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Grains go local

  • Sam Bilbro mills small batches of hard red wheat into sample bags for restaurants at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg. (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

North Bay chefs and growers have long been at the forefront of the movement to eat local, championing the return to the table of heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef.

Nowadays, the farmers are starting to grow grains like rye, farro and wheat as well, providing chefs with whole-grain, freshly milled flours for their breads and pasta.

“Grains are the logical next step,” said Debra Walton of Canvas Ranch in Two Rock. “We're really moving totally local, from vegetables and meat to grain and breads and beer.”

Growing Local Grains

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Walton fell in love with farro — an ancient grain believed to be one of the original strains of cultivated wheat — while attending Slow Food's 2009 Terra Madre conference in Italy.

Back at home, Walton did research and discovered that the grain had been commonly grown in the Two Rock region back in the 1800s.

“Mostly they were growing it for livestock, but also for the San Francisco market,” she said. “As the railroads came West, cheaper grains from places like Nebraska made it so it didn't make much sense to grow it here.”

A few years ago, Walton started growing farro, which she sells to local chefs like Austin Perkins of Nick's Cove in Marshall and Bruce Riezenman of Park 121 Cafe in Sonoma.

“The fun thing is to put it into a minestrone soup, and that's what I eat all winter,” Walton said. “We grow heirloom beans as well, so between the grain and the legumes, it makes a complete diet.”

Canvas Ranch also grows rye for bread baking and golden flax seed, which is high in nutrition and Omega-3 fatty acids.

“The golden flax sold out immediately,” she said. “People are really into that.”

Beyond the health benefits and the fresh flavor, farmers are attracted to the sheer beauty of the golden waves of grain.

“I have an emotional attachment to a field of grain,” said Peter Buckley, who owns Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg with his wife, Mimi. “But it's also a very flexible crop. It can feed people or animals, and it keeps well.”

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