Organic Consumers Association

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The Local Food Movement Reaches Into the Breadbasket for Flour That Has the Flavor of Home

SQUINTING in the afternoon sun, Alton Earnhart strolled across his farm here in the Hudson Valley one day last month with Don Lewis, a baker and miller. Rows of wheat swayed to the horizon.

A farmer and a miller surveying fields of russet wheat would not have been an unusual sight here on a late-summer day 200 years ago. Gristmills once dotted the banks of streams and rivers throughout New York, mapping out settlement just as subway stations today chart New York City's migratory patterns.

Today, nearly all of the nation's wheat is grown on vast fields and milled in factories in the Midwest. Over the past few years, though, farmers and millers like Mr. Earnhart and Mr. Lewis have begun restoring wheat fields and reviving flour mills around the country.

In New Mexico, a cooperative of Native American and Latino farmers produce a boutique local flour. In Western Massachusetts, a baking couple has persuaded their customers to plant front-lawn wheat patches. In Vermont, a farmer whose homegrown wheat flour was a curiosity when he began growing it in the 1970s now can't keep up with demand. And in Pennsylvania, a venerable pastry flour brand from the 1800s has been resurrected, made with local organic wheat.

Similar movements have started around the globe, including in Japan, where some udon noodle makers are using local wheat instead of the Australian wheat they had relied upon, and in Israel, where a group of Jewish and Arab farmers are trying to grow native varieties of wheat to supplant the American wheat that dominates the market there.

In New York, a consortium of farmers and bakers called Northeast Organic Wheat is challenging the assumption that the state's soil and climate make high-quality wheat impossible. "That's what I heard that frustrated me 10 years ago, you can't grow it here," said Mr. Earnhart. "That's like saying to me, go do it."

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