Chemical Free by ’53! 100% Organic | Grain By Grain | Interview #287 Bob Quinn Returns | Big Sandy, MT


Today I am so excited to introduce my guest Bob Quinn who is back to tell us about his new book

Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food

You can read the Golden Seeds Issue #7 here if you prefer!

Here’s my 5 star review, make sure you write yours!

MY REIVEW ON amazon of Grain By Grain by Bob Quinn

Thanks so much for sending me your book, you were worried if I would be able to read it and then I whipped through it in under 48 hours was so engaging!

Thanks Jackie!

It was a lot of fun to write  with Liz who is a great partner who made the story easy to read. She was able to keep it free flowing from one topic to another.

There’s so many things to discuss, it’s a bit of a challenge to meet the limitations that they place on us from keeping the book  from being a gone with the wind version with so many topics.

We tried to hit the highlights of subjects I’m passionate of

all because we have been encouraged to look at our farms like factories and industrial agriculture food systems.

I love the relationships you build and people you talk to. I love biographies, I’ve had a lot of time to read this year, I’ve been to the library a lot this year!

Liz Carlisle

Along with Liz Carlisle author of the Lentil Undergound

Why don’t you tell listeners a little about yourself?

Well I was raised on a wheat and cattle ranch in Big Sandy about 12 miles out of town. Near Havre Great Falls. It’s South of Canadian border where Alberta and Saskatchewan meet. My father was raised here and I started after him and now I raised my children so 3 generations ~

I don’t see any of my children coming back. I have 18 grandkids, maybe one of them. I leased out my farm to a couple of my employees, that I have trained.

I had a great time! I had my turn in farming! It was fantastic now it’s time for the next generation to learn! I’ve gone from 4000 acres down to 4 acres.  I continue some of my experiments throughout my life and try to grow all my own food:

  • dry-land vegetables
  • grow melons drylands
  • storage
  • non storage like tomatoes

in a field with no irrigation which is a total challenge.

We’re sort of like that here, my husband grew up on a 1200 acre ranch and we have the last 20 acres and we have very limited water.  You’re such a scientist and talk about how you try 40 lbs of potatoes and narrow it down to five.

If we look at food as a health component and they have different criteria to add to that there are all kinds of things we can learn. with different types of food. What we have looked at in recent years is the cost of food and making it cheap  and high yielding in order to have it cheap.

High cost to the Cheap Food

Starts with the farmers aren’t paid enough to stay in business and make a living


artificially cheap food at the check out counter

That’s only the first parts of it. I’m interested in teaching people

food should be ear health and medicine and medicine should be your food. If we could reduce the cost of medicine and health care while food has decreased in price.

The cost of food in the average budget has decreased 61% while the extra money we saved on health care we didn’t get to spend it on boats etc the cost of health care has increased 61% and those are astounding statistics!

what we have done to make food cheap.

Is it true in drylands farming something new farmers would be interested in. They’re not getting watered down so they increase in nutrient value?

Reduce Inflammation

I’ve compared tomatoes I’m raising tomatoes in my field with no irrigation side by side, the flavor intensity in the drylands tomatoes is really noticeable

what makes


polyphenols are very strong antioxidants attributed to reducing inflammation

choosing higher nutrition in almost aliases  vegetables and foods by their aromas

one criteria

one thing we notice in drylands

organic non-organic

People often comment on the intensity of the flavor and that’s what were seeing which is connected with health.

There’s no way they could grow dry-land vegetables non-organically could they?

I suppose but the value of non-organic

People are willing to pay more and they’re higher value and so they’re actually getting more for they money.

What we do is give those vegetables about 3xs  more space then you would normally do in an irrigated field or in places like the midwest where they don’t even water their lawns



3 times more space then they normally receive

produce and each plant will produce as much as an irrigated.

1/3 per many per acre but we have lots of acres so that’s not a problem. Really reducing the cost of our farming except the labor to control weeds.

But the cost of inputs like water is just nil.

That makes sense because clean water is becoming more scarce, and so people might want to learn about this drylands farming. I feel like if we were practicing more of these practices we wouldn’t see so many fires and smoke in summers.

We are seeing that on our own farm. There’s no time to debate about climate change farmers need to respond to it. What we see, generally, what we see are the rains are ending sooner and the heat is coming sooner. So our spring crops are becoming higher and higher risk. One thing we’re trying is planting traditional spring crops in the fall so they can get through the winter and benefit from early spring rains and start maturing before the heat really hits.

Yeah this year we still have 2-3 feet of snow in our yard and 2 weeks ago we were below 0º at the beginning of March.

It’s not really correct to just refer to climate changes as global warming per say. Although the glaciers are melting in Glacier Park and also in the ice caps.

What we are seeing more of are the extremes.

A few years ago we went from the extreme a high amount of rain that we would normally have on the top of the rain cycles to the very next year was an extreme drought which would normally be at the other end of the cycle and 5-6 years off.

And you are definitely the data man to know all that kind of thing.


Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food

What do you want to tell us about our book?

I’ve seen a lot of people write a lot of books to tell their story. I spent 5 years trying to put something together that would be the story of our

  • KAMUT® story and
  • ancient wheat story and what I have
  • learned in organic agriculture
  • importance of food as medicine
  • lots of these different things I have learned along the way.

I didn’t have any luck finding a publisher.

Finally I bumped into Liz Carlisle, author of the Lentil Underground who is from Montana we bumped into at that field day and  many of the people in the book she wrote about we were having  reunion and I asked her if she would partner with me.

The bigger story is what we have done to our food system.

So we dive into the high cost of things:

  • the high cost of  cheap food
  • the high cost of farmers the high cost of going out of business
  • farmers who went out of business
  • next high cost to our planet

global climate change ~ a vehicle to tell the bigger story

  • My listeners are always interested in learning what they can do to be more productive and better farmers and I’m sure many of them are wondering how can they become a Kamut farmer, I know one thing I am interested in is the hemp project and how is that coming along?

Montana Hemp Farming Project

Well, for us a little bit slow we started out with 7 acres that took us 2 years to sell that crop. I always caution my friends to be sure you have a market before you sell it.

That’s interesting because there’s actually a big CBD plant here in Eureka and they were saying they couldn’t get their hands on enough hemp and had to start their own farm in Shelby kind of near you.

Well now CBD that’s a different  product then we were growing. We were just growing the industrial plant for the seed and with the CBD oil you have to harvest the plant green and then you extract the CBD oil with alcohol. So it’s a completely different process then waiting for the plants to mature and gather the seeds so that you harvest the mature plant for seeds and we were crushing those seeds for oil. Cut and bail your hemp crop as it’s quite immature just as it’s beginning to flower you have to know what’s your market.

Industrial Hemp

We were involved in distributing industrial hemp this spring. Maybe a 100, couple of thousand acres. I don’t know if they were sure they knew where they were going to sell that product.

I was thinking you were so good at making connections and building relationships and I love that picture of you and your parents at the farm show in California and how you were willing to get out there and find markets and talk to people, starting out with your Kamut and have just gone on from there.

Well you mentioned a story about not everybody gets to be a farmer but I like to remind folks if you are eating, you’re actually a co-producer. As Carlo Petrini in the slow food movement in Italy if you are not a farmer but eat you are a coproducer


That’s a connection not often thought about but very important.

The eaters in this country are really in the drivers seat!

what they order at restaurant

what they eat at home

really drives what the farmers are planting


That’s the vast majority of farmers now only about 1%. So we’re looking at the 99%

If they want a regenerative organic agriculture and renewable systems that don’t pollute the earth we have to grow food more that’s actually nutritious all they need to do is buy more organic food

All they need to do is just buy one additional product then you did the last time that will begin to make an enormous difference!

But isn’t that part of what you re talking about, I can’t afford to buy organic food a lot of the time. I’m lucky Mike grows for me a lot of organic food.

Just one more organic item

If your at 0 buy one more item.

Those incremental differences don’t make that big of a difference on your bottom line. If you are on a reduced budget just buy things that are less processed and therefore less expensive.

Our KAMUT® brand grain is a very expensive grain, it costs a couple of dollars a pound were to buy the it in the store. But if you were to buy that and take it home and crack it and make hot cereal you could feed a family of four for less then 50¢, so it’s not a big cost.

So if you look at the drivers if we start increasing the amount of organic available the transportation and handling costs will start to come down the more we have available and it becomes less of a specialty item.

Do you want to talk about your fruit trees and 4 acres you are gardening on now?

Sure, I also like to experiment with what else can we do in the prairies of northern Montana besides wheat and barley. One thing I have been experimenting with for 10 years is fruit trees. We have about

  • 21 different varieties of apples
  • pears
  • plums
  • sour cherries
  • fruit bushes

We can’t grow sweet cherries here but we can grow sour cherries.

I have about 20 different types of native berry bushes.

All the way from:

  • seed buckthorn from Siberia
  • buffalo berries
  • currants
  • chokecherries
  • service berries that are native berries available here in the coolies on our farm. We want to see what berries grow best.

We grow grapes!

Some varieties my daughter is making red wine vinegar out of the grapes and sour cherries which is just fantastic!

Whenever I went to Italy I used to bring home some balsamic vinegar because it was so fantastic but I don’t do any more I use my daughter’s sour cherry and grape vinegars!

They are just as flavorful and unique!

Just have to see what has to be done

We’re making a sour cherry mix with apple makes a great tangy breakfast drink that could be substituted for orange juice that is coming from thousands of miles away.

We could grow something here in Montana that’s just as nutritious and  good for you right here at home!

Awesome cherry with apple!

How about some secrets for pruning fruit trees or growing cherries etc?

Well they don’t grow by themselves you have to prune them properly. One thing I learned was the advantage of growing standardized trees!

We’re really on the edge for our climate

zone 3 We had a couple of hundred apple trees available for zone 3.

Some didn’t work so good, some didn’t taste so good, some didn’t fruit, whatever. One thing I learned was a secret to me.

What I found that in extremes in weather I was buying in semi-dwarf trees, when you put a standard tree on a semi-dwarf rootstock

makes them semi-dwarf or dwarf or standard,that’s putting stress on that tree so it doesn’t grow like normal. I thats the net effect of reducing the climate zone and I lost about half semi dwarf trees so now I have been replacing them with standard trees. That was one secret I didn’t know before and I know now, I’m glad to share!

That’s some great golden seeds for listeners! That’s what I call valuable nuggets or value bombs that my guests share!

What about that story you told in the book about the grasshoppers? I love the ways your always testing things, and you had this one field of wheat and this huge grasshopper infestation came in and one organic field that did ok, but then you sprayed some herbicide or something and it did it’s job but then the grasshoppers came back or something?

Organic transition

That story occurred in 1988, it was my second season of organic experiments. I was so excited about the success I had the first year that I stopped using chemicals on about 1/2 my farm and so about 1/2 of my farm was going into an organic transition.

’88 was a severe drought year and we can often get hordes of grasshoppers that come in and they eat everything during a drought. They eat everything! They even ate the bark off the lilacs!

Grasshopper Infestation

They were coming for my organic field and starting to show up. I had the spray plane come and he sprayed Malathion which is a strong insecticide! You’re cautioned not to enter the field 24 hours because it’s deadly to people too! It’s deadly it’s a poison!

It did kill all the grasshoppers in the field.

I had new grasshoppers in 5-7 days returned and there was more then ever and they almost destroyed what was left. At that time I couldn’t afford to spray it again. At harvest I had more grasshoppers in my combine tank than grain!

Meanwhile on my organic field that was right  across the creek bottom from the non-organic one. I treated that field with a protozoa which is halfway between a bacteria and a virus you might think of it that way.

That was placed on the wheat bran and you spread the wheat bran just in the strip on the edge of your field. The grasshoppers as they start to move into your fields. and they eat that first and the grasshoppers who eat that get sick and then once they are sick their friends eat them! That’s how it spreads from grasshopper to grasshopper. Once they destroyed 20-30 feet before they died at harvest time they hadn’t hardly affected the crop at all and there was very few grasshoppers in the combine tank which was now full of grain!

That was the last time I used chemicals on my field, I was a complete convert by then!

I was very excited as when I saw use the best of what chemistry had to offer for chemical industrial Agriculture and it failed failed dramatically and that was that was the final nail in the coffin as far as how I’ve used chemical Agriculture and how I convert it to organic!

And not only did it fail but like isn’t part of the reason it was super expensive right to buy that pesticide right?

Yeah they’re not cheap and if it don’t work then they really expensive! You’re just giving the chemicals companies.

It’s  an artificial system, mostly I’m talking about industrial agriculture is an artificial system mostly propped up with government subsidies, not that go to farmers most of that money they get from the federal government to pay their chemical bill. So it’s a  transfer of funds from the federal treasury into the pockets of the chemical industry,  industrial complex and the international one which is bigger and bigger and that’s where the money is going. The farmers are not the end recipient of the great advantage from the system.

Speaking of big corporations.

One of the stories I was reading (in your book, Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food ) you were trying to connect with this big scientist to see what’s the weed threshold and they didn’t want to answer you right? Do you want to explain what a weed threshold is really quick?

Weed Threshold

When are we are growing winter wheat,  the weed pressure that means that weed population in the winter would be so low I was wondering where is the threshold. We know that where you’re if you’re spraying a herbicide it sets that crop back, you are going to reduce the yield a little bit. It affects the non-targeted plants also to a certain degree.

So my question was to my chemical representative. I was dealing with one of the largest chemical companies in the country, in the world.

I said could you tell me how many weeds per square foot that I should be worried about causing a economic impact on my crop before I would to choose to spray herbicide on it. I think that’ll be a very valuable piece of information.

He said, I’ll get back to you on that and he never did of course. I was always curious where the balance was. This was before I was organic. After I started experimenting with organic, I just didn’t care anymore about the use of chemical herbicides because I felt like I had found a much better system to replace it with.

Is there anything I missed that you want to talk about?

I’ll tell you one thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot since I attended the last Organic Expo in California ~

Natural Products Expo West

It’s the biggest Organic Food show in America, not the world, but at least in America. We were at a seminar where folks were talking about the goals of organic production. We are at about 5% right now, we were talking about goals of 10% or 15% and I finally stood up and said “I think we should be talking about 100%!”

If you think about putting it in increments, the last 30 years, my generation has taken organic production and organic availability of food in the grocery store from near zero to about 5% and it’s growing at a rate greater than 10% right now.

So if we look at what our generation has done is open the door in a established a 5% threshold where organics can be found almost any grocery store now. If we want to look at the next 30 years of her growing at 10% a year and starting at five in thirty years were going to reach 100%.

Challenge For the Next Generation

My challenge is for the next generation is walk through that door that we have opened and finish the job! It’s 1/2 done in 2 generations it can be finished!

So in 100 years from the early nineteen fifties in 100 years we can say that the the great American experiment with agriculture is finished!

Wow you’re a big dreamer Bob! But being the big dreamer is what makes you as successful as you are! You started one of the first organic associations was because you wanted an organic standard for Montana and that’s what got you started right?

AERO MT logo

AERO: Alternative Energy Reource Organization

Well, not just me, I had lots of good help like Dave Oien who had been farming organically many years and Jim Barngrover who had been very involved with organic activities and those few friends I soon found with AERO: Alternative Energy Reource OrganizationAERO

It was sort of the hotbed of this kind of thinking in those days. It still is but has certainly grown beyond the small group we had then and with like minded folks allowed us to

really allowed us to come together and do things for the community

There to go where people haven’t gone before. I was an early adopter. AEROentrance

That’s how I found out about you and met Liz! That’s how I found out about AERO. Robin Kelson took me to my first AERO conference!

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Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

My garden is my passion! It’s is my what I do instead of going to coffee it’s my recreation. It’s how I relax, where I meditate and think about things. I experience great joy from growing my I own food I have always loved growing plants, it’s my passion, gardening is my outlet for that passion.

It’s really great fun! I make my own compost and I put a little bit of aged manure from the from the corrals here on it with the compost every year. I use drip irrigation so I’m not over-watering or wasting much water because my well water is terrible so I have to rely on surface water which is in limited supply

So I’m trying to figure out every angle I can on how to increase productivity

So what grew well last year?

What grew well were my watermelons! They were 25 to 30 pound watermelons and they were delicious! They were even more fun to eat we had so many at the end!

One type I had gotten from friends of mine in Israel. People don’t want seeds in the watermelon any more. So they harvest them for snacks like we eat sunflower or pumpkin seeds here they eat  watermelon seeds

don’t throw away

juicing it saving the juice that was my most exciting trial

This year I’m trying now to see if I can extend the season a little bit.  I lost a 1/3 to 1/2 melons to frost.

not that it was really early

longer season plants

If I can figure out an earlier start

Dry-land Transplants

I found that the transplants for dry-land, they get off to a quicker start but the direct seeded seeds really catch up and do as well or better then the transplants. There’s always a little bit of transplant shock and with drylands it’s important that they start out healthy and really spending out and looking so I think that even if it’s really important at the roots are healthy and able to be when is spreading out looking for water that that’s the most critical limiting thing that we have for trial and production.


My sunflowers do that same thing!

Sometimes I’ll put some in and then the ones I put in later almost late I just feel like they all kind of flower the first week in August and no matter what if I put them in in June they all kind of like the ones in April are more likely to grow a little taller.

That’s true and with something like tomatoes that you would normally transplant, they seem to grow faster, it’s a trade off, when your watering them there’s probably less of a trade off than with dry-land.

So do you seeds started indoors now? Do you have watermelon?

Frost Seeding

That was with my crop. I’m looking at barley different barley lines if I were doing purple and Hollis parties and see if any of those really survive the winters I’m experimenting safflower going in the fall or even late fall its called frost seeding so it’s ready to sprout very early start so those are the kinds of things are experimenting with those are filled with watermelon send my direct seeding all those for sure and the only transplant tomatoes and peppers and I didn’t see those because they take longer to get started I might do that though and just see what happens with the drylands cultivation this year sure

You sure are an experimenter I like I like that because I feel like if I experiment it seems like water challenges anyways. Anyway Bob what’s your favor

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

Harvest for the

I enjoy the trip all the way along and watching things grow and develop!

eating fresh vegetables

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?

Well, probably my hoe ~ that’s the one that seems most versatile to me.

I wold take a regular old fashioned hoe

more thing

not such a wide hoe

A favorite recipe you like to eat from the garden?

I like to make

Roasted beets


forms like a caramelization

hash brown

stir fry leafy green vegetables

  • tomatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • pasta

baked squash in the winter time

delicata and carnival varieties. They are as sweet potato we don’t buy sweet potatoes!

I’m gonna try to grow more winter squash, I like to make a dish for potlucks chilean squash and I went to buy one yesterday that was $10 and it wasn’t even organic!

A favorite internet resource?


If I have a question that is really hard variety I just google it.

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

favorite magazine

New Farm

Rodale’s Organic Gardening

rodale I’ve always been a fan of the research they have done

close exchanging ideas

If you haved a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

Don’t give up your day job!

I am going to try something new to start small! and and learn it! and learn it by doing a small and then build on their successes instead of borrowing as a whole bunch of money and just jumping in with enormous debt and investments in something you don’t have any idea of the potential for success.

Go talk to people that are doing what you want to do and I found that organic folks are mostly really quite free with their information if you are looking at some kind of a manufacturing where you can get some information from further away in the next state or across the country a different state or something from someone that don’t see you as a potential competitor.

Customers are really going to be inspired by that one change you like to see passion about our project nationally or on a global scale well for me the conversion to organic agriculture is has so many ramifications since I mentioned earlier the survival of the founding father of the survival of small real American communities of the pollution of our Earth can be approved or helped by a conversion from the chemical industrial system failure cause her to a sustainable regenerative organic system.s

I encourage people to focus on something that satisfies and feels like you are making a contribution.

Final question-

if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

For me the conversion to organic agriculture has so many ramifications. As I mentioned earlier:

survival of family farm

small rural communities

turning back the pollution of our earth

remediation of climate change

most importantly remediation of our chronic diseases

All that can be mediated and improved by the conversion from chemical sustainable to a regenerative sustainable ag system.

It’s a big area as I mentioned earlier but everyone can have an influence on that by what they buy

vote with your dollar

Wasn’t there something on Food Waste Reduction?

Going back to your concern and this is a big concern for a lot of people. My point of view is that chemical food actually costs more it just doesn’t cost more at the checkout counter.

for people on limited budgets, actually all of us. If we would watch how we care for food because waste about 1/2 of the food in america. If you normally spend $100 a week

$200/week to buy organic

non organic

took those groceries instead of wasting 1/2

non organic

didn’t waste anything let anything go moldy in your fridge and gets thrown out. What if you used everything, what you peeled off to make broth, there are other ways of utilizing your food. Waste was almost nothing

one potential criticism is the world is going to starve chemical agriculture industrial complex

seeds  chemicals to grow those seeds

My experience is that on my farm, our yields are about the same as county averages. Experiments at Rodale in Pennsylvania have shown the same thing.

The organic system does not mean a reduction in yields. We are never as high in wet years and in dry years they are much higher then our neighbors! Because their crops are down to 0 where were still at 8-10 bushels per acre which is not much but it’s a lot bigger then 0 so when you do the averages they look about the same.

third world

the truth is industrial is only feeding 1/3 of the world the rest of the world is being fed by local small farmers ~ in Asia and Africa.

There are published studies from Africa and india indicate that if those small local farms converted to organic principles particularly if they were doing

soil building activities

and rotations and that break up the cycles of pests

as we’ve seen on our farms that they would double their output of food they could grow!

If you doubled or tripled their outputs on 2/3 of the world production systems if you did that you could end world hunger

In my mind from the research I have seen organic agriculture has much more potential to feed the world then most elaborate systems

That most of the third world can’t pay for anyway! That’s kind of my closing statement on that!

I think that’s the perfect way to end this as we started to get Organic Gardening Magazine back in 2000 when they had a very similar article!

I would love to see you on Democracy Now! or Thom Hartmann on TV cuz I just feel like this book and really it’s because it combines like the science and but but he’s got that for her that storytelling heart too and they just like it you know this is really compelling why we need to but it is a way to get that information out there and so other people were here and I just love your dream of us 100% organically cuz we used to be before the work we can do it!


Today I am so excited to introduce my guest Bob Quinn who is back to tell us about his new book

Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food

Here’s my 5 star review, make sure you write yours!

MY REIVEW ON amazon of Grain By Grain by Bob Quinn


Thanks so much for sending me your book, you were worried if I would be able to read it and then I whipped through it in under 48 hours was so engaging!

Check out my first interview with Bob here it’s a must listen!

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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