- Agronomic: barley, corn, rye, spelt, wheat
- Animal Production: feed/forage
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: networking, workshop
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, value added
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, sustainability measures
The Maine Grain Alliance will develop farmer/baker/chef/miller workshops to bring together the producers who can collectively rebuild a successful grain economy in Somerset County and other areas of Maine. Farmers who are growing or who want to grow wheat and other grains will meet with bakers and chefs interested in purchasing their harvests. The workshops will analyze and test the properties, flavors and behaviors of the 32 varieties of wheat now being trialed in Maine. The goal is to increase demand for local flour and grains, increase the acreage dedicated to sustainable grain cultivation, and limit the amount of time and expense needed to adapt the harvest of unblended, whole grain flours into existing baking and cooking formulas. The association of professionals resulting from the workshops will be primed to add grains as a rotational crop in local and regional food systems, and to solving the issues and challenges that limit local wheat and grains as an income crop for Somerset County and Maine Farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
During the first three workshops we will develop the tools and expertise to analyze local flours and breads for flavor and performance. Working with the 16 varieties of winter wheat and the 16 varieties of spring wheat trialed on Maine farms by University of Maine Extension’s Bread Wheat Project, bakers and farmers will grow to appreciate and understand the variability and biodiversity of regional grains as opposed to the uniform characteristics of flour produced far away on an industrial scale. Dr. Ellen Mallory will advise on the adaptability of each wheat variety to Maine’s microclimates and soil conditions. We will also make use of wheat breeding data and flour analysis available from the Bread Lab at Washington State University, site of our west coast sister conference Kneading Conference West (kneadingconferencewest.com).
Farmers will benefit by developing relationships with the end users of their wheat, and from the opportunity to learn which varieties best meet the needs of chefs and professional bakers. Bakers will gain by limiting the duplication of effort to test the range of wheats becoming available in Maine, and by meeting the farmers and millers who complete the grain network and whose stories will give bakers and chefs a comprehensive picture of the impact of their grain and flour-based choices.
At each workshop, grain farmers will describe their farms, the wheat growing process, and the particular challenges, successes and failures encountered, giving bakers who want to highlight the grains and flour from a particular farm a personal story with which to entice their clients.
A typical workshop: The wheat berries will be ground fresh on a commercial mill. To demonstrate the suitability of the flour for the slow fermentation of bread recipes vs. the shorter application for cracker and other pastries, participants will mix and bake simple basic doughs for each. If the flour has been tested in a lab, Barak Olins, the workshop developer/baker, will present the data regarding protein, water, and gluten content. Comparing flavor, texture, rise and other components and outcomes with the lab results will add to the farmers’ ability to grow the most salable wheat, and the bakers’ ability to use it.
Although these workshops are breaking new ground by increasing our understanding of the science, flavor, and performance of wheat varieties, it is in fact ancient territory that is at the heart of the workshops. Artisan chefs, bakers, and farmers carry forward the tradition of serving their families and communities the best food their circumstances and talents can provide. They are historically and currently the advocates and interpreters for flavor. The workshops renew and refresh the time-honored dedication to enrich the experience of food.
According to Jonathan Stevens, baker/owner of Hungry Ghost Bakery and a 2012 presenter at the Kneading Conference, one of the unexpected bonuses of working with unblended local varieties of wheat is that bakers are called upon to explore their fullest potential as artisans, that is to say, to relearn the sensibilities meant by “hand crafted”: the ability to judge a dough by its feel and respond to its individual characteristics. The art of the artisan has been lost due to the blending and stripping of wheat flour in the name of consistency and shelf life. Local flour places extra demands on bakers and farmers, but it also adds to the purposefulness of their work by allowing for pride in the uniqueness of their locally sourced products and by establishing a means by which they can support local farmers.
MGA will collect and categorize data and language describing the attributes of each variety of Maine-grown wheat and its best uses. Working with our web designer we will develop the media tools that will allow us to share educational information on the MGA website. Since 2007, MGA has played a part in inspiring local grain projects nationwide. As new bakeries and gristmills spring up and new farms plant grains, there is an ever increasing community to stay connected with and to learn from. With its wide online audience and national partners like King Arthur Flour, and now, the Kneading Conference West at the Washington State University Mount Vernon Agriculture Research and Extension Center, the Maine Grain Alliance is poised to connect these separate pockets of complementary endeavors to each other.
To facilitate efficiencies in the whole grain system of cultivation, processing and distribution, the Maine Grain Alliance will rely on its ongoing relationship with King Arthur Flour, a national employee-owned business, and other national corporations with whom we are currently exploring the possibility of collaborative projects. These mega-companies are in a position to mentor the best ways to devise distribution, marketing, and financial systems scaled to serve a region as opposed to the individual system of duplication and inefficiency of individual efforts that are the norm for independent farmers, bakers, and millers.
The new Information coming in from farmers, wheat breeders, chefs and bakers requires cataloguing and a method for easy access. MGA will develop a template for adding and updating information to the MGA website. Useful information will include wheat varieties favored for various bakery and added-value products that are also suitable for Maine’s soils and climate, successful models of restoring grain economies to rural communities, descriptive language, analysis, flavor, and behavior in baking formulas of different wheat varieties, and a directory
of resources for specific grain growing, drying, storing, and milling information. The information will be organized by category and updated regularly on the Maine Grain Alliance website.
Each farmer/baker/chef workshop and each Kneading Conference will be surveyed to learn what the current issues are regarding grain cultivation and grain use in baking. This information will be incorporated into the content of future workshops.
Information, trends, and models for development of successful grain economies will be presented as part of the Kneading Conference annual agenda.
The MGA Facebook presence and Constant Contact emails (reaching 3000+ individuals self-selected for their interest in bread, grains, and local foods) is an opportunity to make information coming out of the workshops available to the baking public.
The direction we are headed: based on the format developed from the baker/farmer/chef workshops, and on advice from culinary program professors committed to this concept (Richard Miscovich, Johnson & Wales University; Meg Broderick, Southern Maine Community College, and Michael Rhoads, New England Culinary Institute), MGA, over the next 3 years, will develop an externship program for culinary students pursuing an artisan baking path. This program will also serve as an exchange program for institutional baking corporations who want to encourage the creativity of their staff by sending them on a “craft” baking experience to meet the farmer, the miller, and artisan bakers. The goal of developing an externship/exchange program is to increase demand for regional grains and flour, to develop awareness among baking professionals of the advantages of sourcing flour locally in support of regional grain networks and local farmers, and to teach the skills required to adapt to this style of baking. Furthermore, at the annual Kneading Conferences, artisan bakers report that they need young bakers coming along who are already versed in the art of baking with unblended whole wheat flours. Training apprentices who may or may not discover a passion for the artisan baker’s life is an expensive gamble for small artisan bakeries to take on. At present, none of the New England culinary baking programs offer a whole grain, artisan track. The artisan educational track will be built on the first collaborative farmer/baker workshops developed by the Maine Grain Alliance at the MGA Grain & Bread Lab.