To Get Over the No-Wheat Hump, Locavores Turn to Local Grains
ideonexos via flickr
For eaters in North America living outside of the grain growing regions of the U.S. mid-west and the Canadian prairie provinces one of the big gaps in eating a wholly local diet is the absence of wheat. No bread! No cookies! No beer!
Almost everywhere that has been settled across the continent originally had grain growing in close proximity at some time in the past 150 years. But efficient shipping via trans-continental railways from the bread belt helped push regional local grain to the fringes, and in many places it disappeared. The emerging industrial model of agriculture dictated that a few varieties of high yielding wheat would be grown in the specific locations suited to grow it. To counter this consolidation individuals and communities are rediscovering their local grain chain.The West Kootenay Eco Society in British Columbia has organized a grain community supported agriculture (CSA) program to reintroduce various locally grown grains into the region. Subscribers pay $100 for a projected combined yield of 100 pounds of wheat, spelt, polish wheat (kamut) and oats. Like all CSAs the aim is to support the farmer with initial set-up costs with the subscribers accepting some of the risks, or rewards, of crop variability. This is an especially appealing way for farmers to experiment with new or unfamiliar crops.
The New York Times recently reported about similar movements in the United States to reintroduce grains. Indrani Sen's story highlights how folks have become disconnected from the taste of fresh flour.
Fresh-ground grains taste entirely different from the flour you buy at the grocery store," said Mary-Howell Martens, who sells organic feed and seed in Penn Yan, N.Y., and grinds her own flour at home. "Everyone knows that a January tomato that comes from Mexico tastes different than an August tomato taken straight from the vine. It's the same with grains.
The story goes on to highlight the opportunity for farmers to start growing wheat again.
Advocates of local foods have bemoaned the state of mass-produced flour, even from higher-end brands. Midwestern wheat has been bred for uniformity and yield instead of flavor or nutrition, they say, and processed for shelf stability. But avoiding commercial flour has been a challenge.
Against a backdrop of concerns over food and transportation costs and with demand for local food growing, small wheat farmers see an opportunity.
While it may make sense in the long-run to continue to grow the bulk of our wheat in the bread-basket of the continent, rising transportation costs and consumer demand for local foods and variety will ensure at least a niche market for farmers willing to try something new.