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Spring Gillard
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The Grain Chains

I went to a wonderful event last spring called, Weaving the Chains: Heritage Grains and CSAs. It was put on by Farm Folk City Folk (FFCF). They are part of a grain revival movement in BC. Until the 1940’s, grain was being grown here in significant quantities, but the Prairies finally muscled us out of the biz. The now famous 100-Mile dieters found sourcing grain within the region the most difficult part of their eat local experiment. They would have fared much better today from what I heard at the event.

John McKenzie from Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill in Chilliwack spoke. John provides locally milled, fresh organic flour to Suzanne Fielden at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. The restaurant’s motto is to “change the world through pizza”. We dined on their divine creations that evening; each pie lovingly topped with many local ingredients.

Chris Hergesheimer, Farm Folk’s grain researcher gave a snappy summary of the history of grain. He did his Masters thesis on small-scale grain initiatives in Southwestern BC. The FFCF grain project is designed to help expand production of grains, flour and bread particularly in SW BC where there are an increasing number of farmers growing grain. Chris is helping to network the growers and processors, steering them to various sales channels – “ strengthening the links in the grain chain so to speak. He is also providing workshops around planting, growing methods, harvesting, milling and baking.

Chris told us about the clusters of activity happening all around the province. One such activity is a grain CSA, or community shared agriculture initiative. The two young people, Martin Twigg and Ayla Harker, who have started Urban Grains were also there. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Members will receive a combo of about 40 pounds of fall-sown winter wheat, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) and hard red spring wheat (best for bread), all grown by a farmer in Agassiz.

Robert Giardino from the Heritage Grains Foundation spoke as well. The Foundation is dedicated to the cultivation and preservation of open-pollinated, non-gmo (genetically modified organisms) strains; so seeds that can be collected and grown from year to year and varieties that were available prior to the 20th century. He also had a great display of heritage grains and small mills.

There were shopping opps too. Picked up a copy of Demeter’s Wheats by local grain historian, Sharon Rempel and a bag of flour from Sea Bluff Farm on the Island. It came with a little recipe book filled with step-by-step instructions for successful pancakes, honey cake and scones. And just for fun, those who were energetic after all that pizza, could jump onto a pedal-powered grinder and give the rest of us a milling demo.

I ran into another link in the chain when I was in Kelowna this summer. Fieldstone Granary in Armstrong produces organic spelt, buckwheat, flax, barley, oats and various other whole grains. They source first from Okanagan grain farmers, then BC, then the Prairies. They sell the whole grains to retain their freshness and nutritional quality and encourage their customers to grind their own cereal and flour as they need it. They sell a number of countertop mills on their web site.

There’s another cool initiative happening up in the Kootenays: The Nelson-Creston CSA, the first in the province. Urban Grains was inspired by this project. They’ve created a lot of interest while building their local grain economy, partly because they are transporting their product from Nelson to the southern shores of Kootenay Lake by sailboat! A whole fleet of them! The grain chain, woven on waves.

1 comment to The Grain Chains

  • Awesome summary! We launched Island Grains this summer, through which 51 families (plus ours) learned how to grow grains on a small scale. You only need 1,100 sq.ft. (approx. 1/40 of an acre) to produce 60lbs of wheat — enough to feed our family! It took the two of us one lazy day to harvest our year’s supply of wheat with scissors and RubberMaid tubs.

    While there are many, many great books out there for anyone interested in small-scale grains, Gene Logsdon’s Small-Scale Grain Raising is truly inspiring. Chelsea Green publishing just released the 2nd edition in April.

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