Know Your Wheat: Local & Heritage Grains

Are you someone interested in food culture? If so, you’ve probably got your favorite local restaurants and bakeries, your favorite local beers and cheeses - maybe you even have a favorite farm or farmer’s market. But have you given much thought to local grains?

In Wisconsin and around the country, the concept of “Local Food” is nothing new. Many farm-to-table restaurants purchase from producers who supply them with vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy, fish and sometimes even foraged goods like ramps, morels and watercress. Cider made from locally grown apples can be found in co-ops and grocery stores, and even wine is being made from locally-grown Wisconsin grapes.

But what about the grains we eat everyday?

Think about it: how often does it occur to you to notice where the flour in a loaf of bread from your favorite local bakery came from? What about the oats in your favorite locally made granola? Or the grains used to distill your favorite local craft spirit? Even amongst people who care a great deal about local foods, local grains are often overlooked.

But did you know that all of these examples of grain are being grown in Wisconsin?

We can buy a lot of different types of grains today, but the king of all grains eaten in America and grown around the world is Triticum aestivum, or common wheat. Much of the wheat we eat today comes from Canada and even overseas from places like China, Turkey, and Russia. But our Wisconsin climate is great for wheat and other grains; from 1840 - 1880 1/6th of all wheat grown in America was grown in Wisconsin.

At Grafton Stone Mill we aim to fill in the gaps in the availability of local grain. We stone mill local, organic grains - both modern varieties of wheat and heirloom wheat varieties. Heirloom wheat (also called heritage wheat) varieties are those that have not been cross-bred with other strains, which means they remain pure or close to their original form. These wheat grains are also sometimes referred to as “ancient grains,” which includes things like emmer, einkorn, quinoa, amaranth and spelt, just to name a few.

Our favorite heirloom wheat variety, and the one we have been milling the longest is called Red Fife - a hard red spring wheat beloved by bakers for it’s flavor. Red Fife was also one of the first wheat varieties to be grown in Wisconsin over 100 years ago.

(Just to clear up any questions out there, our flour is ALWAYS organic and NEVER made from GMOs.)

Why should I eat local grains?

  1. When it comes to food, buying local usual means getting a better tasting, healthier product than the alternative, and grains and flour are no different. Oftentimes, when flour is milled it sits around waiting for a customer to decide to buy it. Our flour is milled when each order is received, which guarantees our customers get the freshest product possible. When freshly milled, grains provide a wide variety of nutritional benefits and the flavor of baked goods made with fresh flour is noticeably better!
  2. We believe consumers should care about purchasing, eating and in general supporting local grains for the same reasons you want to support any local movement. A vibrant local economy is beneficial for everyone - buying local means keeping more money in your own state, region and community.
  3. Buying local grains also helps local farmers. Many farmers are looking to diversify their offerings, and adding additional varieties of grain is a great way to accomplish this. If a farmer is already adept at growing grain like corn, it means they have the equipment and the knowledge to grow a successful grain crop. Different grains require different skill sets and pieces of equipment, but overall a farmer already growing corn will take on less risk to grow a heritage variety of grain than he would if he were considering raising beef cattle - an enterprise which would require a very different set of skills and equipment. Many farmers have expressed their excitement at trialling new and different varieties of grains, including many heritage, heirloom and ancient grains. It’s one of our goals at Grafton Stone Mill to work with farmers to give them an outlet for these exciting crops to increase and diversify their revenue streams.

Local grains, whether heirloom wheat, ancient grains or tried and true hybrid strains are gaining in popularity as consumers realize their potential as a better-for-you, tastier option - and one that also helps your local economy. If you have questions, comments or want to know where to get your hands on our grain - drop us a line!