• Publishers' Note Fall 2007

    Publishers' Note Fall 2007

    Congratulations to all the new and seasoned “Localvores” who took part in this year’s challenge and enjoyed every bite, knowing that you were supporting your farmer neighbors in their efforts to provide the fresh, delicious, and nutritious food we’re so fortunate to have in this state! Some friends from Williston commented, “How can you go back to eating anything else that isn’t locally grown or raised after you’ve spent an entire week of tasting the difference?” We couldn’t agree more!

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  • Experimenting with Diversity

    Experimenting with Diversity

    Ever since I was in grade school and heard about Gregor Mendel and his famous hybrid sweet peas, I’ve been fascinated with the notion of conducting experiments with plants in a garden. Of course Mendel really was a scientist, while I’m something between an enthusiastic gardener and a tiny-scale farmer. I don’t expect my own experiments will yield anything as ground-breaking as the laws of heredity, but I always hope they will prove valuable in guiding my work the following year. And besides, they’re really fun!

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  • Cheese Culture

    Cheese Culture

    In 1882, Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant working at a deli-owner’s cheese factory in Monroe, N.Y., supplied his boss’s deli with a spreadable cheese called Bismarck schlossekase. Inspired by this cheese, Frey went on to create a bewitching cultural and food revolution with a processed cheese that would be called Velveeta. Along with Cheez Whiz, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and La Vache Qui Rit, Velveeta and its industrial counterparts have obscured the legacy of thousands of years of traditional cheesemaking.

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  • Local Agricultural Community Exchange

    Local Agricultural Community Exchange

    When the Farmers Diner left Barre for Quechee last fall, it left a “local food gap” downtown that is being filled by a new nonprofit initiative called LACE. The name stands for Local Agricultural Community Exchange. It’s a local-oriented grocery store, cafe, and educational center located in the former Homer Fitts Co. department store in downtown Barre. LACE’s founder, Ariel Zevon, has made it her mission to help the Barre community reconnect with local farmers and provide healthy food to the people of central Vermont. 

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Turkey Broth

    Farmers' Kitchen—Turkey Broth

    Most people who eat the turkeys from our farm say they’re the best they’ve ever had. It must be all the sunshine and fresh air our birds get. Or perhaps it’s the buckwheat, oats, and clover we grow for them to forage in. Maybe it’s the grasshoppers they chase around. Whatever the case, something makes these turkeys really healthy and good.  Every hawk, eagle, fox, coyote, and owl in the area seems to want to jump every hurdle to get to them.

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  • Green Mountains and Amber Waves

    Green Mountains and Amber Waves

    Over the past few years, many Vermonters have embraced the local foods movement. Farmers’ markets are thriving, community supported agriculture shares are growing, and local grass-fed meat, pastured poultry, farm fresh eggs, and other products have become more widely available. But one of the challenges the local eater finds is the limited availability of some staple foods not widely grown in Vermont, such as nuts and seeds (which are pressed into cooking oil) and grains and flour. The eater may ask, ‘Why doesn’t my local bread have more local flour?’

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  • Sub Rosa

    Sub Rosa

    If you walk along the back roads and country lanes of rural Vermont this fall, you’re likely to encounter wild roses. Sometimes you’ll find them near old cellar holes and abandoned roads. You can easily distinguish the wild rose because, unlike its hybrid relative, it has only five petals.

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  • Land of Plenty

    Land of Plenty

    Rutland is important to me. After leaving Vermont for several years, trying out such places as North Carolina, southern California, and South Dakota, I chose to return here in 2000 with my own children to live where my grandparents, my parents, and my husband and I all grew up. Although many of my childhood peers had settled elsewhere, I was determined to use my education to help make Rutland a better place. I now do this in part through my work at the Community College of Vermont, where I advise students, hire instructors, and teach in various disciplines.

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Green Mountains and Amber Waves

Harvesting hard red winter wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield
Harvesting hard red winter wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield

Written By

Cheryl Bruce

Written on

September 01 , 2007

Over the past few years, many Vermonters have embraced the local foods movement. Farmers’ markets are thriving, community supported agriculture shares are growing, and local grass-fed meat, pastured poultry, farm fresh eggs, and other products have become more widely available. But one of the challenges the local eater finds is the limited availability of some staple foods not widely grown in Vermont, such as nuts and seeds (which are pressed into cooking oil) and grains and flour. The eater may ask, ‘Why doesn’t my local bread have more local flour?’

Randy George of Red Hen Bakery in Duxbury, who purchases local organic grains for his breads, says there are significant challenges in place that prevent a Vermont business like his from making bread entirely from local organic wheat. One challenge, he says, is that the production of local organic grains is in an early stage and still evolving.

To illustrate this, George said Red Hen has been purchasing organic, whole wheat flour from Ben Gleason of Bridport for the past seven years. Gleason grows organic wheat and other grains and has a small on-farm mill where he processes grains into flour. George estimates his bakery buys about 15,000 pounds of whole wheat flour from Gleason each year. Depending on the bread, Gleason’s flour can make up 10 to 25 percent of a finished product, but for the rest, Red Hen must turn to out-of-state growers to meet its flour needs. When George can source locally, though, he does. Late last summer, he connected with Tom Kenyon of Charlotte, who planned to grow a test plot of wheat and, depending on the results, may grow some for the bakery next year.

 

King Arthur Flour, arguably Vermont’s most famous flour company, is also thinking of selling some locally-sourced flour, most likely at its flagship store in Norwich. According to the company’s media relations coordinator, one reason King Arthur has not used local wheat in its products is because it believes that most Vermont wheat, as it is grown today, would not be consistent enough to meet its standards. (Having a high level of consistency from one batch of flour to another is necessary for making quality bread.)

Reading this, then, the local eater may ask, ‘Why don’t farmers just grow more wheat and aim for consistency to meet demand?’ Wheat, however, is a challenging crop to grow in Vermont. Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, who plants over 20 acres of wheat, notes that the crop is a heavy feeder and needs a good soil with good fertility. (As an organic producer, Lazor relies on a legume and clover plow-down crop to put the needed nitrogen back into the soil.) The other challenge, Lazor notes, is the fungal disease Fusarium. The risk of the disease infecting grain crops increases greatly during wet seasons. In addition, seed selections for cereal grains are often very limited for Vermont’s growing conditions. The available varieties are adapted for areas of the country that have much hotter and drier climates and different soils.

To address these production challenges, Lazor and Dr. Heather Darby, an agronomist with the University of Vermont Extension, applied for a sustainable agriculture grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to breed new varieties of wheat suitable to local growing conditions. They were awarded the grant, and this past spring Lazor and Darby planted 19 varieties of spring wheat at Butterworks Farm and evaluated the positive and negative characteristics of each variety. Based on these evaluations, they decided which varieties to cross breed.

To learn how to do this, Lazor and Darby, along with Seth Johnson, a farmer from Glover, traveled to Washington State University to study with one of the country’s premier wheat breeders. They took the skills they learned there back to Vermont. Darby notes that the breeding didn’t go quite as well as they had hoped it would this year. Perfect weather is needed at the time of pollination, and this year’s wet and humid mid-summer days negatively impacted the ability to make successful crosses. But Darby says valuable information on breeding was nevertheless gained and that next season they will re-trial the varieties for more potential crossing. If all goes well, those crosses will produce a seed. Those seeds will then be grown out and those next-generation plants will be evaluated. The hope is that these new varieties may yield a selection adapted to growing in Vermont, with both disease resistance and a good yield.

While this project may seem like a novelty to many people, it’s interesting to note that Vermont was once known for its wheat production. In the mid-1800s, approximately 40,000 acres of wheat were in production from the Champlain Valley through Orleans County. In fact, at that time, the country’s premier wheat breeder, Dr. Cyrus Pringle, resided at UVM. Dr. Pringle developed three varieties of wheat, each of which were planted as part of the Butterworks variety trial in 2007.

Many people might not realize that all wheat is not the same. To start, there is spring wheat and winter wheat. As the name suggests, all the planting for spring wheat is done in the spring, ideally as early as April. Winter wheat is planted in the fall. Fall planting allows the wheat to become established before going dormant, which gives it a jumpstart on the next season. Lazor says winter wheat has better baking qualities but spring wheat has the better flavor.

Wheat is also classified as white or red and hard or soft, plus any combination of each. For example, there is soft red wheat, which Lazor notes makes up most of the commercial wheat on the market. He prefers soft white wheat, and said that although it is the most disease prone, it makes the best-tasting pastry flour.

Through continued evaluation, selection and breeding, wheat varieties may be developed that thrive on Vermont’s farms. It’s possible that wheat may again become a significant crop in the state, leading to its increased availability as a local product.

About the Author

Cheryl Bruce

Cheryl Bruce

Cheryl Bruce works for Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the certification branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

 

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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Home Stories Issues 2007 Fall 2007 | Issue 2 Green Mountains and Amber Waves