Give Us This Day Our Local Bread

Seeded malted bread photo

Seeded, malted bread. Image crdit:Flickr, Francis Storr

A market for locally grown wheat and for bread made from it has emerged in Massachusetts. Although it is very small market, it represents a remarkable turnabout in the history of food in America. Before railroads came to the West, wheat was abundant in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. The Great Plains were discovered to be a more productive bread basket and wheat farmers from the Dakotas to Kansas soon dominated US markets. Later, still, wheat became a global commodity. As it stands now, few have the privilege of knowing whose blood, soil, and sweat and tears went into the top and bottom of their sandwich.Some apparently are willing to pay extra for bread made of locally grown wheat. Why, when times are tough?

One reason is consumer distrust of the quality of bread made from wheat berries sprayed with with toxic chemicals and then stored for years before being sold to a conglomerate. As stated in Brian Steele's article in The Republican:

Philosophy drives the consumption of local wheat, Hatch said. People want to eat healthy, natural food, instead of what he calls the "industrial waste" found in supermarkets, while limiting their impact on the environment and buttressing their neighbors' enterprises.

Another reason is that bread tastes even better when made from this year's harvest.

This is not a new idea. Back in the 70's I met a farmer whose family ate only bread from their own wheat, even though dairying was the main enterprise. They had an electric grain mill and had friends who'd done the same. Seeing I was interested, he invited me to stop by to try some. A story for anther day...

Wheat growing is threatened by increased climate variability. Wheat grows poorly in the soggy soils of Irene soaked New England and so I am doubtful that western Massachusetts will once again be covered with amber waves of grain serving local markets.

Nonetheless I am thinking about how good a home baked loaf of home grown might taste right now and a patriotic lyric line from a time gone by.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain
There are a great many of us allergic to wheat or to gluten at least. I wonder if it is the same if bread is made from really fresh grain?

Everyone has a buried memory of the best bread they ever tasted. When something near as good comes along, the memory resurfaces.

Mine is of the home made bread sold door to door in our town, by a poor farm family. A child would ring the doorbell, holding up a cloth-covered loaf when we answered. I would beg Mom for a quarter and it would disappear within moments of hitting the kitchen table. If they only knew...