Search

Grainoftruth.org

Ecological food production

Tag

sustainability

The first day in the new field – Totnes, Devon

4.3 acres of arable land, weedy, scorched, lifeless. Ready to prepare and plant with wheat.
4.3 acres of arable land, weedy, scorched, lifeless. Ready to prepare and plant with wheat.

The first day on the new field raised some lovely questions that I need help with:

How do I measure and what do I measure in the field – soil, plant, biodiversity – to give a base to measure any improvements against as the planting and development begins?

What seeds should I look at planting to improve; soil quality, biodiversity, nutrient levels, appearance?

What wheat should I plant? Should I plant some veg? – spring cabbage or purple sprouting broccoli maybe?

How should I mark the wheat beds?

How should I advertise the field to passers bye?

How do I engage local interested people?

day 2 to day 30 should bring some answers, with your help of course.

Nearing the milling and making of the bread

After meetings with my supervisor I have decided to follow my instincts, which originally emerged during John Lett’s lectures, and document all my trials and tribulations that led me to this point. This is the part where I mill the English April bearded wheat grain I have grown and test it for nutrient and intuitive-sensuous qualities. These tests are the culmination of seven months of inquiry. I have changed my mind, many times, according to the research I was undertaking. 

Initially I was inspired by John Letts and was going to have John as the central narrative. He talked about government control of the seed industry, where a seed has to be on the national list in order to be sold, swapped or given away. In order to appear on the list the seed has to be proved to be distinct, uniform and stable (DUS) and this test costs £2,000 and has to be completed every season. This isn’t the only hurdle to step over, the CUV test (“cultivation use value”) means the crop must prove itself as good as or better than those already listed when farmed “conventionally” (ie with high chemical inputs). These two tests are supposed to ensure good-quality seed that meets certain standards. As Martin Wolfe at the Organic Research Centre argues, in the 1920’s these tests were thought of as essential to combat unscrupulous seed merchants protecting farmers from seed that didn’t germinate in the bought form or did so in reduced numbers. But, this ‘protection’ for the farmer has now been hijacked by global chemical companies to ‘OWN’ seed. The rules, that John highlighted, rallied my brain and focussed my appetite. I hated the fact that something as universal and ubiquitous as this could be owned by a company for profit, or any other means come to think of it. John was growing heritage wheat that he had collected over 15 years from seed banks across the world, this is the modus operandi of heritage seed growers in the UK and in the US – I’ll talk more of that over the course of this thesis. These seeds are precious and are treated with reverence by Letts, Marriage (MD of Doves), Wolfe, and Forbes (or broackwell bake) In the US their is a burgeoning business around the sale and use of heritage seed, Maria Spiller is leading the West Coast push for grain to be entered into the food debate. Michael Pollan spoke of grain as the last bastion of the industrial food processing industry. It is relatively untouched by foodies either in the UK or the US. 

The seed discussion is a crucial one as is mirrored in all other elements of the grain industry, I hadn’t realised at this point how sick the grain industry is. 

On the day John came to the college I asked him how much it would cost to grow an acre of grain, he’d earlier suggested that 1200 loaves could be made off such a space. He replied that it would cost around £250, or ‘could be done for £250’ were his exact words. I was hooked. For a £250 investment I could make 1200 loaves. 1200 loaves at £2 a loaf, which is comparable to supermarket prices is £2,400 (in case you needed that bit of math) which is a big profit. I started to make plans to break down the growing and look at each part of the business.

I broke it down like this, in order of how difficult I thought is would be to complete or obtain:

> Land – This is hard to rent if you don’t know anyone in the area

Actually when saying I broke everything down, I didn’t, the question of land puzzled me so much I couldn’t think about anything else. The rest of the, (lets call it stuff for now) stuff I was relaxed about and hoped that in my new zen like state that everything would work out if I simple gave it a little thought and talked to the right people. I had a lot faith in the connections schumacher would offer up to me and in my ability to communicate with these connections. Coming from London I had no idea about country land, agricultural land as its known down in the these parts. In London land is either built on or owned by the Church, the railway or the council. If you have lots of cash then you might be able to get yourself some. In the country I assumed, considering we have a land ownership issue, putting the UK 2nd in the world for concentrated land ownership, that the London issue would apply. I started to ask around about land and renting an acre, why an acre I’m not sure, I think it was the size John used in his lectures and seamed like a good farm scale size.

TBC 

 

The planning of the tests is crucial as I need to test flour at precise times. I am trying to test the nutrient levels and the intuitive-sensuous nature of it. 

The experimental design, for the bread baking and intuitive-sensuous part, is as follows:

The exact same weight of grain will be milled three times at the same mill by the same miller and stored in the same paper bags in the same place. 

They will all be bought to the kitchen and made into breads using exactly the same sourdough recipe by the same person. They will be baked in the same pot, in the oven in exactly the same place. The breads will be cut into equal slices and the ends discarded. The slices will then be cut into equal squares and randomised within the same loaf sample. 

I want to measure taste as that is exactly what consumers would relate to, its not vague just variable and to a certain extent subjective, but again that is how people are. 

I’d like to measure the following:

Aroma

Texture

Structure

Sourness

Bitterness

Sweetness

Saltiness 

Umami 

I’d then like people to describe the taste in their own words. 

The nutrient tests will be for:

nitrogen/protein,

lipids,

ash,

moisture,

crude fibre (as long as the sample is not ground too fine)

energy.

We also have access to mineral analysis

Can bread making be entirely restorative – part III

This, as the title alludes to, is the third part of the bread making story I am on – any advice on structure, content or narrative are more than welcome.

 Image

The history of wheat

 

Worldwide, wheat is one of the most important food crops to mankind and is now grown on more land than any other cereal crop. Wheat is a product of a complicated history whose origins can be traced back to pre-history. There is clear sequence of hybridization events between different wild grasses these events occurred naturally and led to the combining of the AA, BB and DD genomes, culminated in the 42 chromosomes present in hexaploid bread wheat Shewry, P, (2014) Letts, J (2014). There is a range of distinct cultivated forms of wheat that have been developed through selection, from the start of agrarian farming to the examples of heritage wheats grown in the UK from the mid 1800s and the earliest introduction of the semi-dwarf habit into a UK bread wheat.

 

Wheat is counted among the ‘big three’ cereal crops, with over 600 million tonnes being harvested annually. For example, in 2007, the total world harvest was about 607 m tonnes compared with 652 m tonnes of rice and 785 m tonnes of maize (http://faostat.fao.org/). However, wheat is unrivalled in its range of cultivation, from 67º N in Scandinavia and Russia to 45º S in Argentina, including elevated regions in the tropics and sub-tropics (Feldman, 1995referenced in Shewry, P). It is also unrivalled in its range of diversity and its world trade is greater than all other crops combined. It has also been used to control foreign policies (Borlaug, N, viewed April 26th 2014).

 

In all the stats I look at, Defra, the ONS or from the website the vision of Britain through the ages, showed that wheat has always been the 2nd biggest UK crop behind Barley, see figure 1. Regionally wheat has dominated in the east of England and in the last ten years the volume and areas of growing have changed very little – see figures 2 and 3 – I tried to get data of regional growing through the last 100 years, but couldn’t find any. Anecdotally I have been told many times that the wheat growing has predominated in the east, as it is drier. Devon, where the majority of this project is is certainly not dry. Despite the lack of online information on growing patterns of wheat in the Devon over the last 100 years I still had access to some. Holy from Transition Town Tones Totnes surveyed and interviewed local farmers and asked whether they had grown cereal or could remember cereal being grown at any point in their lifetime. The answer was a resounding No, unless it was grown for animal feed. This is still the case, there is not as single farmer growing cereal of any kind, for human consumption, in south Devon and this has been the case for 100 years or more. It is believed by most of farmers interviewed that wheat growing is unsuitable for Devon’s wet climate. So I am attempting something that hasn’t been done for at least 100 years. I wouldn’t be attempting to grow if it seamed impossible, but I know that historically there has been wheat grown in Devon, although I couldn’t find any maps to back this up. What is clear, from researching on devon.gov website and from observing the style of buildings in Devon, is that there is a very strong tradition of thatching in, it’s the county in England with the most thatched roves and accounts for 17% of the total thatched buildings in the UK, devon.gov.  Historically the ‘devon reed’ was local straw from local wheat and barley, but now days it is water reed from Turkey, Hungry, and China that provides the material to renew thatch, devon.gov. Checking the archives on the website Wheat pedigree gives further proof of wheat being an important crop in Devon. They highlight ten old Devon wheat’s, I suppose you could call them landraces. Further research shows Orange Devon blue rough chaff is considered iconic bread wheat by the John Innes center, accessed online 31/5/2014. All three points allude to Devon being a region where wheat, and good wheat at that, good for thatching and good for bread making, was grown. I cannot find any evidence of the scale or of any county comparisons, but it feels right to me, especially as Britain has been warming up over the last 100 years, that Devon will be able to grow wheat of yield and quality to make the experiment economical. 

 

 

 

 

Can bread making be entirely restorative – part II

For those that read the first part and left your mark I thank you. I hope you find the next few posts, as I unravel my ideas, interesting.

 

Introduction: The question I must answer

 

I am hoping to start something rare in the UK: a bakery that grows its own wheat, wheat that is unique and takes NO inputs to grow. In fact the whole process should be restorative, for the soil, the soul and society (a term I have borrowed from Satish Kumar). 

Can wheat be grown under a low-input system in Devon, and be of bread making quality?

Can the bread making process be entirely restorative?

This question involves enquiries around; growing grain, harvesting, processing, and marketing, of bread or pasta. The enquiry is entwined in questions of ecology, community, networks and systems.

Ensconced in the bread and sustainability question are several other questions that weave into the overall narrative and make broader sense of it. They are listed below.

  • This enquiry is important for my own ecosophy as growing a staple food is a crucial part of being sustainable. If I ask myself why again and again I discover that I am growing wheat as part of my personal sustained system
  • Is it possible for a person with no agriculture experience to grow wheat and make bread from that wheat within one year? 
  • How do you make a business out of making bread? In a world of exploitation, industry and civilisations how can bread making make a difference? 
  • I see the key battle between craft and big business driving the narrative, but the heart of the thesis is to dissect the meaning of the business in a world driven by economics 
  • I want to know the answer to this question as its important for me for my family to be as sustainable as possible, with little as few outside inputs as possible. A staple food is integral in this. In a world where traditional agriculture inputs are running out/ low, individuals need to think about how they can tread lightly on the planet
  • Is the process of modern bread making a metaphor for modern society?
  • So as you have already discovered this enquiry is part practical and part philosophical. Part physical, ecological, and part ecospohy and intuitive, but all linked through the systems of community and network.

    The physical side expresses itself like this: I am growing ½ acre of wheat mainly, with some perennial rye, bere barley, and some oats, in a lovely slopping field above a small market garden business in south Devon. I also have 11 trail plots of wheat populations and pure line varieties, also in Devon. I have 15 trial plots of wheat populations and pure line varieties in Oxfordshire on John Letts’s farm, along with a strip of mixed grain Emmer wheat and access to Johns Letts 12 acres of population should I need it.

    As Joel Salatin says in ‘can you farm’ there is plenty of opportunity to get into farming and it doesn’t have to be full of drudgery. Somewhere in me is the belief that the process of growing wheat can be enjoyable, I’d like to see if, on a small field scale, this is true. Even in the worst case of long hours, dirty heavy work, it would be better than what I used to do; toiling through endless streams of emails, dealing with moody stressed people, traveling for hours through dark tunnels, to spend ten hours a day slumped over a desk, bending my back and neck and straining my eyes to see a screen with information on it that had no connection to me, to the land, or to the health of the planet. This is why it has to be worth, with the right philosophy, at least trying for a couple of years.

    Before I start into the project I would like to set out the history of wheat and to underpin this with its social and religious importance and nutritional properties, albeit briefly. Prior to that it is important to set out my philosophy through the understanding of systems thinking, networks, and communities informed by the writings of Frotjof Capra. 

    The structures that bread making is part of

    The systems we have adopted are mechanistic, mathematical, and anthropocentric. They give reward to rational, analytical, reductionist and masculine traits and depress the deep ecological, feminine, intuitive processes and traits some of us posses Capra, F (1996). Is this true of bread making and does bread making (the whole process) in the UK epitomise this disturbing segregation? 

    As is the case more often than not, as Patricia Shaw points out, conversations away from the formality of ‘the process’ often yield more than those deep inside the process. So it was no surprise to have revelations over dinner whilst chatting to my wife about the meal she had just cooked. We both eulogised about how food is important and that it is the crux of life. “How can people eat to be full” she said and I had to agree with the sentiment; that eating to fill a part of your body and to reduce this act to a very unimaginative, scientific, reductionist, course is missing the point of food; growing, eating, tasting, socialising, rejoicing. I am sure Fritjof Capra would say that we need to see the food system as a complex one, not in isolation but connected intrinsically to the social, economic and ecological ones. In this way we need to treat the growing of wheat and the making of bread as wrapped (no pun intended) in social, religious, political and ecological significance and to understand how these interrelationships have developed and why.

    Fritjof also says that there is an inherent discrimination in many of the systems we see around us now. They are sexiest and imbued with male characteristics; linear, analytical, rational and reductionist. When reading this I couldn’t help my mind from wandering onto the subjects of modern agriculture and bread making.

    When undertaking projects I think of this: If we do anything in life we should make certain it is not only functional, fit for purpose, but should also have beauty – inspired by William Morris and Charles Eisenstein. 

     

Can the bread making process be entirely restorative?

The structures that bread making is part of

The systems we have adopted are mechanistic, mathematical, and anthropocentric. They give reward to rational, analytical, reductionist and masculine traits and depress the deep ecological, feminine, intuitive processes and traits some of us posses Capra, F (1996). Is this true of bread making and does bread making (the whole process) in the UK epitomise this disturbing segregation? 

As is the case more often than not, as Patricia Shaw points out, conversations away from the formality of ‘the process’ often yield more than those deep inside the process. So it was no surprise to have revelations over dinner whilst chatting to my wife about the meal she had just cooked. We both eulogised about how food is important and that it is the crux of life. “How can people eat to be full” she said and I had to agree with the sentiment; that eating to fill a part of your body and to reduce this act to a very unimaginative, scientific, reductionist, course is missing the point of food; growing, eating, tasting, socialising, rejoicing. I am sure Fritjof Capra would say that we need to see the food system as a complex one, not in isolation but connected intrinsically to the social, economic and ecological ones. In this way we need to treat the growing of wheat and the making of bread as wrapped (no pun intended) in social, religious, political and ecological significance and to understand how these interrelationships have developed and why.

Fritjof also says that there is an inherent discrimination in many of the systems we see around us now. They are sexiest and imbued with male characteristics; linear, analytical, rational and reductionist. When reading this I couldn’t help my mind from wandering onto the subjects of modern agriculture and bread making.

If we do anything in life we should make certain it is not only functional – fit for purpose – but should also have beauty. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑