East Bay Farmers, Millers, and Bakers Bring us Homegrown Grains

Book review by Kristina Sepetys

Grain dropping onto the millstone at Miller’s Bake House near Chico.

Grain dropping onto the millstone at Miller’s Bake House near Chico.

While locally grown fruits and vegetables have always been fairly easy to come by in the Bay Area, locally grown California grains, particularly wheat, have been more difficult to find. Growing, milling, malting, and marketing grains requires a lot of land, equipment, and cooperation among farmers, processors, and bakers, along with support from grain-loving consumers. Thankfully, community efforts and public demand have supported local farmers in their effort to grow more grains. Rominger Brothers Farms in Winters and Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley are both growing and milling fine heirloom grains and flours like Hard Red and White Winter wheat flour and Iraqi durum wheat flour. Eatwell Farm in Dixon offers Heirloom Sonora flour, milled at their farm.

Community Grains, based in Oakland, is also developing local grain economies. The company grew out of a desire on the part of Bob Klein, owner of Oliveto restaurant, and his culinary staff to have a source of locally grown whole grain flour for pastas, pizzas, and polenta. In exploring local grain offerings, they learned firsthand how much grain is produced in large scale, industrial settings. To access the sort of grain they wanted, an entire local infrastructure involving farmers, millers, bakers, and others had to be developed. What began as an effort to supply their restaurant turned into a new business built on partnerships with local farmers (like Full Belly Farm), millers, bakers, and restaurateurs to offer a variety of California-grown grains, flours, and pastas.

Among its many delicious pasta and flour offerings, Community Grains makes a remarkable product called Organic Floriani Red Flint Corn Polenta Integrale. The Floriani red flint corn is a rare heirloom variety that nearly became extinct. Milled with a rough texture and flecked with red and brown, its hearty, sweet flavor can be enjoyed with savory dishes or as a breakfast cereal. I first tasted it in a simple, rich polenta with fresh parmesan and mushrooms at Lungomare restaurant in Jack London Square, and I thought it was one of the most satisfying dishes—flavorful and rich—that I’ve ever eaten.

Local baker Eduardo Morell, owner of Morell’s Bread, uses Full Belly Farm’s wheat flour to make his Local Loaf, a whole-wheat bread sold at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Three Stone Hearth, and elsewhere around town. At Standard Fare, Kelsie Kerr makes most of her beautiful, creative baked goods from local flours. Her offerings are always changing, but this week she’s turning out chocolate chip cookies made from TCHO chocolate and Full Belly’s Iraqi durum wheat; crispy, spicy ginger cookies from that same flour; and a flavorful purple barley and poppyseed shortbread cookie, also from Full Belly flours.

Each of us can contribute to the growth of our local grain community by trying some of the baked goods and pastas made by artisans using local grains. Or we might try cooking with local grains, flours, and pastas at home. Find them boxed and in bulk at Monterey Market, Rockridge Market Hall, and The Pasta Shop, or buy directly from the farms’ websites.

Amy Halloran’s book The New Bread Basket explores regional grain systems and the farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, and maltsters working to rebuild them. Their work builds alternatives to industrial models and revives economies, relationships, and communities in the process. She’ll be speaking at Omnivore Books in San Francisco this Sunday. Info: here.

Amy Halloran: The New Bread Basket
Reading and book signing
Sunday March 6, 3pm
3885a Cesar Chavez St, San Francisco


The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers,
Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and
Local Food Activists are Redefining our Daily Loaf

by Amy Halloran
(Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015)

Amy Halloran, writer and pancake enthusiast, has been following the revival of the regional grain movement in the Northeast for several years. Her book, The New Bread Basket, reveals the bones of the cooperation between seed breeders, agronomists, and grassroots food activists who are collaborating with farmers, millers, bakers, and other local producers to make this fundamental crop visible and vital again. Halloran also explores whether changes in farming and processing brought about by large-scale industrial farming might contribute to the many health issues associated with wheat and gluten and investigates whether returning to traditional whole grains and processing methods (like long sourdough fermentations) might address some of these issues.