Amber waves of heritage grain: Minnesota’s historic grains and seeds are seeing a revival

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Baker’s Field Flour & Bread // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

This year, grindstone milling returned to Minneapolis, with Baker’s Field Flour & Bread in the Food Building. It’s the brainchild of Steve Horton, who founded Rustica Bakery. Recognizing the importance of good tasting, heritage wheat, Steve began his search for farmers willing to try the different varieties of older grains that once grew in our region. In doing so, Baker’s Field supports farmers willing to experiment and find the types wheat that have great flavor and baking profiles and that are also resilient and regenerative for our soil.

Wheat isn’t the only food being revived by our region’s slightly obsessive gardeners, passionate cooks, environmentalists, and food activists. Heritage varieties of corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, hogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys are all being cultivated as part of the effort to defend agricultural diversity, one that balances heirloom varieties and a healthy food system, matching plant and animal biodiversity with the demands of the land and the climate.

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Wheat at Baker’s Field Flour & Bread // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

As a home cook, I’m now realizing that flour, which I thought was a cheap commodity, is a nutritious, seasonal food, like blueberries. The variety of wheat, the area it’s grown in, the growing conditions, as well as its freshness all affect its flavor and performance. So, just like my favorite apples, or the spring’s first peas, the taste of wheat will vary throughout the year.

When I kneaded Sunrise Flour Mill’s heritage flour into dough to bake beautiful bread, and I sliced into Baker’s Field’s tangy sourdough baguette—in fact, whenever I make a pie with keepsake apples, a soup with Jacob’s Cattle beans, or roast up Gete-Okosomin, an ancient Native American squash—I taste both our past and our future.

Wheat, for example, is grown on more acreage than any other commercial crop in the world and continues to be the most important grain source for humans. Its production leads all crops, including rice, maize, and potatoes. Given its role in our diets and its place in our history, isn’t heritage wheat worth our attention, time, technology, and resources to grow it well? We have the intelligence, if not the wisdom, to grow beautiful heirloom staples. How do we teach everyone the value of all this? Make great bread.


 

*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the operation of the seed-saving groups. Many of the Native-owned organizations mentioned, while raising awareness and support for heritage seeds in general, often curate indigenous seeds in specific, and not wheat, which is native to the Middle East.

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