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Grain Cradling Runs In Maryland Family

BLAIR AMES
Carroll County Times

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) — Throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s, Carroll County farmers could harvest about three-fourths of an acre of wheat a day by using a grain cradle.

The cradle, which has four metal fingers and a blade attached to a long handle, was used by slashing stalks of grain. It cost about $4 to $5 at the time.

Today, using half-million-dollar combines, farmers can harvest hundreds of acres of wheat a day.

“With automation comes a price,” quipped Hampstead farmer Jeff Graf during a break in a wheat cradling demonstration at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

Three generations of Grafs were represented at the farm museum July 9 as family members demonstrated how to cradle wheat, which was a popular harvesting method through the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Grafs, who operate a 100-acre small grain farm in Hampstead, host a handful of cradling demonstrations at the farm each year. They also demonstrate how to harvest, thrash and grind wheat into flour at the Arcadia Carnival Ground in Baltimore County once a year.

“It’s a lost art. A lot of people don’t know it,” said Dan Graf, who was leading the demonstration with his father, Jeff.

Cradling was typically a family affair, with the father chopping stalks with the cradle and children following behind him tying up shocks of wheat.

Dan and Jeff spent about an hour demonstrating how to harvest grain with a cradle, sickle and a reaper, outlining the meticulous, back-breaking labor that was needed before farming technology evolved.

The Farm Museum hosted the event to demonstrate historic farming techniques, according to volunteer Bob Shirley.

On a small plot of land near the Hoff Memorial Barn, the farm museum has been growing wheat, corn and tobacco to be used to demonstrate old farming techniques. Volunteers will be harvesting the corn and tobacco sometime this fall, Shirley said.

This is the first year that the farm museum has hosted such demonstrations on site, but the hope is to continue this in future years, Shirley added.

According to Jeff Graf, not many farmers in Carroll use these tools even for demonstrations anymore.

Instead, it’s now predominantly used for home decorations, he said.

Jeff Graf, who credits his passion in the subject to his father, Stewart, said he wants to continue sharing traditional farming methods since they have been passed down to him from previous generations.

“Once these things are lost, they’re lost forever,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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