In March I attend the 2016 Grain Growers Conference that was held in Essex, VT at the lovely Essex Resort and Spa.
As a self-described “bread head” myself I was interested in learning more about this event.
Initially I had planned on visiting Elmore Mountain Bread to learn more about their wood-fired bread oven and bakery scheduling, but when they told me they would be presenting at this conference, I signed up right away to attend.
After humble beginnings of 20-25 people at their first event, now into their 12th annual conference, the number of attendees has grown to over 200.
After a rousing talk and call to action about climate change by 350.org founder and guest speaker Bill Mckibben, the day got underway with a presentation by Andrew Heyn and Blair Marvin from Elmore Mountain Bread who constructed a custom built stone mill used for milling all the grains in their breads.
Having large quantity of bread move out weekly from the bakery, only a portion of their stone milled flour is grown locally at this point.
They bake 400-600 loaves 3 times per week.
Andrew and Blair purchase a lot of the wheat berries from Champlain Valley Milling.
Their presentation went full circle from farm to flour as the farmer who grows the heritage wheat, Vermont Redeemer, was also in attendance to help answer questions.
Stone Milling Flour
By stone-milling their flour the day before bake, Blair said that the aroma of the breads is increased versus flour that is hammer or roller milled weeks before.
The sourdough levains are also more active and they’ve ended up using less starter as a result.
This could be attributed to the low temperatures that low speed milling provides that keeps the flour more “alive” and full of natural yeasts and microorganisms.
Andrew said having a farmer they can work closely with has helped them explore new options in flavor and expose their customers to the “terroir” of Vermont local flour.
“It’s great marketing for local flour,” said Blair.
Other grain farmers, Thor Oechsner and Sean O’Donnell gave excellent presentations that’s shared their experiences in growing barley, oats, buckwheat, spelt, emmer and other grains in regional climates very similar to what we have in the North Country.
The New Bread Basket
Amy Halloran whom I’ve met in the past at local grains workshops and events through the Maine Graine Alliance, was on-hand to talk about baking with local grains and using her favorite pancake recipes as an edible demonstration.
Amy has just written a book, “The New Bread Basket,” from Chelsea Green Publishing, which documents her love and research into local grains, and includes many stories of the farmers, the bakers and maltsters who are re-animating & re-energizing the local grain economy.
It’s a time capsule of how far we’ve come with local grains and points to a positive future of where it might be headed as more and more folks get involved and explore niche markets in their community.
I highly recommend checking it out.
Local Wheat Challenges
Having grown and harvested organic wheat at the Cornell Research Farm last Summer in Willsboro, I was very interested to hear about the latest research on fusarium head blight (or scab) which is a fungus, potentially toxic, that affects wheat in our climate.
“Grain Diseases” had it’s own session from Cornell Plant Pathologist Jaime Cummings, and Brook Brouwer from the Organic Seed Alliance.
They discussed growing wheat and barley for craft malt industry and also talked about on-farm seed production of dry beans and wheat.
At first I thought I was the only one there from my area, but then I met Michael Feeheley from Full and By Farm.
We exchanged info and both agreed that the conference was chock full of useful information.
The 2017 Grain Growers Conference will be held next year in March and I think it’s an excellent opportunity for bakers, farmers, maltsters and anyone else involved with grains to learn from experienced innovators and sprout new ideas for your community.