Restoration: Pure Grains, Sustainable Practices

Last week we explored writer Virginia Phillips’ report of “resurgences of organic heritage grain” that are being led by independent farmers across the continent.

Nigel Tudor’s Weatherbury Farm in western Pennsylvania is an example of how this kinetic organic insurgency is gathering force. He’s devoting his 30 acres to restoration — not just restoring heirloom grain varieties, but also returning his community to the sustainable practices of the recent past.

Until 1943, Tudor’s community of Avella had its own flour mill, serving small family farms that produced incredible yields of pure organic grains. Now Tudor is replanting heritage grains and milling them on-site. As Phillips reports:

“The pre-1960 wheat varietals, now the subject of search and rescue by growers like Mr. Tudor, are hardy plants that previous generations selected for robust health and flavor — long before American flour became a commoditized product. Their names reflect places and people. . . .  Nigel Tudor is growing Maxine hard red wheat, heritage Red Fife (named for its rescuer, Canadian John Fife), North Dakota Common emmer, Frederick soft white wheat, Oberkulmer spelt, Aroostook rye, Buff hulless oats, and Wapsie Valley open-pollinated corn.

“The term of art for these varieties is ‘landrace.’ That means a local variety of domesticated plant (or animal) species that has developed largely by natural processes. Landrace plants, in contrast to agrobusiness-bred ones, draw on a rich gene pool to adapt to climate stresses, soil types and people’s preferences. . . .

“Mr. Tudor is a man used to finding out what he needs to know. He connected with Elizabeth Dyck, Ph.D., of New York State, organic researcher for 25 years and one of this country’s foremost heritage grain experts. . . .  She helps farmers grow high-quality grain with consistent gluten content, water absorption and texture. Excessive variation in any of these poses problems for bakers. Her support includes helping growers establish themselves with restaurants, bakers, distillers and grain processors.

“She founded the Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network and through it mentors farmers from New England to Washington, Canada and Kenya. She has projects afoot with Penn State and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to boost the infrastructure here and even fold Pennsylvania-grown grain into an already appreciative New York City market. . . .

“You might ask why we should love emmer, a Russian grain brought to the American Midwest two centuries ago by German immigrants. ‘For one thing,’ suggests Ms. Dyck, ‘it makes incredible pasta.’ What about einkorn, oldest and rarest of the ancients, dating to the Fertile Crescent? ‘Einkorn flour is just delicious and makes fabulous yeast bread. The flour has a yellow cast because of the lutein, an antioxidant thought to have health potential. Both emmer and einkorn are busting out as trend grains in Europe.’

“Spelt? With its delicate nutty flavor and easy swap-ability in baking, spelt is a good place for home bakers to start. Maxine wheat? ‘Fragrant, sweet and toasty,’ said field-day participants of Mr. Tudor’s own perfectly risen whole-wheat loaves.”

Read the full Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article here: http://bit.ly/ZJ0fvk

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