Heritage Grains. Why They Are Worth it.

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Unhulled Turkish bulgar wheat at the Slow Food Conference in Turin, Italy. One of the first cultivated wheats.

Heritage grains may be the final cog in the wheel of the good food and sustainable farming movements. These special grains were bountiful leading up to the 1900’s and vital to westward settlements in North America. They were grown for their adaptability, nutritional value, animal feed and fermented for spirits.

By the 1950’s the population transitioned from rural to urban communities, therefore changing the direction of food and farming. At the same time, micro-food communities were pushed aside by large agri-businesses and huge food chains monopolized hybridized wheat and limited the choices for the increasing number of the suburban consumers.

Striving for the quick and convenient, food became overly processed and shelf-life won out over nutrition. Slowly these older varieties of grains, and much of the food our grandparents and great grandparents ate, became harder and harder to find.

In the past 10-15 years, however, a new generation of farmers and advocates are finding ways to revitalize our food choices. Similar to the environmental movement of the 1970s, smart, dedicated individuals such as Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin offering insights for consumers and leading them away from foods grown on industrial farms. Huge online campaigns are forming (Top 20 local food advocates on Twitter link) where conscience eaters are demanding nutrient dense food grown by sustainable farms.

As a result, it is becoming easier to understand the cost of industrial farming. Fruits and vegetables growers who use pesticides, fungicides and herbicides disturb the natural habitat of bees and contaminate of ground water. Documentaries are exposing poor animal husbandry that result in unappetizing caged chickens and sick feedlot cattle. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat was bred to fit the needs of large scale farming.

Heritage grains can offer everything that industrialized wheat cannot.

Our wholegrain flour is really a 100% whole grain FLOUR. Want to know more? Kall the kaptain.

1. Whole Grain Nutrition. The outer layer of the grain contain most of the nutrients and when freshly milled it has a wonderful taste and texture. (Enriched white flours are an indication that the good stuff has been removed.)

2. Sustainability. These older varieties adapt to their growing conditions. Seeds don’t have to be purchased from outside the farm they can be planted each year collected after harvest. Hybridized grains tend to lose vitality with a shorter life-cycle. Heritage grains are an asset that stays on the farm, year after year.

3. Diversity. Food mono-cultures dominated by a single seed species can inhibit long-term agricultural diversity. Growing buckwheat, rye, barley, durum and spelt can offer so much more than a single crop of dwarfed wheat. The soil benefits greatly with crop rotation and seed variety. Nutrients remain in the soil, which lends itself to organic farming and offer more variety in our diets.

Heritage grains connect us to a time were micro food communities were the only option, where you knew the person who grew your food, or you grew it yourself. We have the unique benefit of living in modern cities with modern conveniences that can offer connections to these special grains through a new breed of committed farmers. CIPM and K2Mill are our main grain suppliers. Look for heritage grains at farmers markets, through subscriptions to Community Supported Agriculture, food artisans and at farm-gate sales. Currently, we are using buckwheat, rye, durum, red fife wheat and spelt all grown and milled in Ontario.

(We will be creating a page to post your favorite whole grain recipes soon.)

Eat Only Local Food – Can You Do It?

I met a young woman, Rebecca, who is participating in a school project where she only eats food grown in Ontario for two weeks. She came up to our booth at Riverdale Farmers Market this week and bought a bag of Red Fife Wheat on the first day of this month long sabbatical. I couldn’t temp her with crackers as she was looking only for staples. Being in a farmers market, I told her, she was starting in the right place. I gave her my card and told to her call me if she needed help and that I looked foreword to reading about it in her blog. She looked a little surprised and said she hadn’t thought about doing one but was a good idea.

The next day Rebecca called me sounding a little stressed. She was looking for soy milk (as avoiding dairy), garbanzo beans, oil and chicken. I sent her to St Lawrence Market to Ying Ying Soy Foods who processes organic soy beans grown by Marcus and Jessie in Dashwood Ontario and may have soy milk, but definitely have tofu. (They also participate in the Wychwood and Brickworks Farmers Markets.)

Potts of 4 Life in Kensington Market is a great place to look for local foods and may have a varieties of beans for her. Although, garbanzos may be hard to find. Natures Way Organics (also at Wychwood and Brickworks) has sunflower oil this year and it’s great. they also grow beans and will have them later in the year.

Again, the markets are best place to start and most have meat and chicken vendors. But, due to a provincial standard they are only allowed to sell frozen. (Something to do with transporting perishables.) Not the smartest move. A lot if frozen meat is brought to the market in coolers and put back in the freezer several hours later. This back and forth, partial thaw and freeze, may happen several times. I bet more meat would sell being fresh without this rule to protect us.

Not to taint the meat vendors but I sent her to Sanagan’s Butcher, also in Kensington. In his second year, this young butcher is developing quite a following. Dealing directly with Ontario farmers, oftentimes you can get meat hours old from the abattoirs. Being quite small, he orders a couple times a week and sells out by the weekend.

I look forward to learning more about Rebecca’s new diet. Her roll up your sleeves determination will come in handy. I wonder if she will influence others to join in her adventure, creating a ripple effect of location conscience eaters? Or maybe the opposite may occur and she develops an extra appreciation for the well mechanized and fully-stocked chain grocery store?

I guess her blog will tell.

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