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The End of Wheat-centricity

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Handcrafted bread from Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Marshall, NC.

I just got back from the Asheville Artisan Bread Festival.  I was there primarily to get the full scoop on the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project and to begin thinking about the state of grain growth in North Carolina and the rest of the country.  Glenn Roberts, the savior of Southern grains, of Anson Mills was there to give us some incite into the grain husbandry of yesteryear as well as a glimpse of our futures as bakers. Much was learned.
Did you know that 100 years ago there were an average of 30 grist mills per county?  Now we have 2 that I know of in the whole state of NC.  Grist mills were once the centers of communities and folks had their corn and wheat and other grains ground on a weekly basis.  The nutritional quality of fresh ground whole grains is far and above today's standard supermarket shelf stable,  inert, fortified grains. 
The good news is Roberts predicts we will move back to this model for lots of reasons. First, lab developed wheats are failing us.  We are currently seeing the yields of midwest grown wheat plummet as salt builds up in the soil from excessive irrigation and new diseases pop up faster than the lab can generate resistant strands.  Diesel dependent, water wasting industrial agriculture is on its last leg.  The green revolution is failing us.  The solution lies in landrace grains and good old fashioned seedmanship. 

In order to grow wheat or rice while maintaining the health of the land, one also has to grow buckwheat, sorghum and cowpeas, which suppressed nematodes, as well as weeds, and provides nutrients for the grain crops.  We are moving back to a whole system approach to agriculture, and Roberts predicts it will happen sooner than we think.  In a room full of bakers, Roberts estimated that in as few as three years bakers could be using landrace grains - like the Red May Wheat that Anson Mills now sells to primarily fine-dining chefs for $6 per pound- but at a price comparable to what we now pay for mono-crop Midwestern wheat. 
For the health of communities and health of us all, I say "Amen!"

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This page contains a single entry by April McGreger published on March 31, 2009 12:39 PM.

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