“No Pain, No Grain”: A Look Inside the Ancient Grain Stomp

By William James “Vlachos” Murphy and John Walter Connors


On September 15, these two reporters got themselves caught up in Sewanee’s newest craze: stomping grain to learn more about the types of polyculture used by our ancestors. Through harvesting Amaranth seeds at the University Farm, then stepping all over it, and finally screening it with a sieve, we were able to isolate the Amaranth grains without their chaff.

Amaranth is considered a ‘starvation food’ due to the fact that harvesting it takes more calories to prepare than the calories consumed from eating it. This grain has been found in archeological records from 5,000-10,000 years ago. Through the efforts of the University Farm and Dr. Stephen Carmody, these grain plants have been growing at the farm for the past three years.

The first year these plants grew at the farm was seen as a “trial run.” However, this year was the biggest grain stomp yet. In the past, grain stomps may been considered festivals rather than manual labor, accompanied by dancing, music and stories and with live music performed by some of the archaeology department and bites of homemade pizza, this year’s grain stomp was a resounding success.

One attendee, John Clifford (C’20), thoroughly enjoyed the stomp, remarking that “the grain stomp was an awesome way to learn about the food gathering techniques used by ancient peoples as well as have fun with some friends at the farm. I really hope they do it again.”

In addition to enjoying this live music and stomping on grain, we harvested and prepared other grains to see how quickly and efficiently they could be prepared. This allowed for us to see the calories spent harvesting and preparing it. We did this to take a peek inside the lives and diets of our ancestors and the rituals that occurred around grain stomps. “The grain stomp brought people and families from different parts of the community together to dance, enjoy homemade food and discuss the history of food and culture in the area,” Lucy Wimmer (C’20) said.  

Gracie Christopher (C’20) reflected this sentiment, and she “enjoyed stomping grain” at the event. The grain we harvested gave us some insight into early forms of farming, and showed us how much we still have to learn about our ancestors.

We would like to thank the University farm, the archaeology department, and everyone who helped out with this unique and educational experience.