What do we know about the toast under our avo? Not a whole lot, yet wheat is one of the most commonly grown grains in the world. One young couple is rethinking how this incredible seed is grown, milled, and brought to us to be baked into our bread. Say hello to Woodstock flour.
Courtney and Ian’s flour graced the table at our Urban Forage and Feast, an incredible crowd sourced dinner that highlighted local Melbourne producers. So we thought we’d have a quick catch up, and take the rest of our community behind the scenes of their bread.
What do you do differently on your farm compared to most Australian farms? What makes you farm the way you do?
Like a lot of farms in our region, we’re your “run of the mill” fourth generation family farm producing grain, sheep and cattle. We’re a bit of a black sheep though because we’re Certified Organic and we’ve started value-adding the grain by milling it ourselves. Ian’s dad chose to go organic 20 years ago because he was sick of using and paying for chemicals. He was concerned about his own health and the health of the land. Organic Certification is not perfect. But it has allowed Ian’s family to get a premium for their produce without having to take control over the supply chain. Last year we decided to have a crack at milling because we knew we could get a better price for the grain Ian’s family produces by milling it into delicious wholegrain flour. Rather than sending the grain off by the truckload, we want to know where our grain is going and connect with the people eating it! Value adding is hard work and definitely not for everyone, but it has the potential to make our family farm more viable which is exciting.
Why do you think more farmers don’t farm the way you do?
We think a lot of farmers aren’t into ‘regenerative’ farming or don’t farm organically like we do, with or without certification, because it’s perceived to be more difficult and less productive in the short term. A lot of farmers learn to farm under the productivist model of limitless growth – to produce as much as possible in the short term to “feed the world.” With a globalised food system, farmers who have little control over their supply chain are forced to sell their produce at ever cheaper prices. This pushes farmers into cycles of debt, having to produce on larger scales, dependent on corporatised synthetic inputs and machinery. It’s really difficult for farmers to get off this industrialised treadmill and reconsider the way they farm, for the health of themselves, their bank accounts and the land.
Even though we get a premium for our Certified Organic produce, we can still find ourselves caught up in this productivist model. This is why we’ve started value-adding and following some holistic management principles. However, a lot of farmers don’t have the capacity to value-add. It’s a big ask for a farmer to not only produce food, but turn that food into something delicious, then market and distribute it.
What do you think is the simplest way eaters can better support farmers?
Buy direct from farmers as often as you can! But this doesn’t just mean farmers markets. Even though you can buy direct from farmers (like us!) at farmers markets, they often have exorbitant fees that farmers must pay after having travelled long distances. We think farmers markets are still important, but we need to explore other options for buying direct too. A lot of farmers now do “drop offs,” deliver through buying groups, or run CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). With these kind of models there is often no ‘middle man’ which means the farmer is getting a fair price for their produce and the eater pays less.
What should I know about wheat that I probably don’t know?
We want consumers to think of our flour like they would coffee. For example, our flour is single origin, which means the grains have a terroir of sorts. Our grain will taste different to another farm’s grain because of our soil and climate. Like coffee, flour should have flavour, aroma, colour and texture! We should know where it comes from, how it was produced, when the grain was harvested, and when the flour was milled and by whom.
We’d also like people to think of flour as perishable. Freshly milled wholegrain flour contains volatile compounds which begin to be lost the moment it is ground. The fresher the better!
Our stoneground flour, as opposed to conventional roller milled flour, retains more nutrients because the whole grain is ground together rather than being separated. It’s also a slower and cooler process which helps retain tastiness!
We like to remind people of how one single grain or berry has the energy and nutrients to give life to a new plant. Wholegrain flour, containing the bran, germ and endosperm, is full of this goodness, which is why it’s so great for sourdough baking and our guts. White flour on the other hand is simply the starchy endosperm – not much mojo there!
Are you currently conducting any on-farm experiments? How are they going?
We’re really interested in trying out some heritage varieties of grains on the farm. We’re hoping to plant out a trial plot of some rogue heritage varieties of wheat we found in our crop (yet to be identified!), as well as some spelt and khorasan. We’re looking for grains that are better for sourdough bread and wholegrain baking. A lot of varieties have been lost to industrial agriculture, so we want to contribute to the diversity of grains available. The more diverse our farm and milling operation, the stronger it is.
How is farming now as a young person different to, say, 50 years ago?
It’s hard to say! But we feel like it’s awfully expensive these days to get into farming. The price of land is ridiculous, the regulations holding us back are tiresome, and the cost of machinery and equipment is out of this world. These start up costs are a massive barrier when food is expected to be so cheap. On the other hand, the Internet is great for us young guns. We have a friend we call a “youtube farmer.” He learns all of his farm hacks from the Internet! We’re also planning a crowdfunding campaign at the moment so we can afford a bigger and better flour mill. Crowdfunding has been awesome for getting small farm businesses off the ground. Social media is also great for networking and sharing, not just for farm business stuff but also for maintaining and building relationships. This is important when you’re in the middle of nowhere digging fence post holes by yourself. There are so many young people getting into regenerative farming now, often without a farming family background, so we’re pretty excited to see what the future holds.
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Image credits: Woodstock Flour