year.
  • Plant families and simple crop rotations
  • When to plant what

It’s also a great chance to talk with fellow gardeners and collaborate on seed purchases.

What to bring:

  • A notepad, pencil, eraser, and ruler
  • A roughly scale sketch of your garden. You can also bring pictures of your yard and we’ll help you figure out the best place to site a new garden.
  • Any notes you have from previous gardens
  • If you have a computer and Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, bring a USB drive (or your laptop) and we’ll send you home with some slick digital planning templates.
  • Optional: seed catalogs to discuss or seeds to swap

RSVP here! [note: this link was updated March. 18th]

Note: Preserving Traditions is now part of the Pittsfield Grange! Grange members attend all PT events free of charge. We request a donation of $5 from non-members to cover materials and use of the hall. If you’d like to join the Grange, you may download an application now or fill one out at the event.

wheat event crowdThe March 8th event on wheat and home grain milling was very informative and well-attended! Over 35 people listened to man of the hour Lee Purdy, wheat farmer and miller, as he explained about the milling process, different types of mills, and about wheat itself. A few key points:

  • Wheat will keep indefinitely until the kernel is broken (ground or cracked). Wheat was found in Egyptian Pharohs’ tombs, planted, grown, and harvested.
  • Flour starts to lose its nutrients immediately. To keep the most nutrition in your bread, grind your wheat and use it within 72 hours.
  • A kernel of wheat can be likened to a chicken egg. Shell = bran; egg white = starch; egg yolk = wheat germ.
  • The whole wheat kernel is ground, then the germ and/or the bran may be sifted out to make:
    • Grocery store white flour = starch only. The starch has calories and a few nutrients.
    • Westwind Milling “unbleached” flour = starch + bran. Leaving the bran in gives a huge nutritional boost to the flour.  (Note that unbleached flour from the store does not have the bran.)
    • Graham flour = starch + bran + germ. The germ adds fiber, but not a lot of nutrition. This is likely the flour you’d end up with if you grind your own at home. If it’s too coarse, you can sift out some of the bran without sacrificing much nutrition.
  • Gluten is the main protein found in wheat. It’s what makes pizza dough stretchy and is found in “hard” wheats. “Soft” wheats, like pastry flour, have less gluten and are better suited to cakes, biscuits, and quick breads or muffins.
  • All-purpose flour is half hard and half soft wheat; it can be used for bread (kneading helps develop the gluten) or cakes (stir it gently to prevent toughness).

lee purdyAfter Lee’s talk, we got to experiment with a few home-scale mills. One was an older electric stone-burr mill, which let us see just how close those stone have to get! There was also an old-fashioned granite mortar and pestle. Though many folks took a turn at the mortar and pestle, we didn’t end up with anything remotely like flour, and we all agreed we’d eat cracked wheat porridge instead of a lot of bread if that were our only grinding option!

Of the home hand mills on display, we only set up and tried the German Family Grain Mill. Lee commented that it was the easiest-turning hand mill he’d ever seen, and indeed, the youngest participants had a great time turning the handle and cranking out flour of varying textures. (This mill also has attachments for making oatmeal, shredding/slicing vegetables, and grinding meat. You can turn it by hand, its own electric base, or attach it to your KitchenAid or Bosch stand mixer. You can buy it at Lehman’s or Everything Kitchens, among other places.)

P.S. – Love to take pictures? Want to be our event photographer? Contact Emily at to volunteer to save the world from my inept point-and-shoot action shots!

Yes. We Can.grange logo

It’s official! Preserving Traditions is now an official activity of the Pittsfield Union Grange!

This is a really exciting development: the Grange is one of the oldest rural organizations in the US, with a long history of creating community and sharing resources in rural areas, especially in the eastern half of the US.

As part of the Grange, Preserving Traditions gets financial support and a solid administrative structure. Money raised by PT will defray costs of building maintenance, utilities, and equipment that will be used in our activities and by anyone else using the Grange hall’s kitchen. In return, the Grange gets an influx of people interested in its programs, and hopefully new active members, as well.

Benefits for Members

If you are interested in Preserving Traditions events, I strongly encourage you to become a member of the Grange. Membership is $40/yr for individuals or $70/yr for families. All people over the age of 14 are considered full voting members.

  • Free admission to Preserving Traditions events (that alone will pay for your annual dues!).
  • Earlybird RSVPs for Preserving Traditions events. Grange members will be able to sign up for events a few days before the general public…especially handy since every event so far has filled to capacity!
  • Ability to reserve the Grange kitchen for your own canning, preserving, or large cooking projects for a nominal fee
  • Input on Preserving Traditions equipment procurement. Should we buy a grain mill or a cabbage shredder? Should we have a fundraiser for a new stove? Can we find someone to donate a pressure canner? Grange members will have a place at the table in these discussions.
  • A voice in the future of the Pittsfield Grange, as well as the State and National Granges.
  • Discounts on admission to other Grange events, like dances
  • Discounts on hotels, car rentals, cell phone service, and more (see the National Grange’s pages on Member Benefits)

You can download a membership form and become a member before our next meeting!

About the Grange

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry is a national organization of farmers and rural citizens. The Grange was instrumental in breaking up railroad monopolies in the 19th century and securing rural mail delivery, among other power-of-the-people actions. It’s also a social organization, serving as a community center for rural folks, sponsoring dances, potlucks, and the like.

The Pittsfield Union Grange is a local (“subordinate”) Grange that’s been active since 1867. Unlike many Granges, our local Grange is quite active and our Grange Hall is is very good shape, due in large part to the strong communities of dancers who rent the hall for dances.