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Heritage Wheat Test Plots

We at WHFCGP (Wild Hive Farm Community Grain Project) have designed a program to help reintroduce Heritage Wheats into our region.  We will do this by collecting wheat seed from all over the world from other farmers, and growing it here in our climate, testing it’s season, protein, and how it acclimated to our area.  Some of the places we have access to these seeds are at the Terra Madre conference in Italy, NOFA meetings and conferences, farm gatherings, seed swaps,the Heritage Grain Conservancy,  and by connection and chance, our favorite method.  This year, we will be planting and monitoring several varieties with the goal of finding Heritage Grains that can adapt to our Northeast climate, are nutritionally dense, and have a good quality for baking, beer making, and more.  Some of the varieties that we are working with this year are Einkorn, Emmer, Italian Alpine Rye, and Polaska.  We are always looking for more seed for more trials, and if you think that you could help connect us with a variety we should be looking towards, please do so.  With just a little grain, we can start to plant for seed, and in a few years, we could be looking at a viable crop for harvest.  Don’t hesitate to send us questions, comments, or grain seed!!  Thanks, and we look forward to feeding.  -WHFCGP

Home > Business > Agriculture > The future of wheat lies in heritage varieties
Natural Foods Merchandiser

The future of wheat lies in heritage varieties

Dave Carter, Natural Foods Merchandiser
Dec. 17, 2010 2:07pm
After a half century of systematic narrowing of available wheat varieties, a growing number of millers and bakers are returning to heritage varieties to address the pitfalls of our current grains.  Retailers are a key link between farmers and millers by educating customers and encouraging sales growth of products from these rediscovered grains.
Wheat is going back to its roots.For the past half century, farmers and bakers have been shortchanged as the gene pool of available wheat varieties has systematically narrowed. Many varieties have gone by the wayside as seed breeders and farmers propagate only those grains that produce top yields and are easily harvested by large machines. 

But the limitations of these intensive monoculture practices have become increasingly evident in the fields and on store shelves. Bugs that find the predominant variety of wheat tasty multiply rapidly when there is a virtual smorgasbord available from horizon to horizon. Weeds, too, love fields planted with identical crops year after year.

Scientists and seed companies are constantly working to tweak wheat genetics to be more resistant to insects and weeds, but that research further threatens diversity as farmers rush to plant the next variety they hope will be the silver bullet of pest resistance.

Today’s commercial wheat varieties bear little resemblance to the grains first cultivated thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Luckily, a growing number of millers and bakers are going back to those heritage varieties to address the pitfalls of our current grains.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is working with the Heritage Wheat Conservancyto restore traditional varieties that have nearly disappeared. Canadian growers are working with the Heritage Wheat Project in Alberta to bring back wheat grown prior to 1960, which doesn’t require as much fertilizer or insecticide as today’s crops.

And Bob Quinn, founder and president of Big Sandy, Mont.-based Kamut International, was honored with the Organic Trade Association’s organic leadership award for his work over the past decade in establishing a market for khorasan wheat, an ancient variety of durum wheat from Egypt.

These rediscovered wheat varieties offer more than just unique tastes and textures. Wheat breeding practices that rewarded high yields often did so at the expense of the nutritional characteristics of traditional varieties. Conventional milling practices that produce refined, bleached flour compound that problem.

Quinn and other farmers are doing their part in the fields. And a growing network of smaller mills that use “short flow” and stone-ground processing techniques are creating flour blends that accentuate the characteristics of these heritage wheat varieties.

Retailers are a critical link in connecting these farmers and millers with customers seeking an alternative to highly processed, conventional-wheat food products.

The marketplace will ultimately determine the future of these initiatives. Artisan bakers and food manufacturers are introducing customers to the great flavor, texture and natural nutritional qualities of products produced with heritage varieties of wheat flour. Educating customers and encouraging sales growth in these categories will provide the incentive necessary for more wheat farmers to embark on a path to reclaim greater genetic diversity in agriculture and in the food business.