Toronto based Stonemill Bakehouse has recently begun an initiative unique among major North American bakeries. Based on a European model in which farmers are contracted with local bakeries to grow grain for them, Stonemill recently purchased a modest 100 acre farm in Prince Edward County (PEC) to grow local grains for its bread. A small test crop was harvested last fall and in the fall of 2013, Stonemill Bakehouse president Gottfried Boehringer expects to harvest 100 tons of rye.
Boehringer got the idea to source locally when he visited PEC and noticed a field of sunflowers being grown for birdseed and decoration. At this time, Stonemill had been sourcing its sunflower seeds from the prairies, the U.S and abroad.
“I thought, ‘this is crazy’”, says Boehringer. “Here we have sunflowers which we can’t buy for our bread because the infrastructure’s not there. I just didn’t think it made sense.”
Looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact, like reducing carbon emissions associated with transporting grains from long distances, and growing high quality grains that are free from herbicides and chemical fertilizers, the initiative turned out to be the perfect way, as Boehringer puts it, “ to be a catalyst for the creation of a local infrastructure that connects farmers directly with bakers and ultimately, consumers.”
It may cost a little more, but anyone who is aware of the real cost of cheap food knows it is the right thing to do, and re-introduces a tradition to PEC that goes back to the early 1800s, when grain was grown in the area before being replaced by fruit, vegetable, dairy and, more recently, vineyards that make the area one of the hottest wine-producing communities in North America.
Drew Harrison is a Prince Edward County farmer who is now growing rye for Stonemill, carrying on a tradition that has been part of the county for generations; in fact his great grandfather grew rye in the same area. “Rye’s gone by the wayside here, but now it’s coming back,” says Harrison.
Stonemill’s latest artisan bread, Prince Edward County Rye Bread, inspired by Boehringer’s childhood in Germany, will be on shelves by Thanksgiving, that is, after the local grains are harvested. It is Boehringer’s hope that within a few years all the grains – spelt, rye, sunflower seeds and oats – will be grown in the county. The recipe is adapted from the bread the farm women used to bake in a wood-fired bakehouse in his home town, “That bread was one of the best I’ve ever had”, he says-and uses similar ingredients.
“Ultimately our goal is to source most-if not all- our ingredients locally,” Boehringer says. “This will be a big step towards leaving a smaller footprint” By 2018, Stonemill hopes to contract over 2000 acres for local, sustainable GMO–free grain, collaborating with local farmers. And Boehringer hopes his model will catch on with other bakeries too.
“We encourage other like-minded organizations to join our journey so we can all share what the local land has to offer” he says.
The idea of growing your own grain to produce your own bread is certainly nothing new, in fact I believe it dates back to The Little Red Hen. Or as my mother-in-law is fond of saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”