The Best Bread Grows Here

The rolling farmland of Ontario's Hastings County

Recent events have me thinking about our small world, pardon the cliche, and how technology, old and new, can connect dots, neighbourhoods and people. What does this have to do with gardening? Well, this post is also about bread, and a particular wheat that’s grown in the Ontario countryside–Hastings County– just two hours outside of Toronto.  Her Majesty the Queen also makes an appearance.

As it’s my first post here, a little background on me: I’m a multiple location gardener. In the city, I have a small rented garden, a community allotment, and (shh) a local guerilla garden. I’m also lucky to have a garden in the country where I spend as much time as I can. City mouse and country mouse, that’s me.

The past weekend I was in country mouse mode, where older forms of communication operate. For example, Dave, my neighbour, is “notified” I’m home when he sees my hatchback door in the up position across the field. Information sharing is mostly old style — actually dropping by the house and yakking about the news in the nabe (a small collection of houses in the middle of nowhere.)

Big news this weekend was about one of our neighbours, Patricia Hastings. Dave: “You know Pat down at the end of the road? You know she’s got a mill now and she’s been stone-milling her own organic wheat. She’s growing Red Fife, a special old kind. Well, they baked a loaf with her Red Fife flour for the Queen when she just came to Toronto.” He looked proud. “Wow!” said I. “That’s gotta be good bread.” “Oh yeah, it’s selling in all the fancy stores in the city.” Patricia was invited to go downtown and Dave said she may have hob-nobbed with some royals, or royal “handlers”. All very exciting, 6 degrees of separation-wise.

I don’t know Patricia well, but when I’d meet her on the road we’d talk about our flower gardens, and I was always charmed by her English accent-music to my ears. I’d been to her farm for events held by Canadian Organic Growers, where she is head of the local chapter, but didn’t know a lot about the farm, other than it was organic.

Well, Dave my country neighbour gave me the goods about the special wheat and flour Patricia’s producing, but what came next was really cool. Back in the city I punched Patricia and Red Fife wheat into Google and found that my country wheat story had already found its way to the big city–some on this very site. (And this on my first week blogging here: Synchronicity or what?) I found bakeries that swear by Patricia’s flour for their bread, like St John’s Bakery on Broadview, and that Patricia’s farming efforts won a Premier’s Award for Agrifood Innovation Excellence. The Red Fife wheat is an Ontario heritage variety and its nutty flavour gets raves.

Slow Food co-chair Paul DeCampo (now at Food Share) is a fan as well, “Not surprisingly, I am kind of partial to the Red Fife loaf, and really respect St. John’s for working directly with Patricia Hastings of CIPM, the grower and miller.

And it’s all made with wheat grown down the road from my house. I can’t wait to try some. The St John’s Red Fife breads are available at Fiesta Farms and other locations around the city. All their breads look amazingly tempting.

Psst: I didn’t find anything on Google about Patricia Hasting’s brush with the Queen; that’s inside stuff, and you heard it here first.

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