By Bonnie Rukin


solar bubble dryer in action

Some may wonder what it takes to get a flint corn tortilla – made with corn grown by Somali Bantu farmers in Lewiston and tortilla produced by Lynne Rowe at Tortilleria Pachanga in Portland – onto the plate. It begins with seeds and soil and, once the corn is harvested, it must be carefully dried, cleaned, and stored. This last step has just received a huge boost from Maine Grain Alliance’s Postharvest Grain Project, led by Tristan Noyes, with support from Bonnie Rukin at Slow Money Maine, and Mark Fulford as technical advisor.

For Liberation Farms, flint corn has become a marketable crop through tortilla production, as well as by milling it into cornmeal at Maine Grains in Skowhegan. However, the primary obstacle to marketplace success has been the ability to dry, clean, and store the corn well.

To help address these needs, Maine Grain Alliance’s Postharvest Grain Project secured a mobile, inflatable solar grain drying unit that can be used as a stand-alone dryer, with no fuels required. Once dry, corn will be stored in dry bags inside hermetically sealed cocoons. (The ideal percent of moisture for storage and milling is 12%, verified by grain moisture meters.) The “cocoons” are waterproof and offer a modern storage solution designed to safely store dry agricultural commodities without the need for chemicals. Cocoons can be stored outside, or preferably inside to increase their lifespan. They can prevent insect infestation and may eliminate existing insect pest problems, via the addition of carbon dioxide applied through a side port.

Last fall, Fulford helped Somali Bantu Community Association farmers begin using the Lutera seed cleaner. Along with special, 50-pound capacity, hermetic bag liners, the seed cleaner helps them produce dry, insect- and rodent-free storage. SBCA Executive Director Muhidin Libah says market demand is increasing.

“I am so pleased to be seeing this wonderful progress. This is something we could not have achieved in our own country. Thanks to everyone that made this possible,” said Libah.