Farming Quinoa

Congratulations! You've got a box of the very first full-scale production run of Quinoa Crack. For this first batch we did 4000kg – the harvest of about two hectares (20 thousand square meters). 

The quinoa was grown in 2015 in a small town called Le Coudray, just south of Saumur France. The soil is deep and chalky. Do you realise that all the minerals you get when you eat a bowl of Quinoa Crack came directly from this soil? 

The farmer's name is Guillaume Verneuil. He's in his thirties. His wife works for a small company that makes specialty vegetable oil and the couple is raising two little boys.

Guillaume farms about 80 hectares with his brother and father; he manages all the crops – wheat, barley, rapeseed, maize, sunflower, alfalfa, pasture – while his older brother manages the cows; dad still puts in long days but his back just isn't what it used to be.  

Guillaume has been growing quinoa with Abbottagra every season since 2009 and is probably the most enthusiastic of all the French quinoa growers. If you ask him why he grows quinoa, he'll just shrug and say he's bored with the other crops – but growing quinoa gets him up in the morning. Quinoa doesn't take up much of his land but it gets lots of his attention. He goes to see his quinoa plants nearly every day during the season, just to check in, see how they are doing. He says he likes it because there is still so much to learn.

The particular quinoa crop in question was sown in March 2015 and harvested in July 2015. It was a very hot and dry season, with heat and drought hitting this particular crop at the worst possible time – right at flowering. We were all nervous but it came out alright in the end : in these conditions the yield was a bit low but the quinoa grains were healthy and nutrient-dense.  

Just like wine, the characteristics of a particular batch of Quinoa Crack will always depend on a unique combination of soil, weeds, insects, bacteria, fungi, weather, variety and husbandry.  The variability can be quite large because we don't irrigate, we don't use herbicides or fungicides, we grow on many small fields of different soil types, every season has its own weather and every farmer his own philosophy.  We made Quinoa Crack from 4 different batches of quinoa and chose this one for our first commercial breakfast cereal.

To grow the crop that became this batch of Quinoa Crack Guillaume used the Dutch variety « Atlas. »  Of the varieties we use this one has the tallest plants – usually as tall as a man -- with the most lush, green foliage. That helps it stay above the weeds and compete for sunlight. It has the longest vegetative period of any of our varieties, meaning plenty of time to adjust and adapt to whatever hardships nature throws at it.

I like to tell our growers that Atlas is our « all-terrain-vehicle » variety – not the highest yielding in perfect conditions, but capable of making a crop even in difficult conditions. Difficult conditions being the norm, Atlas is our main variety.

Depending on conditions, stress and nutrient availability the grain usually has a particularly pleasant flavour : I'll crunch a handful of it raw during harvest like you might crunch a handful of roasted peanuts.  Professor Dick Masterbroek, now retired, selected this variety at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands during the 1990s from crosses he had made a decade earlier between quinoa plants from Ecuador and Chile. We pay royalties to Wageningen; they put the money into research that benefits current and future quinoa growers and eaters around the world.

Guillaume is not an organic farmer.  Like most farmers his goals are quality, yield, economy and the long-term health of the land for which he is responsible. Ultimately he wants to be proud of his work and be recognised by healthy, happy consumers.  There are both caring and careless farmers in both conventional and organic agriculture.  

We don't want to limit the options available for good crop husbandry, we just want honest, intelligent and informed farmers to make good decisions.  If your growers are smart enough to explain what they do, if they eat what they produce and feed it to their own kids, and if they have long-term ties to the land they farm … you can probably trust them more than any faceless certification agency.

The key to meeting all Guillaume's goals is well-known, passed down from farmer to farmer through the centuries: crop diversity.  To be a truly good farmer you have to grow as many different kinds of plants as you can – every crop cycle, a given field should get a different species of plant. It's what we call « crop rotation : » the field called « coudray » (good farmers name their fields and considers them living organisms) should never have to grow the same plant species twice within any three or four year period.

Different plant species have different strengths and weaknesses, different pests, different weeds, different micro-organism friends, different nutrient uptake, different root architecture that structures the soil, different effects on the soil chemistry … diversity helps keep a field balanced and fertile over the long-term.  

Crops growing in balanced, fertile soil tend to be happy and healthy, requiring fewer pesticides, fertilizers, tractor fuel, irrigation, etc.  

When you eat Quinoa Crack you are helping create a market for a different crop species, providing an important crop-diversification opportunity for farmers in your part of the world.