Grains_header

October 6-12 2014

Grains

Welcome to Candler, North Carolina, a remote valley community ten miles west of Asheville. Back when wheat was local, Candler boasted thirty stone mills. Now only two remain. Local wheat. Local mill. Local baker. These nested relationships disappeared with the industrialization of our food system, but in many communities across the country local grain producers have returned.

Why the shift? At it’s most basic, people don’t want to choose between wheat or white. They want the most nutritious, most flavorful, most environmentally-friendly food for themselves and their families. On this week’s food list, we’ll meet a cast of characters throughout the United States working toward this goal, reintroducing heritage grains, grains with nutrients, flavor and deep roots in history and culture.

David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow and John McEntire of Peaceful Valley Farm sow landrace wheat, the genetic grandfather of the wheat we know today, but ancient wheats are not the only grains which promote a healthy environment and individual. At Open Oak Farm, for example, the good folks of Adaptive Seeds tell the story of SS791, a heritage wheat adapted only 80 years ago ideal for organic growing conditions. And there’s Wes Jackson. Wes has been domesticating intermediate wheat grass at The Land Institute since the 1970s. Finally, Stephen Jones, a wheat breeder and Director of Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research Center seeks to find a more self-sufficient, perennial wheat crop that isn’t reliant on chemical fertilizers or excessive watering, but instead is beneficial to local communities.

Perennial Plate introduces us to Doug Hilgendorf of Whole Grain Milling Co. Doug’s a wheat farmer who’s gone against the grain. While most of his neighbors began using industrial methods, Doug switched to organic. Though he farms less acreage than his neighbors, his is a sustainable business.

Grains make some think of gluten intolerance, but that’s a side affect of industrialization. Learn more with the Green Divas.

What does a sustainable crop production like Doug’s look like? Grace Communications takes us on a tour. Sara Fulton-Koerbling, Food Corps volunteer, reveals the pleasures of growing grains with kids, sharing a warming fall recipe alongside her heartwarming story.

Those that grow the wheat add to the terroir of the bread, and so too do those who toil in the kitchen. Together with Southern Foodways Alliance, we meet the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, one of the first groups to plant maize, or corn. Traditional cooking methods for hominy and fry bread tell the story of the Choctaw Indians and provide opportunities for continued cultural growth.

Cooking with the kids is a great tradition, and Chef Ann‘s Apple Date Bars are a sweet treat.

And, in Petaluma, California, the Weber family encourages us to get to know our bakers. Della Fattoria Founder and Weber matriarch, Kathleen Weber knows, “Making bread is like spooning straw into gold: You use very humble ingredients to create something beautiful, nourishing and delicious.”

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THIS WEEK’S TERMS

APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY

This holistic approach to human problem solving involves working with nature—of which we are a part—to develop and sustain systems beneficial to the health of the whole. —Ian Snider, Yates Family Farm

IDENTITY PRESERVED

The process of labeling each package of wheat pasta and flour with a tag that states the wheat’s provenance. This process protects the characteristics that define a unique grain or crop, as enhanced by a specific place, farming practice and milling process.—Bob Klein, Community Grains

HERITAGE GRAINS

A heritage grain is from a seed that embodies thousands of years of unbroken human-plan co-evolution, effort and reverence.—Andrew Still, The Seed Ambassadors Project

WHOLE WHEAT

Grains that contain all of their bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains, such as white flour used in white bread, contain little if any germ or bran, and therefore significantly less fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grains.

LANDRACE WHEAT

A genetic grandfather wheat that has been introduced around the world and given birth to new, geographically-specific varieties wherever it has landed.—David Bauer, Farm and Sparrow Bakery

PERENNIALS versus ANNUALS

An annual is a plant that you have to tear the ground up or treat the ground with an herbicide for the grain to germinate. Nature must be subdued or ignored to make it work. On the other hand, a perennial just keeps coming up every year. The top parts may die back, but their roots are still holding the soil. Those roots are elegant micro-managers of nutrients and water, and tend to be much more extensive than those of annuals.
Annuals are like having the wrong hardware. If you had annuals as your hardware, then you would design software to accommodate that hardware. But given that essentially all of nature’s land-based ecosystems are perennials, whether it’s a tropical rainforest or desert scrub, we can imagine that those processes of the wild can happen on the farm. —Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute



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Local Book CoverTitle: Heritage Wheat
Location: Open Oak Farm, Sweet Home, OR
Featuring: Sarah Kleeger, Andrew Still, Cooper Boydston of Adaptive Seeds
Found on Page 156 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

“Local grain production is a consistently underemphasized aspect of our re-localized neo-decentralized food system,” says Andrew Still. “It increases our overall food security and hedges our bets to make us more reliant in the age of expensive fuel and global climate change. We need to eat more than just tomatoes and salad. Staple foods by definition are the bulk of our diet and as a result have been hyper-industrialized. There is something to be said about reconnecting to the majority of what sustains us, and when we do it in a more immediate way our experience and health is improved.”

SS791, pictured here, is an annual wheat first bred by William Sando 80 Years ago. The original crosses were made from 1923 to 1935 between friticum durum, an annual wheat, and afropyron intermedium, a perennial wheat grass. SS791 is very disease-resistant, extremely weed competitive, ideal for organic growing conditions.

KnowYourFoodlogoWHEAT OR WHITE?

As consumers learn about the difference between whole wheat and white bread, they get to know their local baker. Throughout the country, there are quite a few bakers using heritage grains. One of them, David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina, works with local farmers to provide his customers with greater options, including bread made from identity preserved grains—grains that tell a rich story about the wheat you’re eating, how it was grown and where. Over in Old Fort, North Carolina, John McEntire, of Peaceful Valley Farm, is the fifth generation to live and work the farm, which uses a stone gristmill to produce corn meal and grits from heirloom corn as well as whole wheat and rye flour. On the West Coast, Aaron Weber, chef and baker at Della Fattoria in Petaluma, CA makes artisanal breads. Aaron began cooking in his early 20′s. After training with leading chefs in Napa and Sonoma counties, he joined his mother in Della Fattoria’s bakery where he helps to fuel the passion for quality baked goods.

FILM DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR THE CLASSROOM

Excerpt from Lexicon’s Film Discussion Guide “Wheat or White?”:

Like face certification—a direct contact between consumer and farmer that creates trust and faith—the best certification to ensure you are eating whole grains is to know your farmer. Farmers are growing identity preserved grains—grains that tell a story of what we are eating, how it was grown and where.

Discuss the benefits of growing and producing identity preserved grains other than for personal knowledge. Do you think identity preserved grains are more reliable than USDA certification? Why or why not?

Download Film Discussion Guide


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Local Book CoverTitle: Perennial Vs. Annual
Location: The Land Institute, Salina, KS
Featuring: John Mai and Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute
Found on Page 159 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Wes Jackson has been domesticating intermediate wheat grass at The Land Institute since the 1970s. Perennials have larger root systems which not only improve soil stability, requiring less tillage and reducing soil erosion, thereby reducing fossil fuel consumption, they also allow farmers to reduce the need for pesticides. Because the plants keep growing, their less labor intensive overall and promote greater biodiversity.

What does domestication of wheat grass look like? Workers separate seeds from the chaff of intermediate wheatgrass samples using a dehuller. These will be carefully analyzed by researchers. Each successive planting brings Wes closer to his goal, that of replacing annual wheat with more sustainable perennials. According to Wes, the domestication of wheatgrass is expected to take ten to twelve years, after which a commercially viable perennial wheatgrass will become available.

Here, John holds annual wheat, triticum aestivum, that is four feet long, while Wes shows off his hard work—intermediate wheatgrass, thinopyrum intermedium—which is ten feet long.

StoryBank

Perennial Grains and Soil Erosion

Industrialized farming techniques do more harm than good. One symptom of such farming practices? Soil erosion. To combat these pitfalls, scientists like Wes Jackson look to nature for inspiration. What do they find there? The power of perennial root systems.

Q: What can we learn from natural systems?

Ecology can be drawn on to give us insight on how to maintain herbaceous perennial seed-producing policultures. Historically, we’ve been limited in the ability to do that and, as a consequence, we have over a hundred years of research in ecology and evolutionary biology just being put on the shelf. Since 1980, Long-term Ecological Research sites have been funded by the National Science Foundation to study how natural ecosystems work. However despite the millions of dollars spent, that knowledge just sits there. It all can be applied to agriculture. We’re able to take advantage of the efficiencies that are inherent within the natural integrities.

Q: Can we actually talk about resilience and sustainability within the current agriculture systems?

No, because the current systems are fossil fuel dependent and are soil eroding. We’ve first must talk about how to move agriculture from an extractive economy to a renewable economy. If you have to tear the ground up every year and you don’t have those processes of the wild that run on contemporary sunlight and you’re forced to bring in fossil fuels, it’s not sustainable; the systems aren’t resilient. We were even losing soil before the Industrial Revolution, the history of earth abuse through agriculture goes all the way back at least to the Greeks and clearly the Romans.

Q: How do we make people care about things like soil erosion?

As it stands in the World, we’ve had the third year in a row in which humans globally have eaten more food than what has been produced. The stocks are going down. Part of that has to do with drought, (which has to do with climate change) but much of that has to do with degraded soils – 30 million acres a year, according to the United Nations, is lost due to soil degradation. There was a study done showing that from 1700 to 2000 as much land was lost due to soil degradation as three times the total agricultural acreage of the US.

If people don’t get it, it’s because we’ve done a poor job of explaining the importance of soil. The only reason we’ve been able to offset the consequence of soil erosion is because we threw a lot of fossil fuel fertility at it. Natural gas is a feedstock for nitrogen fertilizer. Half as many fossil calories go into food production at the field level as we use for tractors. It’s a matter of ignorance . It’s a matter of getting the word out: soil is more important than oil.

Expand Article Wes Jackson, the current President of The Land Institute, was born in 1936 on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. After attending Kansas Wesleyan (B.A Biology, 1958), he studied botany (M.A. University of Kansas, 1960) and genetics (Ph.D. North Carolina State University, 1967). Jackson’s writings focus on themes of sustainability, agriculture and rural communities.[/em]


Perennial Plate
Whole Grain Thoughts

It’s harvest time. Recently, filmmaker Daniel Klein had the good fortune of spending two days at Whole Grain Milling Co. where they take a number of grains from organic beginnings to a Co-op or grocery store shelf near you. Daniel captures the harvesting process, but it is owner Doug Hilgendorf’s words that strike him most deeply.

The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.


Hominy and Fry Bread

For Misty Brecia Dreifuss, cooking traditional foods outside is key to maintaining a sense of identity and community within the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. As one of the first groups to plant maize, or corn, Misty and others reveal the cultural import of hominy and fry bread.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. They set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Southern Foodways Alliance stage symposia, produce documentary films, collect oral histories, sponsor scholarship, mentor students, and publish great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund our good work.


Wicked Wheat: Why Gluten Intolerance is on the Rise

From the time we first learn about nutrition in elementary school, the idea of “grains” taking up the majority of space at the bottom of the food pyramid comes to mind. It’s primary protein, gluten, is foundation of each meal that is consumed and can be found in more food varieties than you might imagine. While gluten allergies were once rare, they’re growing in many age groups. The Green Divas research why this is happening and offer solutions.

Read on to learn about wicked wheat.


Sustainable Crop Production

Sustainable crop production is a way of growing or raising food in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner. This includes adhering to agricultural and food production practices that do not harm the environment, that provide fair treatment to workers, and that support and sustain local communities. Sustainable crop production is in contrast to industrial crop production, which generally relies upon monocropping (growing only one crop in a large area of land), intensive application of commercial fertilizers, heavy use of pesticides, and other inputs that are damaging to the environment, to communities, and to farm workers. In addition, sustainable crop production practices can lead to higher yields over time, with less need for expensive and environmentally damaging inputs.

Read on to learn about sustainably raised grains.

logoHeart Warming Wheat

Sara Fulton-Koerbling spent two years working with FoodCorps, a grantee of AmericaCorps, whose mission is “to connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy.” FoodCorps does this with a three-ingredient recipe that “teaches kids hands-on lessons about food and nutrition, (through) building and tending school gardens and teaching cooking lessons so kids can taste the fresh food they’ve grown, and changing what’s on children’s lunch trays, giving them healthy food from local farms.” Here, Sara recalls her experience and what inspired her to engage with FoodCorps.

When it comes to grains, I always think of brown rice. If it’s winter, oatmeal’s on the list, too. But not the breakfast kind of oatmeal. My oatmeal is reserved for winter baths and, albeit rarely, as a healthy way to start my morning.

In the South, grains means grits: shrimp and grits, cheesy grits, grits with butter, white grits, yellow grits, calling grits polenta to make them sound fancy. Because I didn’t grow up in the South, I’m still trying to get the hang of this whole grits thing.

The first time I grew grains was by accident. I was using straw to mulch the first bed of garlic I’d ever sewn. You usually put a pretty thick layer of mulch over garlic to crowd out the weeds and also to insulate the soil a bit as the garlic overwinters. I was pretty stoked on the idea of growing my own garlic and also of not having to weed this 50’ X 10’ spot in the garden for six months. This spot was on the back side of the green house, so I pretty much got to leave it alone until school was out the following June.

My summer camp kiddoes went with me to harvest the garlic. They were totally amazed. Instead of finding a bed of beautiful garlic, we were confronted with a sea of waving grain. The wheat straw had so many seeds still attached to the heads that we ended up harvesting a decent crop of garlic and wheat. After stripping the seeds from the stalk, we talked about how we’d get from the tickly ear of wheat to something edible, like the flour we’d use to make pizza dough. The purely coincidental opportunities to show these students how they could be more involved in their food, literally from seed to plate, was the most inspiring part of my service with FoodCorps.

These days, I still relish the excitement of someone learning about food. For the past several months, I’ve been on a millet kick. I talk about it to anyone who walks past me in the bulk section at work. Millet is sort of like quinoa’s domestic, unglamorous stepsister. Super high in protein, gluten-free, millet has all the right foodie buzzwords going for it. The only downside is that most people are only familiar with it from their mixed birdseed. I’ve found, people generally don’t like to eat bird food, but I’m slowly wearing them down. My favorite way to eat millet is as a hot breakfast cereal, since I don’t’ like oatmeal. I cook 1-part millet to 1-part water and 1-part milk, either cow, soy, almond, etc. This yields a couscous like texture, but if you like it creamy soupy, add a bit more liquid. I usually throw in some maple syrup, cinnamon, and dried fruit. It’s the perfect breakfast for a fall morning.

Sara Fulton-Koerbling loves all things food. She is a sociologist and trained personal chef, a market gardener and passionate community organizer. In Little Rock, AR, she is the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market. Sara also co-directs the Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society a grassroots organization dedicated to strengthening the regional economy and demonstrating sustainable living practices.

Expand Article


Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Identity Preserved
Location: Healdsburg, CA
Featuring: Bob Klein, Founder, Community Grains
Found on Page 151 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Front Porch Farm grows a variety of wheat’s, including Frassinetto, for local food producers. Originally developed near the town of Frassinetto, Italy in the 1020s, it is reputed to be an excellent variety for making pasta or bread.

Bob Klein of Community Grains wonders if commercial millers can take a wheat seed apart and put it back together again to make whole grain flour. He says, “Steel roller mills separate the seed’s three components germ, bran and endosperm, then reconstitute them later. Are all added back in the proportion as in the seed, as the FDA suggests? Doesn’t the seed also have an aleurone layer and thousands of additional micronutrients? It’s the responsibility of food producers to offer clear information, transparency, with every aspect of a whole grain flour’s production, farm seed to harvest to mill to the consumer.”

StoryBank

Wheat

Though often relegated as a “commodity crop”, wheat is a powerful tool. On organic farms, it’s often used to prevent diseases in crops and feed animals. Doctor Stephen S. Jones, Director of Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center at Mt. Vernon has been studying wheat since the ’70s. His goal? A more self-sufficient, perennial wheat crop that isn’t reliant on chemical fertilizers or excessive watering, but instead is beneficial to local communities.

Q: What role can wheat play as a central element in a diversified farming system?

Wheat is critical in a highly diverse system for several reasons. A lot of vegetable and flower growers rotate their crops with wheat and barley to break disease cycles. They also use wheat as a way to add organic matter back into the soil.  That’s particularly important after growing crops like potatoes or tulip bulbs. Wheat can add a tremendous amount of organic matter.

Wheat also has an important role in diverse farming systems where animals are integrated. Feeding wheat, barley and other grains is a common practice, especially among organic farmers. From poultry all the way up to dairy, you see a lot of organic grains other than corn. Wheat gets dismissed as being a big commodity crop, but it’s common in small farms as well. In Skagit Valley where we are, we grow 80 different crops commercially and almost every one of those rotates with wheat at some point.

Q: You’ve been quoted saying you’re, “trying to make wheat more like a weed.” What does that mean?

It means we want to make wheat more self-sufficient. In order to achieve this, we work with perennial types, the types that don’t stop growing. We look for types of wheat that mine the soil more efficiently for water and nutrients and have a more aggressive nature.

Wheat is a very domesticated crop. Corn would probably be even more extreme than wheat. These plants don’t occur naturally because they require so much maintenance and babying. They need high nutritional value in the soil. We try to develop types that are less demanding on the environment, the soil and the water in the way that weeds are. We cross breed our annual wheat with weedy types of wheat to develop types that are a lot stronger.

Q. What advantages might a perennial wheat have over an annual wheat?

The advantage of a perennial type is that it’s a media that requires lower input. If you consider the need to plant every year, that’s big. As these plants change over time, they develop large root systems that mine the soil for water and nutrients really well. We’re looking at these types for organic dairy producers who traditionally have brought in corn and other things from the Midwest. That doesn’t work anymore both because of carbon footprints and economics.

Q. Is there hope for deconsolidation or a regional food system that includes locally grown grain?

There’s tremendous hope for grains coming back into our communities and small areas as a non-commodity crop. Alaska now has Alaska Flour Milling and Southern Willamette Valley in Oregon has Camas Country Mill, which is the first mill since the Depression. In the Skagit Valley, there is the Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill. Flour mills are popping up in New England and in Asheville, North Carolina. People are taking the idea of bringing grains back to these communities seriously.

Q. What is your vision for a fully functioning, decentralized, regional wheat supply chain?

For a completely decentralized grain supply chain, the first step is to kick the commodity habit. By getting out of the commodity market, we get a price structure that will work for the local animal producer, the local miller, the local bakers and the local folks.

Expand Article

Stephen Jones is a wheat breeder and the Director of the Washington State University – Mount Vernon Research Center. He teaches graduate courses in advanced classical genetics and in the history and ethics of genetics. His first wheat crop was on five acres at Chico State University’s student farm in 1977. Together with his graduate students he breeds wheat and other grains for small farms in underserved areas of the Pacific Northwest. He also runs The Bread Lab, the only public laboratory in the US devoted solely to craft milling and baking of non-commodity grains.



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Local Book CoverTitle: Landrace Wheat
Location: Farm and Sparrow, Condler, NC
Featuring: David Bauer, Farm and Sparrow, John McEntire, Peaceful Valley Farm
Found on Page 150 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

A genetic grandfather wheat, landrace wheat has been introduced around the world and given birth to new geographically-specific varieties wherever it has landed. When industrially milled at high RPMs, the wheat’s components (endosperm, germ, and bran) rapidly separate. But older machines like the Osttiroler, shown here, from Austria, process the grains with a slowly turning mill stone that allows oils present in the germ to rub into and perfume the endosperm (white part of wheat). This retains the wheat’s native fragrance.

The difference between modern and heirloom wheat? That’s a good question. Modern wheats are bred to produce high yields but only when given high doses of artificial fertility dependent on fossil fuels. Heirloom wheats have a highly adaptive genetic database. Landrace wheat varieties, for example, are heartier and migrate across the globe. One variety, Turkey Red Winter Wheat, can manifest over forty iterations depending on environmental conditions.

“We need both modern and ancient wheats,” David says. “Modern ones feed the world. Ancient ones provide valuable breeding information to make agriculture more sustainable.”

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Local Book CoverTitle: Know Your Baker
Location: Della Fattoria, Petaluma, CA
Featuring: Della Fattoria’s bakers and proprieters, The Weber Family, Kathleen, Ed, Elisa, and Aaron
Found on Page 155 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Art should be local. Friends should be local. Merchants should be local. Services should be local. Bread should be local.

Kathleen Weber believes “Making bread is like spinning straw into gold. You use very humble ingredients to create something beautiful, nourishing, and delicious.”

F3 Logo copy
Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3 supports positive change through educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources. Chef Cooper envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”


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