Friday, December 3, 2010

Great Grain Lecture at The New School

Great Grains 

I was excited to see the invitation to The New School lecture in New York City for three reasons:  it featured Gramercy Tavern restaurant Executive Chef Michael Anthony, who is a featured master chef in my book, New York City Homegrown that celebrates Gotham’s culinary revolutionaries and leaders of the farm to table movement. 

Second, the topic was “The Educated Eater: Regionally Grown Grain.”
Now, a grain may be just a tiny thing, but, hey, size is not everything.
The fact is grains are Big news. They are important.
I can’t make my breads without them, after all. 

I have written about Cayuga Pure Organics, a local grain grower in upstate New York.  (
 -- February 4, 2010)
The Cayuga Pure Organics miller was on the panel for the evening. So that was another plus. 
My curiosity to learn more about grains is unabated. I wanted to learn more.
And lastly, the New School is a mere half a block from the apartment.
Perhaps that is four reasons…

In any event, as Eloise would say, I “skibbled” down the street on a lovely late autumn evening, past the movie-set Gothic beauty of the First Presbyterian church across the street and on the way down the block.
There was lots going on at the New School.  I found I had to cross back over the courtyard and up to the top floor

Signing in, I could see the panel discussion drew a fairly good-sized audience.  

And the session was being videotaped.

It was disappointing Chef Michael was not able to make it, according to the New School registration.  
The good food news though was Registration provided flyers announcing Food Studies at The New School: A Cutting Edge Discipline.  Citing "Food as a subject of study is becoming increasingly popular... from TV to blogs :) to food-related issues from safety scares to environmental concerns, to Mrs. Obama's campaign about obesity, Food Studies at The New School will include courses on food history, food policy and politics, the environment, sustainable food systems and media...
For more information visit: 

The panel was composed of inspired experts, moderated by June Russell

June’s bio on the handout says she joined Greenmarket in 2004 and learned the market system through managing neighborhood-based markets across the City. For the last four years she has been the organizations Farm Inspections Manager and has traveled extensively within the region, visitor producer farms and production facilities.  These experiences have given her background and insight to think strategically on behalf of growers and about steps to rebuild or local food system. Her recent work on facilitating the production of grains and processing in the region highlights Greenmarket’s capacity to be a progressive force in driving farm viability in the Northeast.

She demonstrated her acumen and passion for the subject – and for the panelists’ participation and devotion to their craft.
The discussion was a high point – part of Greenmarket’s Grains Week, November 14-21, 2010.
The moderator, June, provided an overview of grains; how we got to where we are today with pretty much a monoculture of grains used for food production. 

Soon, she introduced the three panelists, 

starting with Alston Earnhardt, Grower, Lightning Tree Farm, Dutchess County, NY.

After raising bee, pork, lamb and chickens and growing the grain to feed his animals, Alston “realized there was more interest in the organic feed he was producing than the livestock.” He was soon “committed to growing organic grains for animal feed.” 
Seems Alston was consumed with grains. 
So it wasn’t too much of a stretch when he started “growing food grade grains for his own consumption!
In 2003 he started he started working with Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm Bakery to scale up this production.” 
2010 is the first year the sales of food grade grains have surpassed the sales of grains for livestock, according to The New School material.
Alston pointed out the most common grains used are oats, wheat, barley, and rye. 
He saved seeds to grow and clean. He replanted the seeds himself.

Describing his first challenge, Alston said he was told,  ‘You can’t grow hard wheat in the east,’
“But that’s what I wanted to do!” he chortled
“For home baked bread, most seed varieties are still for arid Midwest, whereas the east is humid.”
He learned he had to get seeds to work with the climate here in the Northeast. 
Now, the varieties of hard and soft wheat he grows are most likely what would have been what was grown here in the 1700’s.

Next up was Greg Moll, the head Miller for Farmed Ground Flower, the “local business that mills grain grown by Cayuga Pure Organics. 
Greg told the rapt listeners what grains he’s been milling.  “It’s a challenge with spelt, rye, buckwheat, saffron, and hard wheat.  I’m still figuring out oats,” he said.  Greg went on to explain that oats need to steam and, presently, they don’t have the money to invest in the equipment to be able to do that. He doesn’t have any infrastructure to remove the hulls.  “The cost is to truck and have work done, so consequently many growers and millers don’t explore ancient varieties. 

The good news is he reports demand is up for greater/more grain varieties.  “People feel passionate about new, rediscovered grains.  So he is bullish the infrastructure will come.

Moll described how moisture makes modern milling tough to do.
He said milling wheat is most complicated.  “Rye and buckwheat are so easy to mill- and they are sustainable. “Eat more buckwheat!” the panelists admonished.

I found it interesting when Greg pointed out that grain growing involves multiple constituencies, including farming and agriculture, millers, and the baking sciences. 
“Whatever bakers ask us for, we’ll work with them,” he said, with what sounded like a lot of respect and artisanal pride.

Moll pointed out that the Greenmarket has been “totally instrumental” in making it possible to expand and provide the flours that bakers and chefs and the public are now asking for.  Plus, he was able to migrate from part time to full time Miller!  He now has the tools at his disposal to offer a greater variety of milled grains and flours.

Panelist Nathan Leamy, Baker and Grains Specialist, provided the International perspective. 
He looks at how people study food. He works for Slow Food USA, teaches bread-baking classes and has traveled the world studying and reporting on food science and agriculture policy.
He first got interested in grains while in college. 
At that time he was keen to learn how alfalfa and Ag policy were changing what we eat in the States.
He was also focused on food consumption and production around the world. 
Eventually he transitioned to home baking. 
And he’s been spreading the word on grains and bread ever since

According to the literature, Leamy studied politics and managed 152 acres of organically grown alfalfa.
He then attended Oberlin College where he worked with the student cooperative association to develop a housing and dining coop, which focused on educating students to eat well.  Upon graduation, Nathan completed a Watson Fellowship studying how global changes in agricultural and economic policy have altered the consumption of traditional breads in Mexico, India, France, Italy and Egypt. 
He currently works as the Associate Director of Operations and Human Resources for Slow Food USA. 
Leamy emphasized how unique grains are. Using an apple as an example, he said all apples basically have the same genetic makeup, whereas grains change a lot with soil, moisture, etc.
On top of that, grains have to be turned into powder stuff then take to another expert.
There were expert bakers and chefs in attendance :) 

“You eat what you have locally. Eat what’s local” were statements echoed by all the panelists.
And now that there is more of a variety of grains being grown locally, there is a choice.  
We don’t have to settle for just more white flour. .
And as growers, these leaders know they can set themselves apart in a crowded, overused white-flour world.

So many variables. 
Bread today is very different from 100 years ago, the panelists pointed out.
Most notable, they commented that breads today are not heavy breads.

Except for my bread.

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