Local Grain

One snag that many locavores run into is:  what to do about grain? In our country, grain for human consumption is mostly grown in the bread basket of our nation, the midwest, on large industrial farms.

Whole rye grains

So, why is grain not grown everywhere on small farms?

Well, grain is grown on many many farms, but for different uses.  A lot of farms grow things like oats and buckwheat as cover crops to enrich their soils, but they do not harvest these crops, they cut them down and integrate them back into the soil.  Also, a lot of farms will grow grains for livestock consumption, which has an entirely different set of standards than grain for human consumption.  What are those differences?  Taste, macronutrient composition (protein, carbs, etc.)  and overall quality (how long it is kept, damaged, etc.).  You have to do a reasonable amount of testing on them to see if they are fit for human consumption.  Also, grain is not easy to grow, or to store. If you have a wet year, like last year- a lot of grain does really poorly.  It is also difficult to store a lot of grain for a long time- depending on humidity, and a lot of other factors, it might mold in the farm’s storage area.  Climate also does have something to do with it.  Apparently oat does better in colder climates it seems, and other grains are pretty temperamental when it comes to the weather and soil they grow in.

One thing to note, although I say grain is hard to grow, its not that hard to grow.  Plenty of people have been growing grain for hundreds, thousands of years, no problem. However, a lot of the hardy varieties of grains that many civilizations relied upon have been lost, or are not the popular type of grain varieties grown presently.  One example is emmer or farro (T. dicoccum)- it’s really hardy and grows really easily in Europe, but it has been replaced in popularity by common wheat (T. aestivum) in food production.

More whole grain

So, what do I do if I want local grain?

Luckily, there are a few (and more and more as time goes on) intrepid small farmers out there willing to experiment with growing grains for human consumption in the Northeast.  Many believe that growing grain in New England is crucial for our regional food security.  The wheat scare that happened a few years ago, with a bad wheat crop and increased petroleum costs made wheat availability limited and pricey. It was also a major wake-up call for places like New England with a dense population that relying upon some place far away for a big food staple is a very big liability. So, who are these farmers?  Where can I get their grain?  Here are some resources that we have used or come across:

Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA:

Pioneers indeed, these guys are running perhaps the first grain CSA in the nation.  Stationed out of the wonderful local bakery Wheatberry in Amherst, they began their small scale grain CSA last year, and this year are offering whole and half shares of 100lbs of:

  • heritage wheat (spring and winter wheat)
  • dry beans
  • heritage dent corn
  • rye
  • spelt

The CSA season works with 3 pickups throughout the year all in Amherst.  The grain is grown in Shutesbury, Hadley, and Gill, MA.  The grain shares have been with limited availability, and we are desperately hoping to get on this year’s CSA.  I sent in my forms, I bothered them mercilessly via e-mail.  Ben and Adrie, if you’re out there, know that I am really desperately hoping to get a share! 😉

One thing to note here is that you would be getting whole grains from the CSA, so if you wanted flour, you would either have to get a grain mill or grain mill attachment for a stand mixer (which I am intending to get off of e-bay sometime soon).  OR, at Wheatberry in Amherst, you can bring your grain to them and they will mill it for you. Check out Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain info on their website, or check out their blog here.

Upinngil Farm:

Fresh grain at Upinngil Farm

This is a great small farm in Gill, MA.  They have great raw dairy and cheese from their small Ayrshire herd, they have great pick your owns of strawberries, and grapes (we’re so going to PYO grapes this year- so excited!), other wonderful produce and they happen to also grow some grains, presently:

  • organic wheat
  • organic rye

Talking to Cliff, he is expanding his grain business to include a variety of other grains and even beans.  So keep an eye out for them!  How do you get grains from Upinngil?  Well, we trek out to Gill to pick up their flour (they have whole wheat red winter wheat flour, and whole wheat soft white winter wheat flour) and wheat berries right from their farmstand.  Red Fire Farm will soon be selling their flour at their farmstands too in Granby and it is already at their farm stand in Montague.  Once the business expands…. who knows.

We like their wheat so much, we recently bought a 50lb bag of winter white wheat berries from Upinngil.  When you buy grains, storage is a concern…. however, we are still not sure what to do with this big satchel of wheat berries. For long term storage, Cliff said to put them in the freezer- but we’re already running out of freezer space (and its only August!).  So, our intention is to eat it quickly… relatively quickly. This is where the food mill comes in for our near future… lots of bread making, pasta making- oh my.

Wood Prairie Farm:

This is a small family farm in Maine, that has been growing good ole’ organic food for the past 30 years!  They grow:

  • wheat
  • corn
  • spelt
  • rye
  • oats

They sell most in berry and flour form, and they sell rolled oats and oat groats.  Yum!  We have bought their rolled oats, cornmeal, rye flour and spelt berries.  I have to say, we have been VERY pleased.  I actually put in an order last week for 20lbs of rolled oats…. I know, I know. We ate our 5lbs of oats so quickly, and we were really rationing it.

The grain is super tasty, lots of good bold flavors, good body, and good unrefined delicious nutritiousness.  The oats taste like a plant material instead of the sort of “hm…. what is this carby creation” that you get from the grocery store.  We used to be firm believers of Bob’s Red Mill…. but might I say…. we are entirely converted.  The grain that we have gotten from both Upinngil and Wood Prairie have made us realize we were only touching the tip of the iceberg of just how tasty grains can be.  How can you get grain from Wood Prairie Farm?  You can order it off of their website. Maybe not perfectly local, using some petroleum but you can buy big 20lb bags which reduce the overall carbon ‘bang’ for your grain ‘buck’.

White Oak Farm:

In conjunction with Bostonlocalvores, White Oak Farm is now delivering their organic grain into Boston, from their farm in Belchertown, MA.  We have yet to try this out, as this alliance just came into existence.  How do you do it?  You order on their google spreadsheet here, for whole grains in quantities of 50lbs, 25lbs, and 5lbs.  They grow organic:

  • Spelt
  • Wheat
  • Rye

The farm will deliver the grain at Somerville’s MetroPedalPower headquarters the second or third weekend in August.  You can either pickup there, or potentially have it delivered via Pedal Power, but you should pay the farmers.  For more information on this exciting local grain event, check out this article about from the Examiner.

Four Star Farm:

This farm is located in Northfield, MA and grows:

  • soft winter wheat (berry and flour)
  • barley (whole or hulled)
  • buckwheat (whole and flour)

We have sampled their wheatberries, and were very happy with their product.  Where can you get their grain?  We found it at Atkin’s Country Market in South Amherst.  I’m not quite sure, but it seems like they make deliveries into Boston.  Check out their facebook page here for more information.

I will note that there are also a few farms in Upstate New York that are selling grain and beans, that have received a reasonable amount of press recently for selling at the New York City farmers markets.  We have been doing fine with sourcing most things in MA, so we haven’t come to try those farms out yet.  But, they certainly are on our radar.

So, I have whole grains… what do I do?

As mentioned before, you can eat them as whole grains -pretty easy- you can cook most whole grains in water, up to an hour in cooking time, you can also just soak them.  There are lots of fun ways to use your whole grains in cooking.  Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain suggests buying Lorna Sass’s cookbook Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. You can also mill them into flours with a grain mill, many different types of grain mills exist, including grain mill attachments to stand mixers. You can also get specialty grain mills to make rolled oats, and cracked grain cereals.

What’s the difference between normal grain and flour from the store and this local grain?

Lots of differences.  One big difference is that a lot of local grains have not been mechanically dehydrated.  What this means is that you will have to store them differently.  You need to put them in some container that can breathe, so that they do not rot from their own moisture.  Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain suggests pillow cases and here’s a post on their blog about making your own grain bags.  My Upinngil wheatberries are in a breathable sack that they came in right now.  You can put them in containers in your freezer.  Etc.

Cooked wheatberries

Flour:  Whole grain flour will also need to be cared for differently.  When you are milling your own grain, you will be getting all of the grain chopped up, including the germ, which will go bad, a lot faster than the flours you get at the store.  So, when you are milling or buying your own flour, you want to make sure that you don’t buy too much and it goes bad.  Whole grain in the form of berries and groats will keep longer than the flour.

Lovely unrefined flour

A word or two about flour qualities:  Okay, so for grains, there are different parts of the berry, the endocarp, bran and germ.  The endocarp is the less nutrient rich carbohydrate part of the grain that is the major constituent of white flour.  The bran is a fibrous material, and the germ is very nutrient dense, with lots of Omega-3 fatty acids.  The Omega-3 fatty acids are really nutritious, however they go rancid over time.  That is why a lot of flours found at the grocery store lack the germ in their flours to prolong shelf life.  How industrial grain processing separates these three grain constituents is by a rolling milling process.  So, when you mill your own grain (I don’t think any home grain mills can do this industrial feat), you get everything in your flour.  This flour will be different from what you are used to, even if you buy whole wheat flour to begin with.  I myself have been struggling to modify my breadmaking recipes, but I luckily have managed just fine after a while.  The big difference is that since the endocarp is not as large of a constituent of the flour as what you get from the store, because there is far more bran and germ, you need to add less liquid (or more flour) since there is less endocarp to soak up the liquid.  All of this effort is definitely worth your while for flavor and nutrition.  At least in my opinion.

These are the local grain resources that we know of right now and have tried out.  If anyone else has anymore information, feel free to send it to us or comment on it.  Please, let us know! We’d love to hear.  We are cooking up a “resources” page for all of our local sources of food, with grain being a section.

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2 Responses to Local Grain

  1. Jetdell Lo-Pinto says:

    Thanks for the info. I signed up for the CSA with absolutely no idea the many things involved (ie, like storing). I have a question. I have a vitamix. In the past, I have made oat flour just by blending the oat groats. Do you think the vitamix is sufficient for other grains? I get the feeling that I won’t need to purchase a mill since that blender is pretty powerful, but I am not sure if I would be missing any step that perhaps a mill does.

    Thanks again!

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