Grains and legumes of all types may be purchased in a number of different ways depending largely on where you live and the time of year. The following will cover the various steps of the processing chain starting with the forms most immediately suitable for storage and progressing all the way back to the farmer.
Each type of availability has its good and bad points. As you might expect, the more processing a product receives, the higher its price is likely to be. The further back along the processing chain you go the cheaper a product should become in terms of purchase price. It will, however, cost you more in time and effort to get it ready for storage.
The easiest and simplest way to incorporate grains and legumes into your storage program is to purchase your items pre-cleaned and pre-packaged. These are products that have been harvested, passed through fans and screens to remove chaff, smut balls, insect parts, mouse droppings and other debris, then put up in retail sized bags or other containers – possibly even going so far as to already be packaged for long-term storage. This would be either from your local grocer or a storage food dealer. If you don’t live in the area where what you want is grown it may be your only option.
If you want to purchase in bulk then you may be able to find pre-cleaned but not yet packaged products. These sources would be commercial or institutional food suppliers, food co-ops, warehouse grocers like Sam’s Club or Costco, local food companies that package their own product lines, and the like. If what you want is not already in 50-100 lb bags you may have to provide your own container and there may be minimum purchase amounts as well. If the moisture content is in the right range then nothing will need to be done other than to put it up in your own storage packaging. If you don’t buy it from some sort of foods dealer then be certain read the cautionary text below.
Should you happen to live in the area where the type of grain or legume that you are interested in purchasing is grown you may be able to purchase direct from the producer or distributor.
If you are interested in doing this, it may be possible to find your product field-run which simply means that it’s been harvested and sold shortly thereafter. It will not have been given any cleaning or processing and is likely to be rather dirty depending upon the conditions under which it was grown and harvested.
A second form called field-run from storage is product that has been harvested then put into storage for a time. It will have the dirt and debris of field run grain and whatever it may have picked up from the grain elevator as well.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have purchased your grains and legumes from a foods dealer then you needn’t worry about hidden mold infections, fungicides or insecticides that are unsafe for human consumption. In the U.S., the products will have been checked several times by Federal and State agriculture departments and probably by the major foods dealers as well, to ensure its quality.
This is not necessarily the case when you purchase your grains or legumes directly from the farmer or elevator operator as field-run or field-run from storage grain. Nor is it necessarily the case if you’ve made the decision to utilize grains marketed as animal feed. Inspection procedures vary from nation to nation, so if you buy outside of the U.S. inquire of your supplier.
If you are buying your grains and legumes from some place other than a foods dealer, you need to know the history of what you are buying. There is the remote possibility that field-run from storage or any grade of grain not specifically sold for human consumption may have had fumigants, fungicides or insecticides not certified as safe for human foods added while it was in the bin. It is important to know what it has been treated with before you buy it.
Straight field-run grain, other than being dirty, is not likely to have had anything added that would make it undesirable for human consumption. There is, however, the also remote possibility it may have been infected with fungi that would make it unsafe for eating.
One of these fungal infections of grain is called “ergot”. This fungal disease affects the flowering parts of some members of the grass family, mostly confined to rye. Consuming the fungus causes a nervous disorder known as St. Anthony’s Fire. When eaten in large quantities the ergot alkaloids may cause constriction of the blood vessels, particularly in the extremities. The effects of ergot poisoning are cumulative and lead to numbness of the limbs and other, frequently serious, symptoms.
The fungus bodies are hard, spur like, purple-black structures that replace the kernel in the grain head. The ergot bodies can vary in size from the length of the kernel to as much as several times as long. They don’t crush as easily as smut bodies of other funguses. When they are cracked open, the inner broken faces can be off-white, yellow, or tan. The infected grain looks very different from ordinary, healthy rye grains and can be spotted easily. Ergot only rarely affects other grains and will generally afflict rye only when the growing conditions were damp. If you purchase field run rye, you should closely examine it first for the presence of ergot bodies. If you find more than a very, very few pass up that grain and look elsewhere.
Ergot is typically not a problem in the U.S and is easily spotted when it does occur. Other grain fungi, however, are much harder to spot and also have serious consequences should they be consumed. The various species of Aspergillus and Fusarium molds can be a problem almost anywhere. Please see Section IV.B.3 Molds In Grains and Legumes for more information.
Animal feed grains or seed grain/legumes are widely available and there are those who want to consider using these sources. Keep in mind that animal feeds are typically dirtier than food grains and may have a higher contaminant level than what is permissible for human consumption. The USDA allows the sale of grain or legumes for animal feed that could not be sold for direct human food use. It may even be mixed varieties of one grain and not all one type. In the case of feed wheat it may have an acceptable protein content but still make miserable raised bread so try milling and baking with a small amount before you put a lot of it away. Seed grains, in particular, must be investigated carefully to find out what they may have been treated with. It is quite common for seed to be coated with fungicides, and possibly other chemicals as well. Once treated, they are no longer safe for human or animal consumption. Be sure to inquire of your supplier.
If you do purchase field-run grain of any sort, examine it closely for contamination and moldy grain. Ask the farmer or distributor whether it has been tested for mold or mycotoxin (fungal toxin) content. This is especially the case if you are buying field-run CORN, RYE, SOYBEANS or RICE. When you purchase direct from the field, you may be getting it before it has been checked. Be certain of what it is that you are buying and ask questions if you choose to go this route. Know who you are dealing with. Unless you just can’t find any other source, I don’t recommend using animal feed or seed grains for human food use. Please see section IV.B.3 Molds In Grains and Legumes for further information.