The Year On The Field project looks back on a successful first crop year from preparation to processing. We learned about diverse reflections and got a good overview of wheat.
A wheat field in early summer 2022 at one of the growers from the Year On The Field Project
Over a period of one year, the project has succeeded in providing insights into wheat cultivation and processing in almost ten countries spread over three continents with more than 60 blog posts. The project leadership knew from the beginning that every element of preparation, crop, implements, nutrition, history, and processing needed to be covered. The project was both a deep engagement with the project participants and an outreach to the global audience.
In many of the contributions, it became clear what an enormous impact the ongoing drought in many parts of the world had on wheat yields, but also on individual cultivation methods.
Dried out river bed in Southwest Germany near Freiburg in summer 2022
However, many sites and project members (such as the Wendell Berry Farming Program at Sterling College, Barrington Plantation in the USA, the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory in Germany or the farm "La petite ferme de chanon" in France) adapted and used innovative techniques to compensate for individual aspects of the drought. Many project members used historical farming methods as well as draft animal power in their fields; techniques such as clover undersowing or medieval ridge and furrows cultivation helped many of these fields remain productive and resilient with less use of additional, unplanned water resources.
(Re)constructed Medieval ridge and furrow system at the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory
Clover on the wheat field at the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College
These initial results must now be evaluated in detail after all growers have completed a detailed review process. It will become clear to what extend the data sets will remain comparable and thus also how far-reaching the results of the analysis will ultimately be. We therefore look very much forward to analyzing the data from our growers. A first project publication is planned for May 2023.
While further scientific evaluation of the comparative data collected is still pending, we and our communities at large already recognize the enormous value of the interdisciplinary, cross-community and international project. Possibly for the first time, it was possible to virtually bring together farmers, open-air museums, agricultural history museums and archaeological open-air projects, as well as scientists and interested individuals from a wide range of disciplines. These participants met virtually over a series of online meetings and read each other’s ongoing results on the project blog.
It has become clear to many of those involved in the project how important the historical dimension of agriculture can be for real fieldwork, even though many of the historical practices have not been used for centuries or decades. It has become equally evident how important the dialogue between science and applied practice is. This valuable forum of interdisciplinary exchange was created with the potential for further development in the context of genuine "deep networking" with professional academic, research and museum organisations such as AIMA (the Association of International Museums of Agriculture), EXARC (the Experimental Archaeology network) and ALHFAM (the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums), as well as with individual researchers or researchers collaborating with leading universities.
The collection and documentation of knowledge and skills has also proved to be of outstanding importance for the project. While the project leadership was aware that different traditions in different regions of the world would lead to variations in (cultivation) methods, the use of videos and descriptions to capture processes illustrates the techniques - often historical - used in wheat cultivation throughout history and/or within a geographic area. Some techniques, such as the medieval ridge and furrow method, have not been actively used for centuries, nor compared with modern yields.
The blog with its special contributions on individual cultivation methods or implements has the role of a virtual knowledge repository. Each individual contribution was professionally tagged in order to ensure maximum findability, whether for internet, social media or website searches. Accordingly, there is the chance to build up an enormous archive of knowledge on historical and current agricultural cultivation and processing techniques in the coming years, especially considering the project’s global scope. Linking the knowledge content written down in the contributions with concrete contacts (museums, agricultural enterprises, universities) are just as central to this as the contributions themselves.
The impact of the project could already be certified on the basis of the website’s 950 visitors mostly from Europe and North America.
Individual visitors of the website during the wheat-year
We consider the global interest in A Year On The Field an overwhelming success, especially since the project has already been discussed and mentioned in several international conferences, podcasts (such as PreserveCast, an international podcast of preserving the past, and the EXARC Podcast, an international podcast on experimental archaeology and interpretation) and internationally-renown magazines.
Overall, A Year On The Field’s “Wheat Year” has generated curiosity and interest from a wide range of interests, disciplines, professions and people across the world. With a common appreciation in one or more aspects of wheat-growing, participants and readers were taken on an in-depth journey through history, application, ecology, meteorology, climate, soil variability, traction systems, health and medicine, processing, craftsmanship and even a regional recipe from one of our European participants. To our knowledge, no other experimental project compares so many subtopics and project members in such a global yet intimate manner.
We expect that it will take a few more years until the attention for the project has increased to the extent where a broad public and, above all, the professional community have sufficiently recognised the benefits and potential of our "A Year on the Field".
Finally it has to be noted, that the Year On The Field project will not completely stop documenting wheat cultivation and processing in the future. We have already new submissions lined up, including from Australia and Romania. These will be added to the blog and therefore to the virtual archive in due time.
Plowing a wheat field in rural Romania in fall 2022 (photo: Vlad Dumitrescu)