A Quiet Revolution

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In our not too distant history every farmer incorporated small cereal grains like wheat into their farm and their crop rotation.  Grains were an important part of a farmer’s plan to regenerate soil and to feed either their animals, family or community.  Grains can be both cover crops and cash crops.  As cover crops they are rich in nitrogen fixing nutrients and when combined with no-till methods, a vehicle for carbon sequestration.  At one time, there were mills in every community.  Have you ever heard the expression grist and toll? It comes from the practice of bartering among farmers and millers- the original grain chain.  I love this idea of the miller taking the grain from the farmer, milling it- the grist- and in return the farmer would pay a toll, in the form of grain to the miller.  With the advent of industrialization in post WWII America came commodity, intensely bred mono-crops of wheat heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers, large roller mill companies and quick white bread.  Small scale grain farming slowly disappeared and with it the community relationships it was built upon.

Today there is a quiet revolution taking place around the world as communities seek to rebuild this network from farmer to miller to consumer.  The goal is to re-introduce the production cycle or "grain chain" that was once an integral part of our local food system.  Growing a local grain movement focuses on supporting and engaging all the stakeholders in a local food chain- in this case a grain chain- from seed saver to grower to miller to end user. Until recently, the grain movement had been mostly left behind in the local food movement.  

The first link in this chain is the seed and the farmer.  Relationship building with farmers is a key component.  This involves providing support through seed trials, equipment resources, marketing opportunities and community building. At the same time, working to educate and connect growers, processors, millers, end-users such as bakers, chefs, brewers, distillers and the local community.  Farmers, like the Tehachapi Grain Project in California, are growing heritage grains- they have had incredible success with Abruzzi Rye- as a larger commitment to taking care of their soil and growing crops that are drought tolerant in response to climate change and the stress we have placed on our resources.  They are bringing these grains direct to the millers, chefs and bakers of Los Angeles.

Chefs and bakers nationwide are beginning to pay attention to these heritage grains as well for their incredible flavor!  Have you ever wondered why you can buy locally made bread but not locally grown flour?  One baker is going against the grain in Louisville, Colorado and sourcing all his heritage wheat locally and regionally.  Andy Clark, James Beard nominee for best baker, of Moxie Bread Co. sources 100% heirloom wheat grown just outside his back door in Boulder County and regionally in Kansas and Nebraska.  Chefs and bakers are an excellent platform to reach consumers.  They are the original tastemakers, the faces and palettes you know and trust in your community and beyond.  They are an important link in spreading the word about the flavor and nutrition of these grains as well as their benefits to the environment.  

You too can get involved and get excited about what is happening in your community.  Look for these grains in your market, at restaurants and bakeries.   Ask for them from your local farmer and if you can’t find them you too can begin the conversation that could start a grain revolution.