a plea for an angelic electrical engineer...

We, of course, expected to at least be milling test batches of flour by now, but alas, we have hit an obstacle (after clearing a good many along the way)... something to do with amperage and voltage...the terminology continues to ring in my ears even when I sleep-- 480/600; 110/220; 208; three- phase; step down; transformer; sub-panel; bus duct..on and on... and all I really want to hear is the simple, slow rotation of our mill...
What we need-- what would be AMAZINGLY helpful-- is if there were an electrical engineer out there that would be willing to volunteer to meet with us and offer his/her opinion as to the best route to take to get the proper juice to power our mill. For the sake of good and local bread, rustic pastries, and even NC-grown malt balls, please if you are out there, email me. A couple years back a woman reached out and said if we needed help, her husband is an electrical engineer. I have scanned through both of my notebooks and cannot find her contact info. If you are out there, please contact me.

feeling ground to a pulp,

Touring the farms...

Billy Carter's Wren's Abruzzi Rye
Hofner's Thoroughbred Barley
Fred Miller TAM 303 hard wheat seedling

Billy Carter's grain bin

Kenny Haines and his field of Turkey wheat

We are scratching our heads (me, the contractor, the electrician) as to why we still do not have our CO. Evidently our electrical inspection (on friday) was red tagged because the panel was not labeled the way the inspector wanted it labeled (yes, it was labeled, and yes, our electrician has done plenty of commercial work before our job). I am confident we will extricate ourselves from the talons of the city inspectors soon and grain will be made into flour... in the meanwhile, an UPDATE ON THE FARMS:
I spent a good bit of last week traveling around North Carolina visiting our growers. My first stop was on the far northeastern end of the state-- Tyner, NC-- to Looking Back Farms, Inc. I have mentioned Looking Back a number of times in blog posts-- Ben and Kenny Haines, a father and son team. Kenny Haines sits on Carolina Ground, L3C's Board of Directors, so he is the farmer that I speak with often. He has mentioned more than once that I need to come out and ride around in the tractor and/or combine to really get a feel for what is going on on their farm. And so, moments after parking my car on the edge of one of their fields, I was up in the tractor cab with Kenny, and while he dragged a land planer on the field he was preparing for planting our NuEast seed, we talked. One item in need of further discussion (beyond our oft phone conversations) is pricing. A major impetus for launching this project has been to establish fair pricing based on real value removed from the pressures of the global commodities market. This past harvest, the prices we paid for grain were much higher than anticipated but this was partly due to the small lots of various varieties of grain we had planted. My plan for this year has been to streamline the process by having fewer varieties planted and on larger plots of land. For 2012 harvest, the Haines are growing for us a little over twenty acres of Turkey wheat and another twenty of NuEast (as opposed to last year when they grew a bit of Turkey, a bit of NuEast, a bit of Wrens Abruzzi rye, a bit of Appalachian White, etc.) Although I am confident that we will find sustainable pricing, while riding around in the tractor, Kenny discussed with me costs that the farm must incur that they have no control over. He pointed to a small metal blade on his land planer that they needed to replace-- it cost close to a thousand dollars just for that small piece of metal. And they are still strapped to the cost of fuel for their tractor and combine. The rise in the price of steel meant that they were only able to put in two grain bins with their newly acquired grain and seed cleaning equipment instead of the four bins they had originally planned for. I know we are heading in the right direction by working to close the gap between our farmers and bakers and brewers, but the idea of completely hedging ourselves from global economic pressures is sadly not so simple. But the Haines are in it for the long haul and they are constantly working to improve their farming systems for greater efficiency and productivity. They have around 350 acres of certified organic land in production and they recently set up grain and seed cleaning infrastructure that is also certified organic. They are poised to sell grain by the truckload-- 55,000 lb bulk or cleaned in 1-ton totes, or cleaned and bagged in 50# bags. The cleaning equipment works for various grains, pulses, and beans. On my visit I spied a couple 1-ton totes of cow peas-- beautiful-- on route to Anson Mills, in Columbia, SC.With their grain and seed cleaning set up, they are now both grain farmer and seed dealer-- of certified organic (grain and cover crop) seed to boot.
The next farm on my tour was Fred Miller's Hill Top Farms in Willow Springs, just outside of Raleigh. I first met Fred a couple years ago in the Sam's parking lot off I-40 on the edge of Raleigh, to procure 500# of Arapaho wheat that he had grown. This is Fred's tenth season farming, and grains are something he is slowly integrating into his farming system. This year he has both hard wheat-- TAM 303 and barley-- six-row Thoroughbred-- in the ground. Fred's is a diverse farm which includes high tunnels and gardens, chickens, goats, horses, a CSA and a farm stand. Across the road is where his grain is planted.
My next farm was in the Sandhills, in Eagle Springs, to Carter's Farm. Billy Carter showed me the close to twenty acres of Wrens Abruzzi rye he is growing for us and the 150 acres of TAM 303 he has in the ground that is likely heading to Lindley Mills, although it is not all spoken for and I am hoping we will be milling some of this as well.
Next stop was outside of Charlotte-- Gastonia-- to Job White's farm. Job is a young farmer just starting out. I am sure I have mentioned in previous posts that last year he planted ten acres of Turkey wheat but sadly had no way to harvest. Arranging with neighboring farms for combining can be iffy at best. He bush hogged the wheat but then called and said it reseeded itself. He asked me if he should just let it grow or plow it under and replant. I called Chris Reberg- Horton at NCSU and Thom Leonard (who has a lot to do with bringing Turkey back into production) and Kenny Haines for their advice and they all echoed the same sentiment-- let it grow! So he did. And btw, he is looking for a small combine-- ideally a PTO-driven all-crop combine-- if anyone had a lead, please let us know.
On my way from Gastonia to my final stop in Mt Ulla, I drove through Morresville where right on the very edge of town, across the street from the fire dept, towers Bay State Milling. I got out and took some pictures. The air smelled like flour.
Next and final stop-- the western piedmont-- Mt Ulla, to the Hofner's famer. The Hofner's are members of the Organic Valley Co-op and they grew five acres of Appalachian White for us last year. We were hoping for twenty acres of TAM 303 from them this year, but sadly the ground had been too wet and as of last week, they had not been able to plant. Buddy said he thinks they still have til X-mas to get their seed in the ground, but he didnt seem too hopeful. Though he had a beautiful field of barley growing that they planted back in October for the Riverbend Malt House.
Upon leaving the Hofner's I drove to the end of their Kerr Mill Road to visit the Kerr Mill, which is now a state park. see pix above...

Green tag!!

So we finally got our green tag from the fire marshall!! Green looks so much more promising then the callous red tag we received a couple months back...
Monday we hope to have our Certificate of Occupancy in hand...

Treska Lindsey's children's books and their wonderful connection to our mill

This Saturday (the 3rd), and next, and the following (the 10th & the 17th) is the 9th Annual Holiday Bazaar, taking place in the parking lot behind the Asheville Chamber of Commerce. Amongst the many vendors of local crafts and food, Farm & Sparrow Breads can be found, and alongside Farm & Sparrow's rustic breads and pastries, sharing their tent, will be Treska Lindsey selling her wonderful children's books. I mention this for a couple reasons. The first-- the most obvious-- is that Treska is donating a portion of the proceeds to our mill project. And the second-- also pretty obvious once you see the books-- is that these books are a wonderful find and a great gift. Also, there is a rich story that connects these books to our mill project...
The story began with a loaf of bread brought back to the States from Belgium. This was during the 1970's health food craze in this country that deemed yeasted brown bread as the healthy choice-- bread that both looked and tasted like cardboard. But a slice from this bread brought back from Belgium was handed to a Dr Hy Lerner.

Lerner was a medical doctor impressed by evidence that pointed to the overwhelming importance of proper nutrition in relation to mental and physical health. I imagine that within the jungle of brown bread touted as healthy, tasting this bread from Belgium must have been a revelatory moment. At the time Lerner was working as a researcher at Harvard, but he began spending all of his spare time trying to recreate that loaf without success. Finally he and his friend, Paul Petrofsky pooled their savings and headed to Belgium. The bread had come from Lima Bakery, and that is where these two landed. They secured an apprenticeship with Omer Gevaert of Lima Bakery. They learned all they could about desem, this traditional Flemish natually-leavened bread, and eventually returned to the states to open Baldwin Hill Bakery in Phillipston, Massachusetts. In 1979, the Saturday Evening Post published an article about Baldwin Hill written by Charlotte Turgeon, a colleague and friend of Julia Childs,
Hy Lerner and Paul Petrofsky, white-collar professionals turned bakers, who produce perhaps the best tasting bread this side of the Atlantic—or the other—a bread that preserves all the natural vitamins, minerals, and usable protein that nature put into wheat germ, sea salt, and pure water

Cookbook author, Laurel Robertson (Laurel's Kitchen) read that article and made a pilgrimage to Baldwin Hill to learn about this bread. And she later devoted an entire chapter in her Laurel's Bread Book to desem. Laurel happened to have been dear friends with the late oven builder and designer, Alan Scott. And it was Laurel's interest in this bread that got Alan to build his first oven, as this traditional bread which predates commercial baking yeast and conventional ovens-- this bread made with simply freshly milled flour, water, and sea salt-- deserved the ancient technology of the wood-fired brick oven. Alan began baking this bread as well, in the wood-fired brick oven he built in his own backyard. He also began selling bread, door-to-door.

Fast forward to the early 1990s. I read Laurel's chapter on desem and tried to recreate this bread without success. And so I secured an apprenticeship with Alan Scott. I eventually launched Natural Bridge Bakery and then, after over a decade of baking, at the point when I was ready to begin the transition out of baking, I reached out to Alan to see if he could find a young baker that may want to share my bakery space in order to launch his or her own bakery. Alan found Dave Bauer, who would become Farm and Sparrow Breads.

Now if you dig back to my original posts, you will read the story of how we acquired our mill. It was Alan's mill, and he passed away before he was able to launch his milling operation in Tasmania, Australia. But how does Treska come into this story? Well, her brother was Omer Gavaert. Treska now lives in Flat Rock, raising her extensive garden and goats and fruit trees, and writing these wonderful children's books. My favorite, of course, is How Batistine Made Bread. But come see for yourself...

From the ground up,
ps the images embedded in this post are a little preview of Treska's work.
pss The Bazaar is from 11am to 3pm, Dec 3, 10th, and 17th, in the parking lot behind the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.


I wish I could say the stones are turning, but sadly, we are not quite there yet. The mill remains idle as we attempt to disentangle ourselves from the labyrinth of city code and permitting. But we are close. We received our grain. Sitting in our mill space awaiting our Certificate of Occupancy are pallets-- five rows wide by five rows deep-- each carrying a one-ton tote of NC-grown grain. Our grain stores are comprised of grain from the far eastern corner of the state, the Sandhills, and the western piedmont. We have Appalachian White, NuEast, TAM 303, Turkey Wheat, soft (pastry) wheat, and Wrens Abruzzi Rye. I just got off the phone with one of our growers, Kenny Haines, who said he just planted a little over twenty acres of Turkey for us, and in another couple days, he will be planting our twenty acres worth of NuEast. We’ve also had seed delivered to Billy Carter’s farm in the Sandhills for twenty acres of rye, and seed placed at the Hofner’s farm in Mt Ulla for twenty acres of TAM 303. Job White, a recipient of CFSA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Scholarship Program that awarded forty young farmers full scholarships to attend CFSA’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference (SAC) in early November, has about ten acres of Turkey growing in his field in Gastonia, and is hoping to have secured a small combine by June for harvest.

We were able to showcase a number of these grains at SAC, using my small mill to supply flour to the bakeries. West End Bakery made hundreds of small herb garlic biscuits with the Hofner’s Appalachian White; Farm and Sparrow Breads supplied hearth loaves of Market Bread made with Turkey wheat grown by John McEntire in Old Fort and the Looking Back Farms in Tyner. Farm and Sparrow also supplied Seeded Rye made from Wrens Abruzzi Rye grown in Old Fort by John. Wildflour Bakery supplied their insane herbed crackers, so addictive they ought to just call them crack. These savory crackers were made from soft wheat grown by Billy Carter. And Annie’s Naturally Bakery supplied focaccia made from NuEast grown by Looking Back Farms.

One last tidbit of news—in the spirit of collaboration with a holiday twist, the Riverbend Malt House brought a sack of malted barley to the mill (barley grown by the Hofners and malted by Riverbend) that I then milled (with my small mill) and sifted and then delivered to the doorstep of French Broad Chocolates here in Asheivlle. We are hoping for NC-grown malt balls for the holidays. Still waiting to hear back on the results…

From the ground up,

Jennifer Lapidus

Getting closer...

Our pilot group of bakeries in Western NC gathered this week to sample bread made from this year’s NC wheat harvest. Both modern and heritage wheat was baked into hearth loaves, pan loaves, focaccia, and pita. NuEast and Appalachian White grown at Looking Back Farms, Inc. in Tyner, NC, as well as Appalachian White grown at the Hofner’s farm in Salisbury were the modern varieties on display. Heritage varieties sampled were Red May-- a soft wheat traditionally grown in the Carolinas, and Sonora; both were grown at Looking Back Farms, Inc.

We are weeks away from turning on the mill. A window is being installed today to provide visitors with a view of this exquisite Austrian-built mill. Walls have been primed; fresh paint is soon to follow. And harvest is being assessed: how much of what varieties are available? How much seed needs to be held back. How many varieties should be planted? Plans for right now (August), this fall (planting starts in late Sept), next June, and the following fall are being assessed, all at once. We’re this deep in, and the simple loaf of bread—the concept of a local loaf-- is all the more humbling.

Just bear with me...

Sorry no posts for awhile. I have been traveling around, checking out exciting regional milling endeavors in other places, and readying our space to start milling some flour. More on all that to come (very soon), but for now, a bit more about a very important and pressing topic-- how the proposed federal budget cuts affect us...

With a federal deficit bursting at the seams, lawmakers in Washington are looking not only at how much money the federal government spends, but also at what the federal government is spending its money on. Government programs put in place when a very different sentiment was governing this country are in peril, at the mercy of proposed federal budget cuts driven by ultra conservatives and libertarians. Programs built upon the concept of pubic good—the idea that we as a society have a responsibility to the elderly, the poor, the sick, and to our farmers that grow our food—are at risk. The irony that those pushing this agenda have claimed the moniker “Tea Party” smacks in the face of those who crafted the U.S. Constitution. James Madison, one of its primary authors, wrote: “The public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued.”

I was on the phone the other day with Dr David Marshall, public wheat breeder and pathologist with the USDA’s Plant Science Research Unit of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Raleigh, North Carolina. We were discussing the proposed budget cuts that threaten to do away with the ARS. Dr Marshall is the lead researcher for the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials launched in 2002 breeding for regionally-adapted bread wheat varieties that can withstand the higher rainfall and humid conditions of the eastern U.S. He is also the U.S. leader in a global community of wheat researchers seeking sources of resistance to a new race of stem rust pathogen-- UGG99, first discovered in Uganda in 1999-- that threatens wheat production worldwide. This new pathogen is capable of overcoming most of the stem rust resistance genes in almost all of the global wheat germplasm, as in all the wheat grown around the world.

I know Dr Marshall because I am a part of a consortium of bakeries, millers, and growers in the Carolinas that are trying to establish a market for regionally produced grains. To revive the link between the farmer, miller, and baker in the Carolinas; to produce high quality organic flour with regional significance; and finally, to create a truly local loaf of bread—this has been our raison d’etre. Dr Marshall’s work on new regionally adapted bread wheat varieties has provided the backbone for our efforts. NC growers are now planting bread wheats-- both heritage varieties as well as higher yielding modern varieties and it is thanks to Dr Marshall and his team that we have access to modern varieties that can thrive in our climate. When we realized that all the rye grown in the Carolinas had been bred solely for feed and fodder and not for flour, Dr Marshall incorporated rye varieties into his trials, accessing varieties from Italy and France to test in our climate. When two young entrepreneurs interested in launching a micro-malt house (the soon-to-be Riverbend Malthouse) inquired about malting qualities of Carolina grown barley, Dr Marshall incorporated two-row barley into his trials. He responds to my emails, whether he is in Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, or wherever his work takes him. “It sounds noble and corny, but we want to feed every person on the planet,” he says in describing their efforts. He is accessible to the public. He is a dying breed.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century nearly all professional plant breeding was done by the USDA and Land Grant Universities (LGU). LGUs were established during Lincoln’s administration. Creating LGUs and cooperative extension agencies meant taking the university to the people, assisting farmers with research and breeding to help them solve on-farm issues. All of these institutions were established with a public-minded spirit. It is a very different picture now. Public breeders have become an endangered species as private companies with more money and fewer factors to consider have pushed out practically all of the public corn and soybean breeders; wheat being the red-headed stepchild-- not as easy for the private sector to profit by-- still has its Dr Marshalls, but proposed budget cuts threaten to do away with or greatly affect our public breeding programs. A June press release issued by House Conservatives asserts, “Many of the functions of the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture could be consolidated or accomplished through private-sector efforts” And yet, private companies and public breeders are not interchangeable. Private companies do all of their breeding in the Midwest, home to mega agri-business. Diseases are not the same in the various regions of the United States. Although testing of varieties is done in different regions, it is short lived, with the intention of assessing best yield. Also, private companies want fewer and fewer varieties because each variety costs them money, and for private companies, money is the bottom line. Dr Marshall’s elite plots-- those varieties that have made the cut and are being selected for public release-- contain one hundred and thirty different varieties of wheat. Growers are encouraged to plant more than one variety to mitigate risks posed by weather and unforeseen disease. Public breeders are breeding for disease resistance and regional adaptivness. From the UDSA-ARS website, “Our job is finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day, from field to table.”

I asked Dr Marshall if he had a sense of the how much his budget may be cut. He said he really didn’t know—that it could be anywhere from no cuts at all to a complete wiping out their program. One thing is clear—there is a very real sentiment coming from an outspoken faction on Capital Hill that wants to see a reduction in federal programs, if not the complete elimination of them.

Current update:

The House already passed their version of the Ag Appropriations Bill; in that Bill, the House recommended a 15% reduction in all funding to the USDA. This Bill has now gone to the Senate, which is currently in recess. The Senate will write their own Bill, which could agree with the entire House Bill, or offer another version. Following the approval of the Senate Bill, the two versions of the Bill will go to a Conference Committee (made up of Ag Appropriations Committee members from both the House and the Senate) and a final compromise Bill will go to the President for approval or not.

And some real numbers—

The USDA-ARS Raleigh FY10 budget is $9,528,034.

The percent reductions would be:

% Reduction- Amount reduced 

1%- $95, 280 

5%- $476,401 

10%- $952,803 

14%- $1,333,924 

17%- $1,619,765 

20%- $1,905,606

A 1% reduction ($95,280) would be one technician plus approx $20,000 in materials and supplies. A 5% reduction would be the new people (3 technicians, material and supplies, travel, and all operating funds to conduct any wheat stem rust research (including funds we give to NCSU and other Universities to assist in stem rust research). A 10% reduction would include all at the 5% level plus all other technicians, other support staff, and operating dollars. A 20% reduction would be the equivalent of the entire ARS wheat research program in Raleigh.

If you feel moved to voice your concern, please contact your Senator and tell him/her how you feel.

from the ground up,

Jennifer Lapidus

Carolina Ground, L3C

Please Help Us Protect the Uniform Bread Wheat trials

I received an email from Dr David Marshall, USDA-ARS lead researcher for the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials (the variety trials that are breeding for regionally-adapted bread wheats) the other day. The email basically said that if the Chaffetz Amendment (info below) were to be passed and enacted, that this would result in effectively eliminating the USDA-ARS.
The North Carolina Bread Flour Project was launched because of Dr Marshall's work. Bread (hard) wheat is a promising crop for Carolina growers and bakers. It is relatively easy to grow, is a good winter rotation crop, and it commands a higher price than soft wheat. Carolina Ground, L3C and Riverbend Malthouse are both launching this September, working with Carolina growers of organic bread wheat, rye, and barley (the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials also includes barley and rye). Variety selection is key for growers and the ability to access regionally adapted varieties is thanks to the work of the USDA-ARS.
We have seen consumer demand for local continue to grow despite the current recession. And we know that addressing our staple crops is a key piece in terms of sustainability and food security. The Chaffetz Amendment threatens to effectively do away with the Uniform Bread Wheat trials and the essential work that Dr Marshall and his staff are doing for our local foods economy. Please urge your representative to oppose the Chaffetz Amendment.

American Society of Agronomy | Crop Science Society of America | Soil Science Society of America
Science Policy - Action Alert
ASA Logo CSSA Logo SSSA Logo

Urge your Representative to Oppose the Chaffetz Amendment

WHAT: Call your Representative now and say: "As a constituent, I urge (your Representative ) to OPPOSE THE CHAFFETZ AMENDMENT (H.AMDT.428) to the House Fiscal Year 2012 agriculture spending bill, which cuts funding for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) by $650 million (the bill currently provides $993 million)." You can add that this amendment puts in jeopardy the ability of American agriculture to remain competitive; it will set back the innovation and development of new knowledge and technologies needed to ensure food security, sustainable renewable energy production, and adaptation to climate change.

HOW: Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your Representative’s office. If you do not know who your Representative is, there is a zipcode look up at: www.house.gov
Note to Federal and University employees: check with your supervisor about any regulations concerning citizen advocacy prior to taking part in this action alert.

BACKGROUND: Funding for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is under attack. Specifically, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced an amendment to the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill which would slash funding for salaries and expenses of ARS by $650 million (the bill currently provides $993 million). If this draconian cut is passed, many ARS facilities could be closed and hundreds of ARS scientists may be let go. Decadal long studies will be lost, and the very ability of American agriculture to remain competitive will be in jeopardy. In addition, Rep. Chaffetz’s amendment would also cut funding for the Economic Research Service $43 million (the bill provides $70 million); reduce funding for the National Agricultural Statistics Service by $85 million (the bill provides $150 million); and reduce funding for Food For Peace Title II Grants by $1 billion (the total amount provided by the bill). Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

Address all comments to the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Science Policy Office: sciencepolicy@sciencesocieties.org

The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Science Policy Office organizes events to educate Congress and the Administration about how agronomic, crop, and soil science can be used to solve related challenges facing society. The Science Policy Office also performs advocacy on behalf of members in support research and development programs related to our sciences. To obtain more information about our activities, visit: www.agronomy.org/science-policy, www.crops.org/science-policy, and www.soils.org/science-policy.

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A video about Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (our fiscal sponsor!)

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association - Join the Food Revolution from GeoCore Films on Vimeo.

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is our fiscal sponsor. It is doubtful that we would have gotten this far with Carolina Ground, L3C without them. (Carolina Ground, L3C is the result of the two-year grant funded NC Organic Bread Flour Project, a CFSA initiative.) I am proud to work for and be associated with this organization. Check out the video!

The Kneading Conference!

The 5th Annual Kneading Conference is July 28th and July 29th in Skowhegan, Maine. This conference brings together novice and professional bakers, grain farmers and millers, researchers, wood-fired oven enthusiasts and anyone who loves to eat handcrafted breads for two days of participatory workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Get your tickets today!

A big hurdle cleared!

So the big news today is that we FINALLY got the green light from the City of Asheville to begin the upfit for our mill room. It seemed we were getting caught in the snare of regulatory overload. The word mill conjured images (in the minds of city officials) of explosions caused by dust combustion. Yes, mills have caught on fire, but we are a different brand of mill-- a micro mill with top projects of 1-2 tons of flour per day (a 'small' mill can produce up to 10,000cwt of flour a day-- that means 100,000 pounds of flour(!) before being designated a 'medium-sized' mill). So yeah, we are sort of off the map. But hell, we are reinventing the map! Construction begins on Monday!!!

And a very big BIG THANK YOU goes out to architect Marni Graves and engineers, Ray Morgan and Gus Sims of Sims Group Engineers for volunteering to help us through this regulatory process.


    The Lake Wheeler Wheat Workshop

    May 20th, 2011: We gathered under an EZ-Up tent-- the only shade available in a field of wheat. We were assembled at the Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory in Raleigh to see the Uniform Bread Wheat trial plots and hear from USDA-ARS wheat breeder, Dr David Marshall, as well as USDA-ARS plant pathologist Dr Christina Cowger. The Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory is the main breeding station for the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials, propagating hard wheats and some soft wheats as well as a bit of barley and oats. It is one of 11 sites ranging from the panhandle of Florida all the way up to Pennsylvania and over to Kentucky.

    Spanning Lake Wheeler Field Lab's 25 acres of trial plots, 1500 populations from different crosses exhibited varying degrees of maturity, height, awn and awn-less, red wheats and white wheats. The combination created a striking patchwork effect. Dr Marshall explained the orderly process of breeding for the best genetics-- disease resistance, yield, and quality baking performance. (And btw, this is old-school breeding practices, not genetic modification.) Crosses begin in a greenhouse up the road and those first year varieties or F1 are grown in a single row in the field. A good bit of these crosses are made between ancient germ plasm from the Fertile Crescent such as emmer and goat grass, and new genetic material. Dr Marshall likened the process of breeding to herding cats, explaining that all the way to F4 (or year 4 material) the genes are still segregating. Varieties that make it to the advancing lines-- the elite material-- are grown in fifty foot plots. Next week, on Tuesday June 7th from 3-5 p.m. we will gather again with Dr Marshall, this time at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville-- the smallest of his sites-- where one acre's worth of trial plots display largely the elite material that he hopes will eventually be released to the public as long as the lines make the cut, meaning strong disease package, good yield, reasonable maturing time, quality baking performance... And I should mention, in case it is not obvious, this is a public breeding program and Dr Marshall is a public breeder.

    Following Dr Marshall, Dr Christina Cowger spoke about mycotoxins, the range of toxic fugal infection that can strike grains. She specifically addressed scab or Fusarium head blight, which can produce two mycotoxins-- deoxynivalenol or DON and zearalenone. These mycotoxins can cause severe gastric irritation in animals and humans. Wheat is most vulnerable to infection during flowering stage and the 10 days following. The main culprit is wet, humid weather two weeks before flowering. Cowger described some of the visual indicators of infection-- diseased spiklets become bleached or tan in appearance, grain exhibits pink tips-- and other indicators include low test weight. The FDA's recommended threshold is 10ppm for poultry and cows, 5 ppm for swine, , and 1 ppm for humans. She explained that for organic growers, who cannot simply spray fungicides, the best defense is going to be variety selection and/or selecting more than one variety, thus staggering harvest (and flowering times). Another defense is crop rotation. And Scabsmart.org can assist growers in managing risk with an online Fusarium Headblight Risk Assessment Tool. For testing on farm, kits are available through Seedboro and similar companies. For lab testing-- I have been told the the NCDA Consumer Services does testing, but I have yet to find an individual at the NCDA who can confirm this info. There are other private labs though that do such testing.
    I realize this post is getting a bit long winded for a blog, so just a brief mention of the other presenters-- Dr Chris Reberg-Horton of NC State University spoke on organic production methods, pointing to variety selection as the organic grower's biggest tool. And Carolina Farm Stewardship's Karen McSwain spoke about the EQIUP-OI program as a potential resource to growers interested in growing grains (more on that in a later post).
    from the ground up,

    NC-Grown Bread Wheat: From Field to Hearth

    CFSA in conjunction with Carolina Ground, L3C present:

    NC-Grown Bread Wheat: From Field to Hearth

    Friday, May 20th from 1:00-4:00pm

    Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory in Raleigh, NC

    On Friday, May 20th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory in Raleigh, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Carolina Ground will host a workshop entitled NC-Grown Bread Wheat: from field to hearth. USDA-ARS wheat breeder, Dr David Marshall will be present to discuss the Uniform Bread Wheat trials planted at the field lab. Dr. Marshall will also lead us in a tour of the plots. Dr Chris Reberg-Horton of NCSU’s NC Organic Grains Project will follow Dr. Marshall’s talk, and will address organic methods of production for food-grade grain as well as potential markets. And Karen McSwain, CFSA’s Organic Initiatives Coordinator, will speak about the EQIP-OI program, eligibility, the application process, and examples of some scenarios applicable to grain production. She will also talk a little about her role in making the program more applicable to organic/transitioning farmers. This workshop, which is free and open to the public, is geared toward growers.

    To register please contact: jennifer@carolinafarmstewards.org