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As you dig into your morning cereal or lunchtime grain salad, do you ever have that moment of “but where do my grains come from?” We all enjoy deliciously hearty whole grains but do we ever take the time to think of where they really grow and the farmers who grow them? We sort of vaguely know they come from a gloriously green ﬁeld, some bucolic farm where stalks of grain gracefully dance in a warm breeze…and then poof, the grains are magically on our plates.
Like any other farm-grown crop, grains require a certain amount of ﬁnesse, the ideal soil and weather and a farmer who knows how to lovingly bring them to harvest. We may have read stories about farmers growing quinoa way high in the Andes, or perhaps we’ve heard that freekeh, a type of wheat that translates as “to rub” from Arabic, was originally grown in Egypt. As consumers we often hear about the exotic places our grains come from – and we’re all aware that grains grow domestically on large farms in Kansas and Nebraska – but we don’t often hear about locally-grown grains. Have you ever seen anyone selling grains or ﬂour at your local farmer’s market? That may be about to change.
Nathan Siemens of Fat Uncle Farms in Lompoc, California, is a third generation almond farmer. In an attempt to rekindle the old ways, Siemens sought to grow red ﬁfe wheat between the rows of almond trees as his grandfather had, continually improving the rich ﬂavors of the ancient grains. His experiment is an attempt to boost the current interest in locally grown and milled ﬂour. Other farms in the area grow oats, barley and wheat, used to brew beers at local microbreweries. The grain crops are planted in rotation with vegetables to keep the soil viable and rich, giving the grains a dynamic ﬂavor. Thanks to grants that support these California farmers by donating seed, we can expect to see more domestically grown wheat, rye, emmer (farro) and a modern grain called Glenn.
California’s not the only place this sort of thing is happening. Right here in Massachusetts, Gene L’Etoile of Four Star Farms in Northﬁeld is growing rye, spelt, corn, triticale, buckwheat and bolted wheat ﬂour. L’Etoile was encouraged to grow whole grains by Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maﬃe of Northampton’s Hungry Ghost Bread. Stevens and Maﬃe are part of a group of bakers, millers, and farmers “helping to revive a lost tradition – grain grown locally, milled locally, used by local bakers to create whole-wheat breads that taste like the bread eaten by our grandparents.” The bakers wanted a ﬂour with strong, robust ﬂavor for their breads, which L’Etoile has been developing for them. While L’Etoile admits that growing grains has been a steep learning curve and it requires bakers being ﬂexible on the needs of the ﬂour, together they have successfully crafted a local product, from grain in the ﬁeld to bread in the oven.
While the majority of the grains that we eat will continue to be grown in mass quantity to ensure that there are enough whole grains for everyone, growing ancient grains domestically opens up a whole new market, not only for the farmers but for local businesses that use the grains. Like other domestically grown/made artisan foods, growing grains locally on a small scale allows for deeper ﬂavors, experimenting with more uses and a wider farm to table use. While these local farmers are beginning with small crops, they are aiming to farm for ﬂavor.
Google “local grains” and see what you ﬁnd near you! Should we keep our eyes out for local hybrid wheat plants? The whole grain growing possibilities are endless! (Mallory)