Yes, There is Such a Thing as Local Grain

October 22, 2008 at 8:40 am

Rob Gardner

It has been asked before on the Vital Information blog, I’ve addressed the question on other blogs.  I’ve heard from chefs what David Hammond has heard, that sourcing local grains was a challenge.  Can the local diet include grains grown and milled around here.  My experience, born from traveling and visiting farmer’s markets is that yes, yes, there are local grains.  The challenge, though is twofold.  First, if you expect to find all of your local foods at your nearest farmer’s market, even if you shop at Chicago’s Green City Market, you might not be able to find local grains.  Second, even with the few markets with grains, like downtown’s Daley Plaza Thursday market, the places selling local grains are few and far apart.  Roadtrip to Elkhart Indiana anyone

Before getting to the local grains that can be found, let me relate my wife’s biggest peeve, the difficulty in finding the plainest whitest flours to use for pies and other baked goods. We did eventually find such, at a gourmet store in Detroit, who’s name I cannot quite remember but I can tell you it’s on Woodward just north of downtown Detroit. And I could not even remember the name on the flour, so I went to our basement, and it turns out the flour has no name. It just says “Michigan Grown Unbleached Pastry Flour” “Recommended by Achatz Bakers” (yes that family*). Anyways, this is the only stuff quite like it, local, we have ever found in our travels.

That said, it’s not that hard to track down local grains.  At the Daley Plaza farmer’s market, there is a stand featuring the products of the Midwest Organic Farmer’s Co-op.  Included in their fare are grains from Ackerman Farm from downstate Illinois–you have tomorrow and next Thursday to try.

Near DeKalb is a small operation called Ted’s Grains. And I mean small, the grain grinder is no bigger than a meat grinder you might have on your counter. He procures and grinds a variety of grains. Cassie frequently carries his stuff at her Green Grocer, and I know that you will be able to find it at the forthcoming winter markets (info soon).

If you run around with the Amish crowd, especially in NE Indiana, you are likely to find places that sell the “New Rinkel” flours of Greenfield Mills.  I wish some places closer to Chicago would carry their stuff.

My absolute favorite place for local grains is the Bonneyville Mill near Elkhart, Indiana. This is an hones-to-god water driven gristmill that dates to the mid-1800′s. It was taken over and revived by the Elkhart Park District. If you can make the trek out there until 10/31, you can get things done the rightest of ways.

Speciality sources aside, there is a decent amount of wheat farming in Wisconsin and more than a decent amount of rye farming in Michigan. There is also oat farming in Michigan. At the Dane County Farmer’s Market, you will usually find someone selling something grainy. At stores in Wisconsin like Outpost Natural Foods and Willy St. Co-op, you can find local grains–except probably for pastry flour.

So, yes there is a thing as local grain.  It does not mean tracking it down is easy, nor does it mean that at the end of the day, you will even find the grain you need.