When you think of farming in the Adirondacks, you might not think of the choppy grain fields. However, New England was actually the “breadbasket” of the United States until the late 1800s.
World markets have driven out local grains. Today, China is the leading wheat producer, followed by India, Russia and the United States. But flour is flour, right? Not really. The difference in flavor, nutrition and community impact is significant.
History of Cereals in the Adirondacks
“Grains” broadly refers to things like wheat, oats, corn, buckwheat, or barley that are grown for human consumption. Usually grains, such as wheat, are the dried pod harvested from a plant.
Indigenous people have grown their entire diet in the Adirondack region for thousands of years. This included grains like corn or flint corn which are dried, ground and traditionally eaten in corn porridge, corn cakes and porridge. After European settlement in the 1600s, settlers grew corn, beans, wheat, rye, barley, oats, and flax for home use on subsistence farms and homesteads. Like most foods, farmers and families grew a small patch of grain in their vegetable garden for their own use throughout the year. They took their harvested grain to the community’s grain processing mill, or “grainerie”, to grind it into flour.
During the 1700s and 1800s, agriculture in upstate New York was dominated by wheat and grains. Buckwheat in particular was an important crop in the southern parts of the Adirondacks. It wasn’t until the late 1800s, with the increase in rail and sea transportation, that competitive national markets caused upstate New York farms to move away from grain farming. . Similarly, in Vermont, during the 1800s, more than 600,000 bushels of grain were commercially harvested annually. This number dropped to less than 20 bushels in home gardens years later.
After local grains fell out of favor, expensive equipment and facilities for harvesting, drying, milling and storing grain became obsolete. Without the necessary infrastructure and market demand, this has made it a more expensive and difficult crop for farmers to grow.
However, this is changing with increasing demand for local foods and regional efforts to bring back local grains. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as homemade baking and panic buying emptied shelves of conventional flour, consumers began to take notice of more stable local grain markets. Organizations like the Northeast Grainshed Alliance are working to revitalize local grain economies in the Northeastern United States.
Growing cereals in the vegetable garden
If you’re already browsing through seed catalogs and planning your garden for next spring, consider adding some space in your garden to grow your own cereal! While most home gardeners won’t have the space, time, or weeding power to grow enough of a grain to survive the winter, it’s a really fun and rewarding process to grow a grain. from seed to plate.
A great grain to start with is cornmeal. To grow dry corn, select a seed variety specifically labeled as “meal” corn or “grind” corn, not sweet corn. Plant by seed after Memorial Day in weed-free soil. Space the seeds about 1 to 2 feet apart. It is important to plant corn in a block or circle, not in a straight row, as closer spacing promotes wind pollination. You won’t start harvesting your dried corn cobs until the plant really starts to wilt. The plant will start to look like decorative dried corn stalks. Harvest the corn cobs and peel them. Push the kernels from the cob into a dry, sealed container like a bucket or large food storage container. For the freshest cornmeal, save whole grains like this and toast your cornmeal only when you need it. Or, you can grind your cornmeal in large batches and freeze it to keep it fresh.
To grind your cornmeal, you will need a grinder. There are many different types, from hand grinders to large countertop appliances to stand mixer attachments. Just make sure that the grinder you have at home is intended for grinding corn. After your first grind, you may want to sift the large chunks with a fine-mesh strainer and re-grind the large chunks until you achieve your desired consistency. Use your fresh cornmeal to make cornbread or polenta.
How to Enjoy More Local Whole Grains
Kimmy and Dan Rivera are the owners of Triple Green Jade Farm in Willsboro, NY, where they “bring an old farmhouse to life…with great bread.” They focus on using ancient grains, such as spelled, emmer and eincorn, and mill their own flour with locally grown organic grains.
Kimmy and Dan offer some tips for using local whole grains in your homemade baking:
Go for Organic Whole Grain Flour- For best results, you want a flour that’s whole grain and doesn’t use pesticides in the drying process. Make sure the bag of flour indicates that it has not been Thames. Flour that uses the whole grain of the grain provides the most flavor, texture, and nutrition.
Weigh your ingredients- Use a kitchen scale to measure your ingredients in grams. This will ensure the most consistent results.
Add some whole grains to your favorite recipe- Another easy place to start is to gradually incorporate local whole grains into a simple recipe you know well. Substitute whole-grain flour for about ⅓ of the all-purpose flour required by your recipe. You may need to add a little more moisture, but let your dough rest for 10 minutes to give it time to hydrate before adding more water.
Know the shelf life of whole grain flours- Freshly ground flour won’t stay fresh forever. What gives whole grain flours more flavor, texture and nutritional value is the added presence of oils from the seeds not found in regular “all purpose” bleached flour. These oils will go rancid if your freshly ground flour is not stored properly. If you buy local whole grain flour, it will stay fresh for one month when stored on the counter, 6 months when stored in the refrigerator, and 9 months when stored in the freezer.
Local cereal recipe
Maple Walnut Whole Grain Muffins
From Triple Green Jade Farm
- 226 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks)
- 65 grams of milk
- 150 grams Eggs (about 3)
- 688 grams of maple syrup
- 550 grams of whole grain flour
- 165 grams of walnuts
- 7 grams of sea salt
- 18 grams of baking powder
Measure ingredients in grams with a scale. Makes 12 large muffins. We use jumbo pans in 6 muffin cups. A large ice cream scoop works well for filling muffins with batter. Bake at 350F convection (or 375F no convection) for 10 minutes, then flip pans for another 10 minutes. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean.
Where to find local grains
- Triple Green Jade Farm uses local grains ground into flour in their baked goods. You can also buy freshly ground flours from their website to pick up at the Saranac Lake Winter Market or their farm. They also hold events on their farm where they teach wholemeal bread baking, pasta making and much more. They will also ship sacks of flour through the mail.
- You can purchase tortillas made with corn grown locally in Essex from Adk Hay and Grain of Vermont Tortilla Company at their location in Shelburne, VT or at Hub on the Hill in Essex, NY.
- Essex Farm also offers locally grown grains to their members through their free-choice CSA program, and sells cornmeal and tortillas at their farm store made from corn grown on their farm.
- Champlain Valley Milling’s locally ground organic flour, not necessarily locally grown flour, can be purchased at most regional cooperatives.
- You can find Farmhouse Ground Flour (made with organic grains grown in New York State) at North Country Food Cooperative in Plattsburgh, Nori Market in Lake Saranac, Green Goddess Natural Market in Lake Placid, and Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs.
- Maine cereals and Wild Hive Farm also sell their products online.
- For wholesale buyers who can grind your own grains (like wheat or corn), check out Adirondack hay and grain and Cedar Hollow Farm.