Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland

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Report on CSA Oats & Potatoes Project

Transition Town Kinsale 2010-11

Introduction
Following a presentation by John Dolan of Bantry CSA in Kinsale in November 2009, a group came together to explore the possibility of growing oats and potatoes locally.

The reasons for doing this:

  • Local production of a food staple
  • Increase local food security
  • Low carbon food
  • Build community resilience in the face of future decline in energy supplies
  • Build relationship with local farmers
  • Develop a better understanding and knowledge of food production.


Potatoes
Colm O’Regan, a local organic farmer, said he would be growing a crop of potatoes and could supply members with a monthly 10kg bag between September and March approximately at €240 (€120 half share). These will be delivered locally.

Oats

Research
One member met with John Dolan to get as much info as possible on Bantry CSA’s oats project 2009 and how to grow and process oats.

The process would involve:

  • Sowing
  • Harvesting
  • Drying (to below 15% moisture content for safe storage)
  • Winnowing (cleaning dust and straw from oats)
  • Dehulling (separating outer hull to produce groat - edible kernel)
  • Rolling (flaking to make cooking easier)
  • Roasting


75 kg Sonas (a heritage variety) oats was 'borrowed' from Bantry CSA via John Dolan on the understanding that we'd return the same amount after our harvest.

Members paid €75 for a full share = c. 20kg oats, €40 for half a share.

Sowing
Oats were sown by Derry Desmond in March on his farm at Rongronw, two miles from Kinsale.

In June wild oats were found to be growing amongst the crop and an urgent weeding meitheal (community work day) was planned. One wet day later, the oats eared out and it was too late to weed as the wild oats would be indistinguishable from the Somas oats.

Harvest
On a sunny day in August, Derry harvested with a combine harvester. A very satisfying day.

2x ½ tonne sacks were purchased from Drinagh Co-op @ €8 each and the oats were stored in Derry’s shed in the sacks.

The straw was baled by another local farmer and resulted in 70 bales of beautiful golden straw. Each member received three bales of straw each with ten left over. These could be used as seating for TTK events or mulching on Kinsale Green Growers veggies. The cost of sowing, harvesting and baling was €270.

A coffee morning was held in August to raise awareness, encourage more members, raise funds and drink coffee. €100 was made and this went towards the printing of fliers which were distributed around town and neighbouring villages to get more members.

Drying
A drying spear (a long metal tube to be inserted into the large sacks of oats with a motor at one end that sucked air through them) was borrowed from Ron Skingley of Bantry CSA and the oats were dried in Derry’s shed. At harvest the oats were 16% moisture so we needed to get them under 15% to be safe for storing long term.

After a few days, there was a shock when it was discovered that moisture seemed to have risen up to 20%. Were we drying in wet weather thereby introducing wet air into the sacks? After more drying during dry days it lowered to 13.8%, a safe level for long-term storage. Moisture content was checked at Barryroe Co-op, Ballinspittle.

By September the oats group was full at 20 members.

Dehulling
40x 25kg paper potato sacks were purchased from Ballinspittle co-op.

Two members took a sample to Madeline McKeever’s (Brown Envelope Seeds) near Baltimore for dehulling. The machine was unsatisfactory, dehulling only 60% with 50% weight loss after 3 times dehulling. It seemed there was uncertainty as to how to operate the machine as the instructions were in German.

Some sieve mesh was acquired from Graeppel in Kinsale. Sieving was experimented to try to separate oats from groats (dehulled oats). 90% of the groats came through.

Five members travelled to Madeline McKeever's for another experimental day of dehulling and sieving. One sack was dehulled and sieved which lost approx 50% weight in the process, and had achieved c. 60% groat, i.e. c. 40% were still undehulled after going through the dehuller 3 times. Sieving seemed to help.

The dehuller instruction manual was translated from German into English to make sure we were doing it right. It seems the model, purchased from a company n Germany, was no longer being made.

Some sieves were made up with wooden frames for the next dehulling session.

Winnowing
Members helped winnow the oats using Derry’s wonderful 100 year-old winnowing machine in November. The oats were stored in 24 x 25kg paper potato sacks.

Dehulling
Seven members made a trip to Madeline’s for dehulling in November. It was hoped to dehull, sieve and dehull again all the oats. A long, cold and dusty day was spent, dehulling x 3 times then sieving and even dehulling again until we decided to send the oats through 4 times to dehull. Success rate wasn’t great – about 60% and 50% weight loss.

Dehulling took longer than thought. Four hours to do half the oats. After dehullling, sieving and dehulling again it was decided that this was too much work so finally the oats were dehulled four times. Better result, less time-consuming. Later the dehuller began to be less effective – cracked groats were coming through waste. Possibly it was a loss of power due to peak demand at c. 5pm. A disappointing day.

Groats were stored in a member's house till rolling and roasting. The remainder of the oats were returned to Derry’s shed.

Rolling
In January the oats were rolled using Derry's grain roller in Kilbrittain. It worked well.

Roasting
On 19th January oats were taken to a bakery in Kinsale for roasting. The bakers were really interested in the process and suggested the oats were fine and didn’t need roasting.

They experimented roasting anyway. Two trays:

One at low temperature, about 100 oC and left in for about 15 minutes. Verdict: visibly no change in the oats.

Second tray – repeated above but they came out steaming which if it condensed back into oats would be a problem.

Decided to put this same tray in at high temp (220 oC for further 20 minutes (approx) until they were roasted. Verdict: oats are now ‘cooked’ and smell different. They tasted bitter.

One baker suggested to store the unroasted oats in a warm room in brown bags so they were stored in a member's ‘sun room’ awaiting their fate!

Oats were bagged and delivered or members collected.

Result: edible oats/porridge with some hull still there.

Conclusion
Growing and processing oats to the edible state is a complex process. A lot of commitment and work was required by members. There were many meetings.

Sowing, harvesting, winnowing and rolling were easy.

Drying was time consuming and we had luck with the weather so that the oats were quite dry at harvest.

Dehulling was the most difficult process. We had to make several trips to Madeline’s and we had to get to know the dehuller and then we realized it didn’t work as well as we’d hoped.

However, we have edible oats, though somewhat hully.

As this was our first year, it was difficult probably because we were learning as we went along. Next year we should be more familiar with the process.

The potatoes were easy as the farmer did all the work and delivers to members.

Recommendations

1. Grow another crop but a different variety of oats.
2. Find an alternative method of dehulling: either Madeline obtains a table separator which will separate into different sizes and should improve yield or ask Macroom Mills to process the oats for us.
3. Purchase drying spear from Ron Skingsley.


The first CSA locally produced porridge oats in Ireland!

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Comment by Kate Park on March 3, 2011 at 23:45
Wow, fantastic you've really started.  Trail blazer. Thanks for the report - inspiring
Comment by Alex Duffy on February 27, 2011 at 18:21
Congratulations and thanks for this great report, really interesting reading. Food for thought for us here in Wicklow.......

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