Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tracing our BREAD from GRAIN to LOAF

A couple years ago wintertime: We were understaffed and I was overworked. I was, for the moment, sole miller while at the same time, taking a business accelerator class which meant staying up late at night in front of a computer building spreadsheets of growth projections, and up early to mill. It was the end of a particularly long day of milling and all I wanted to do when I got home that evening was take a shower and crawl into bed. BUT I had committed to meeting with a visiting writer who had requested an interview about Carolina Ground, so begrudgingly I took a quick shower and headed back out into a cold and rainy night (it really was this much of a cliche). 
My mood shifted -- from exhausted introvert to alert and engaged interviewee-- because Simran Sethi asked the right questions. She was in Asheville to interview me; David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Breads + All Souls Pizza; and Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery. We were the subjects she had chosen to inform the bread section of her (recently published) Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (HarperOne). That evening she helped me remember-- in a moment that I needed reminding--  why I do what I do.  And now, two years later, as I read her beautifully crafted manuscript, I am again reminded of how invigorating it was to engage with Simran because it was clear to me that she was writing about more than food— that she understood that the rebuilding of a sustainable food system is larger than food. She writes Flour isn't just flour. Yes, taste and texture and variety are intrinsic to this slow climb out of the industrial commodified mess we have created, but so too, are human relationships. About our mill she writes, The ecosystem of Carolina Ground, as well as other regional growers and baker, reknit ties that globalization and industrialization have stretched thin— bringing the producer, consumer, and everyone in the middle, closer together. It offers us an opportunity for greater accountability, more intimacy and deeper connection.
Simran will be returning to Asheville next week, Thursday January 14th, 7PM,  for a reading and book signing at Malaprops Cafe and Bookstore. We will join her— myself, Jennifer Lapidus of Carolina Ground, as well as David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow Breads, Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery, and Dr David Marshall, wheat breeder, USDA. So please come out and join us for a great discussion coupled with wine and bread.
from the ground up, 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Wheat + Barley for Bread+Beer: Production in WNC

Thursday, June 4, 2015
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mountain Research Station, Waynesville 
Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center, Mills River, NC

Join us for field tours of bread wheat and malting barley at two mountain agriculture research stations.  We will visit bread wheat trials in Waynesville at the Mountain Research Station, and learn about varieties that perform well in the southeast, how they are grown, and what end uses these varieties have in the state (bread, whiskey, beer).  Then, we will meet back up at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River for lunch and a tour of two malting barley trials at the station.  There we will learn about malting barley varieties for the Southeast and work being done to improve varieties and production.  We will hear from owners of a local malting facility on how the barley is used and what the future may be for malt and breweries in NC.  Finally, we will take a tour of the Sierra Nevada brewing facility - where some local malted barley is used in beer production.  

Please register on-line: http://goo.gl/forms/h89J6YyEj0 or by contacting Molly Hamilton at 828-628-2675 or molly_hamilton@ncsu.edu
Registration is restricted to 30 for lunch and the brewery tour.  Spaces will fill fast.

This program is hosted by NC State University, Henderson County Cooperative Extension, and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and supported by Carolina Ground, Riverbend Malt House and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Grain Divide

Carolina Ground is honored to be featured-- alongside our friends at Farm and Sparrow Breads, Smoke Signals Bakery, Dr Stephen Jones's Bread Lab, Monica Spiller, Chad Robertson, Glenn Roberts, and a handful of other inspiring folks-- in the upcoming film, The Grain Divide. Follow this link for the trailer.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Please Vote for Carolina Ground!

I know it's been forever since my last post, and I am sorry for that. Slowing down and telling the story is important. But since April I have been full throttle pretty literally nose to the grindstone, navigating obstacles and addressing both the challenges and opportunities presented by increased business.  We made it through another harvest and we are very happy with our 2014 crop. Growers are now getting ready to plant and we have our sites set for Carolina Ground 2.0... 

We were able to get this mill off the ground with a relatively small investment coming from various sources. And yet, this enabled us to merely pilot the idea.

Over the last two years, because of this mill, we have witnessed our bakeries shift their buying practices from purchasing their most essential ingredient from 1000 miles away, to within our region-- supporting our Carolina (and GA + VA) growers. Which means the consumer now has the ability to buy local bread; not just locally made or locally milled, but locally grown, ground, and baked. AND we've created a niche market for our large-scale organic grower-- shifting their mindset from feed-grade to food-grade crop rotations and influencing their thinking toward more diverse rotations-- which is good for the soil and for their pocket book.

We've proven that this idea was worth pursuing. And now time that we turn this endeavor into a durable business.

We've recently been presented the opportunity to expand our existing space which would enable us to increase and improve our grain storage capacity, and provide added workspace so that we can improve our mill flow, adding pneumatics for streamlining movement of both grain and flour and adding a cool room. This should enable us to increase our throughput capacity, keep our flour cooler, improve air quality, reduce the physical demands placed upon our miller, and very important-- improve our bottom-line.

And SO I stumbled upon this grant opportunity that feels like an ideal fit. The kicker is that we have to get 250 votes via Facebook by October 17th in order for us to be in the running for the actual judging of our grant proposal. We need your votes. AND pls promote this through your own social media sites so we can swiftly meet and exceed the 250 votes necessary!

Carolina Ground is an essential part of rebuilding a sustainable food system. Help us make this happen. 

Vote via link below...


Monday, April 7, 2014

Fundraising Dinner!

A fundraising pig roast dinner will be held this Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza, 175 Clingman Avenue, Asheville, NC at 6:30PM. Funds raised will go to Carolina Ground and our efforts to expand grain seed varieties for the Southeast.The pig that is to be roasted had a fine life, raised on  wheat mids-- the waste product-- from our mill.
Tickets for the dinner are $50. The dinner will be hosted by All Souls allsoulspizza.comexecuted by chef/co-owner Brendan Reusing, and served family style in the field adjacent to All Souls. Slow roasted pork, pancetta, and sausage will be featured alongside cowpeas, greens, and other savory sides. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike shall be well fed. This event will be held in conjunction with the 10th Annual Asheville Bread Festival, so expect an impressive assortment of breads and baked goods made with Carolina Ground flour from various bakeries. Desserts will be provided by Grove Park Inn, French Broad Chocolates, and West End Bakery made with CG Flour. And beer made with Riverbend Malt House malt will be poured. Riverbend is the sister company to Carolina Ground-- working to connect the farmer with the brewer in the Southeast.
Tickets are available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/607536

Monday, March 31, 2014

And another post!!

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you already know a good bit of our backstory-- that Carolina Ground Flour Mill (and it's predecessor, the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project) was very much a response to the fact the we suddenly had bread wheat varieties that could be grown in the Southeast. Dr David Marshall of the USDA-ARS based in Raleigh, began the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials back in the early 2000s and by 2008, the first varieties of bread wheats were being released, exhibiting strong disease package and yield in the field, and good performance in the bakery (see post). Dr Marshall is a public breeder and the Uniform Bread Wheat trials is a public breeding project. In a world of agribusiness where private breeds have become the norm-- GMOs taking this to a whole other level-- the ability to work with a public breeder, old school breeding (no GMOs), to launch a flour mill, and begin connecting farmer with baker-- existing outside the global commodities market/ finding real and sustainable pricing-- is a pretty extraordinary thing. Because of this mill and other similar efforts nationwide, bakeries are changing/expanding their buying practices. For us, the push to launch a regional flour mill came from our bakeries here in the Carolinas, and our story continues to unfold. The bakers have had great results with our flours. Extraordinary looking (and tasting) breads have been produced as a result of this mill (AND our growers and the fine work of our bakeries). 

But what about pastry wheat?  

North Carolina grows more soft wheat (soft wheat is pastry wheat; hard wheat is bread wheat) than any other Southern state. Most of it lands at the grain elevator, blended into obscurity, and from there, the majority heads to the feed mill. What is traditionally grown in the Carolinas is a soft RED wheat. 

We are a food grade market interested in variety, flavor profile, and performance (in the bakery). We stone grind, and so even our most sifted flours are relatively dark in color. Some months back I asked Dr Marshall about soft WHITE wheats-- lacking the tannin (and resulting bitterness) of red wheats, and he encouraged me to call Dr Paul Murphy, a soft wheat breeder at NCSU (another public breeder).  And bingo--Dr Murphy did produce a variety of soft white wheat but he said there was no market for it. I told him WE ARE A MARKET. He sent me a sample of which I shared with Riverbend Malt House. We were both satisfied, so Dr Murphy sent the 40lbs of seed he had to the Rocky Mount research station to be grown out as foundation seed. We convinced Dr Daryl Bowman of NC Foundation Seed to not spray down the seed with Storicide post harvest so we could get the seed in the hands of an organic grower. If all goes well with harvest, Looking Back Farms in Tyner, NC will get the foundation seed of this soft white wheat come June, and plant 14 acres to produce a double certified seed-- that is, certified seed that is also certified organic-- this will be a seed source for 2015 planting season. 

I was asked by Dr Murphy if we want this to be a private breed or public breed. I said definitely a public breed. It's not just about the market-- Carolina Ground-- but about the growers having various markets and that various markets decide to buy from our growers instead of importing from the Midwest.  

And so from that simple loaf of bread and our intention to close the gap between farmer, miller, and baker, we now have this. We will have expanded seed varieties that grow well in the Southeast and work well in a food grade application-- as bread, beer, spirits, miso, a pilaf... They have offered to allow us to name the variety too, so if anyone has a great idea, send it my way: carolinagroundinfo@gmail.com 

Once last thing-- we-- Carolina Ground-- are having a fundraising event dinner Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza. This event is partly to raise the funds to pay for the foundation seed (that soft white wheat with no name (yet)) . Should be a great event. Click on the pig for more info and to buy tickets!! Please come.

from the ground up,

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Update: What we've learned thus far...

Yes, it has been far too long since my last post. I have not written since wheat harvest of 2013. At that point, there was not much to say beyond the fact that it was a terrible harvest. It was one of the latest harvests on record, and a very wet one at that. There was sprouting in the field, high levels of mycotoxins, and crops that simply did not get harvested because the ground was too wet. Our wheat breeder, Dr Marshall, lost a good bit of his test plots. He said it is to be expected that once every ten years, there will be a bad harvest. This was that year. And yet, we are still here, milling forward.

And so, what we've learned thus far....

#1 Grain that looks vibrant, often is (and vice versa). 

We were lucky with our 2012 crop.  It convinced us that we could do single variety milling (most modern mills blend to spec) maintaining the provenance of the grain, variety, etc. Out the gate we had wheat that could stand alone as a whole grain or sifted product. 2013 wasn't nearly as straightforward. 

#2 Specs don't often equate.  

There are certain defined parameters that most flour mills exist within. We have milling quality standards-- lab tests reveal protein, falling numbers (a test that indicates potential sprout damage), and test weight (average weight in pounds per bushel (weight to volume))-- but regardless of what the lab numbers say, the tell-all for us is the bake test. This past harvest we had lab results that simply fell off the page, and yet some fine loaves were still produced. 
Turkey Red, TAM 303, NuEast hard red wheat harvest
Looking Back Farms, Tyner, NC

#3 Plan to have enough of the previous year's harvest on hand to buy oneself enough time to sort through the new harvest. 

I assessed the harvest available to us-- the brunt was coming from the Sandhills-- Billy Carter's farm in Eagle Springs. Lab results were okay and it performed well enough as a sifted flour, but it lacked the strength to stand alone as a whole grain flour. The grain coming off Looking Back Farms in Tyner had terrible lab results but seemed to perform well, and yet the harvest was minuscule-- not even a full truckload. I thought this would be the year we'd have to import from the Midwest. I called farmer friends in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and contacted the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative, whose span reaches from Tennessee to Wisconsin. All the while, we were milling what grain we had. We were still working through what remained of 2012 crop. Our 2013 rye crop was in good shape and arrived just as we were finishing up 2012 rye. When we milled the last of our 2012 wheat, we shifted gears. The best of the lot-- Looking Back's wheat-- was devoted solely to whole wheat flour; Carter's crop would be used for our sifted flours. This was the plan until Looking Back's wheat ran out. And at that point, no solid plan was in place. I just wasn't ready (or quite willing) to commit to importing wheat. 

I literally found myself counting the totes while counting down the weeks... and then the days. I knew I needed to make a decision. Do we import? Carter Farms still had two more truckloads of wheat in the bin--  about what we needed to make it through the year, but could the bakers work with this wheat as a whole grain flour (the brunt of what we mill)? 
Ive always felt that beyond connecting our farmers with our bakers, our charge has been to produce the highest quality product-- fresh flour, cold stone milled-- a flour of provenance AND of quality. Quality has to exist, or we may easily find ourselves in the ranks with other 'local' products we all secretly wish were coming from California (Napa Valley, that it..).
I finally milled some of Carter's wheat into whole wheat flour and distributed samples amongst some of my favorite local bakers-- Dave Workman of Flat Rock Village Bakery, Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery, Dave Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Bakery and Cathy Cleary of West End Bakery to perform bake tests  All four bakers came back with the same feedback which equated to a resounding thumbs up! This flour had received a thumbs down a few months earlier, so we-- including grower Billy Carter-- were all very excited to witness the improvement.

#4 Yay! Grain improves with age!

Stickboy Bread Company, Boone, NC
Chicken Bridge Bakery, Pittsboro, NC

Independent Baking Company, Athens, GA
La Farm Baery, Cary, NC