The Heritage Wheat Conservancy is restoring the almost lost heritage wheats of the Old World and colonial New England. After years of collecting rare wheats with traditional farmers in remote European and Middle Eastern villages, Eli Rogosa hosted a field day for researchers, flour companies and organic farmers last Thursday in Massachusetts. 96 varieties of delicious rare world wheat on the verge of extinction are thriving at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Organic Research Farm.
World heritage wheats, once the staple food of the western world, are on the verge of extinction. Modern wheats are bred for uniformity, and dwarfed so they don't fall over under the intensive agrochemicals of industrial farms and for convenient harvest height. However, modern wheats are lower in nutrition and flavor, and are not well suited to organic soils due to their stubby roots and short stalks.
According to Eli Rogosa, Founder of the Conservancy, “The best way to preserve the delicious ancient wheats are to market them to today's discerning artisan bakers and gourmet chefs who seek the highest quality, nutrient-rich foods.”
Cereals grains, and in particular wheat, are the mainstay of the global daily diet, especially of the world's poor. Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, for instance, import a whopping 90% of all national wheat requirements from the US and other mega farms. What makes this percentage disturbing is that these countries are located in the Southern Fertile Crescent, the center of origin for wild wheat-the mother of all cultivated wheat!
One of the many landrace wheat varieties that Rogosa is restoring is the almost extinct varieties of wheat, Hourani and Jaljuli that were discovered in earthen jars at Masada. These Biblical varieties were discovered by Yigal Yadin- Israeli archeologist, politician, and translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating back over 2,000 years ago, this type of wheat was widely consumed throughout ancient Israel. Rogosa is also restoring the ancient varieties of Emmer, the only variety of wheat eaten in Ancient Egypt, and the variety also used in the original Matzah and the Lehem Ha'Panin (Bread of the Presence) in the Mishkon.
These landrace wheat varieties are unique not only because eating them makes you feel closer to your biblical ancestors, but these varieties were carefully selected by farmers over centuries for their distinctive, rich flavor, nutritional value, disease resilience, and drought tolerant qualities. Unfortunately, most of these varieties are overlooked by modern industrial wheat companies that favor high yield and uniformity over all else.
The Heritage Wheat Conservancy is funded by the USDA to work with the organic farming associations in New York and the New England area to restore our heritage of wheats, and to involve organic farmers in growing the varieties best adapted to organic farms.
Liat Racin is an intern working out of the OCA's Washington D.C. office.
A Taste of Ancient Days
By Liat Racin, OCA Intern
Organic Consumers Association, July 20, 2009
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