June 15, 2015

I want Massachusetts to grow grain

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Chris, his son, and I went to visit Four Star the other day. Not sure who is happier in this picture, Chris or his little buddy. Four Star is a farm that is literally a couple of miles from where I grew up in Western Mass. I used to ride my bicycle by their fields on the way to play at my friend Sorrel’s house in the summer.

There isn’t much grain grown in New England today. I’d like to change that.

I think locally grown gain is cleaner food. It tastes better. If you haven’t had fresh ground gain it might be hard to appreciate what I’m talking about. I didn’t know there was a difference until 3 years ago when I got a grain grinder for a birthday present. We now buy wheat berries at our house, not flour. It’s just so so much better tasting.

Grain growing in New England is new and old. It was common place pre-industrial farming, but became almost extinct by the time I was riding my bike as a kid. Those fields I was riding by were sod fields back then.

There are a few growers who are trying to bring grain back to our region. We know of 2 that have sizable harvests and a half dozen others that grow on a smaller scale. Four Star is probably the best positioned to make Massachusetts grown-grain accessible in the near future.

Four Star was started in the late 1970s by Bonnie and Eugene L’Etoile as a sod farm. In the past decade the kids decided to come back and help run the family business. Liz, who married into the family and runs sales and marketing, was generous enough to give us a complete tour. One of their ideas was to diversify away from Sod-only. So now they grow grains and are ramping up a pretty large (for MA) hops crop. But sod is still the core of their business and keeps the farm running.

I think grain used to be grown as a cover crop season-to-season in New England. But now the sometimes damp conditions in New England are seen as bad for grains. Last year a huge amount of the Four Star grain crop was lost (something like 30%). Farmers would rather grow in very dry environments with water piped in, easier to control humidity and prevent crop loss.

As you may know we’re days away from baking our own pita. We’d love to use 100% New England grown grains because they are so ridiculously flavorful, but that’s just not going to be possible. So we’re thinking we could design our recipes to allow something like 20-30% local grain, this is something we think we could support with relationships with existing growers. We would like to make the recipe flexible so that we can sub in different grains, hard wheat, rye, spelt. That would allow us to better support the farmers getting this industry kicked off.

I’d really like our grain to be organic, and it looks like this is going to be one of those situations where we have to decided between organic product from elsewhere vs. conventional product that’s grown close to us. The Four Star grain tastes much better than the King Arthur Organic Flour, so I think it will win. But the Uppingil flour, from an organic farm down the street from Four Star, tastes better yet (they supply my kitchen at home but don’t have the volumes to supply Clover). So I’m thinking we will try to work with Four Star on a project to start growing organic.

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