WHERE DOES OUR FLOUR COME FROM~
a three part series
“as the countryside lived off its harvests and cities off the surplus, it was sensible for a town to obtain its provisions from within striking distance – ‘from its own possessions.’” Ferdnand Braudl
BREAD, in its most basic form, consists of 3 ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt. Although our salt cannot not be sourced locally, but from Sonoma County, CA, it is our goal to cultivate from what is around us. Which led to our search for grains, primarily wheat – the most important grain in the world.
Moving from Northern California, I had the notion that wheat was readily available in the upper midwest, in our beloved Mill City. What I found instead, driving through the state, were fields of corn and soy. Arriving in Minneapolis, it became clear that the artisan bakeries prefer flour from beyond the midwest, as the local flour doesn’t meet their standards.
Although surprised, this isn’t uncommon. Every day, flour is shipped across the country, more frequently for large bakeries, where small farms and mills can’t compete with the quantity and consistency of the flour, or they simply are unable to meet the demands that good bread requires. Rustica, which could still be considered small, for example, cannot source white flour from Minnesota because the farms and mills cannot meet their demand, 290,000 lbs a year: 111 acres.
LAUNE, then, is what we consider a microbakery, and our demands often seem limitless. With the goal of baking 400 loaves a week, we would be using 19,000 lbs of flour total: 5½ acres. With only one set of hands making our bread, there is more flexibility in terms of flour consistency, as we can adjust our baking methods to compensate for different baking characteristics. Consistency is less of an issue when you don’t rely on machines and are observant to the changes in the dough.
After six months of searching, we found grain farmers & millers within striking distance – Askegaard Organic Farm in Moorhead, MN; Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock, WI; Whole Grain Milling in Welcome, MN.
Beyond those who supply us with flour today, there are our future grain farmers & millers - ; Beautiful Beards Grain Farm in River Falls, WI; Fitzgerald Organics in St. Cloud, MN; Skinny Jake’s Fat Honey in Schafer, MN; Brown Seed Genetics in Bay City, WI. Grains, just like fruits and vegetables, exhibit different characteristics – flavor, taste, volume in bread– in different regions, no less farms. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, each region had its own grain economy, growing varietals that were best suited for the climate, which were then represented in bread. Dinkelbrot is very common in Swabia (region in S. Germany), as is pain d’épeautre in southern France. This is owing to the fact that Spelt and Einkorn are grains well suited to the region.
Last year the Twin Cities was included in a nationwide conference on regional grain systems, and what we took from the conference is that we as bakers have no relationship with those that grow or mill our grains. There were two dozen bakers & chefs, researchers from UMN, and only one farmer – a vegetable farmer. There are a lot of challenges in growing grains, especially to introduce them on a farm, and with no connection to bakers or millers, there is little incentive to take on this challenge. And so we are working towards creating relationships with farmers, finding grains that grow well in their soil that represent the region, with the hope of showcasing it in our bread.
PART ONE :
ASKEGAARD ORGANIC FARM [moorhead, mn · 238mi]
A fifth generation family farm, Mark Askegaard and his family grow wheat, soy and flax. They grow hard red spring wheat, and are currently milling their 2014 harvest, a varietal called Barlow developed by North Dakota State University. They have an impact mill on their property to mill our whole wheat flour.
Spring wheat is planted when the soil conditions are dry enough in the spring to work the ground and plant the crop. The average planting date at Askegaard is April 30th. Harvest often occurs in the middle of August, when the wheat has dried to a storable & millable water content, before it rains.
Minnesota and North Dakota typically grow spring wheat rather than winter wheat (planted in the fall and overwinters) due to the harsh climate – the freezing temperatures and flat land leads to cold winds that lead to winterkill, and a loss of crop. Cross into Wisconsin and winter wheat is more common due to the rolling hills. In general, hilly Wisconsin has a longer grain growing season thanks to the protection offered by these hills.
Mark and his family grow varietals developed by NDSU and UMN, as is common, because they have been bred for upper midwest growing conditions, yield, disease resistance, milling and baking qualities. Although heritage and landrace varieties, such as Red Fife, have become increasingly popular, there are currently no commercial varietals local to our region. As Mark explains, “I remember my father telling me stories of how one year an older variety which everyone was planting, was devastated by rust and a new release which only one farmer grew had resistance to the strain of rust. That year the new variety yielded well, the farmer was able to sell his wheat to other farmers for a huge premium for seed and that this event almost single handedly made him a millionaire.”
His flour makes up 58% of the flour used in Bread Bread and is used to maintain our sourdough culture daily.
PART TWO :
LONESOME STONE MILLING [lone rock, wi · 249mi]
Lonesome Stone, headed by Gilbert Williams, is a mill in the small town of Lone Rock along the Wisconsin river, an hour west of Madison. They are located in the Driftless Region, where they source grain directly from three farmers. Yet due to harvest yields this past year, their current bread flour is blended with flour imported from Canada to achieve the desired baking qualities.
The Driftless Region is unique in our midwest landscape, as the glaciers bypassed southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent land in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois during the last glacial period. The landscape beyond the Driftless Region, what is typical of the midwest, was essentially flattened and buried by silt, sand, clay, and other glacial “drift” as the ice sheets receded.
The Driftless Region, in turn, contains narrow ridges and valleys, rolling hills and meandering waterways. Due to this topography, small farms have maintained a strong presence as the landscape is not suitable for industrial ag. It is this topography that also determines where grains are planted, with ridge top farmland the ideal over river valleys, as misty mornings result in wheat with lower starch content, and thus, inadequate bread flour.
Lonesome Stone uses a grist mill, also known as a stone burr mill to pulverize their flour, a process distinct from modern roller mills, which separates each component of the grain. And so their “white” flour actually contains a significant amount of germ and bran, as the flour particles are not distinctly divided into their individual components, germ, bran, and endosperm.
The mill is composed of two 30” millstones, cut from Balfour pink granite quarried in North Carolina. It sits in a renovated 1912 general store, most formerly an organic meat processor. The mill itself is in the former walk-in cooler and totes of grain where the meatlocker was once found.
PART THREE :
WHOLE GRAIN MILLING [welcome, mn · 133mi]
A family run farm & mill, you can find Whole Grain Milling’s grains, flours, and seeds in our co-ops. They grow the majority of their products on their farm, and source the rest from within the midwest due to growing conditions and the capacity of their farm. As an organic farm, and likely the case for our other suppliers, they utilize crop rotations to manage their soil, both through the variety of grains they grow as well as alfalfa and sweet clover, reintroducing a crop to a plot of land 3 years after it was last harvested.
As is mandated by growing conditions (drought, etc.), they must periodically also rely on sourcing beyond their preferred region, an example being Spelt sourced from Ohio in years past. Yet they maintain high standards for their products and the integrity of organics, and will go without a grain rather than source from China, where the organics market is questionable.
We use a variety of their goods, including spelt & rye flour, rolled oats, millet, sunflower, and flax seed.