Grains Innovators

Celebrating the Ingenuity of Bakers, Chefs and Entrepreneurs Across the Region

Daric Schlesselman, BarleyWorldAmber Lambke, Seth Seligman, Eli Rogosa, Mary-Howell Martens, Mark Sorrells, Jessamyn Rodriquez, Blair Marvin, Peter Endriss, Negro Piattoni, Annie Moss, Danny Newburg, Kristina Razon

Daric Schlesselman, co-founder and owner, Van Brunt Stillhouse

Daric Schlesselman and Sarah Ludington, 
Van Brunt Stillhouse

To continue our rye showcase this month, the Grains team sat down with Daric Schlesselman, half of the husband and wife team behind Van Brunt Stillhouse, which opened its doors in 2012. Van Brunt produces whiskey under the New York State Farm Distilling license that requires that at least 75% of the ingredients be sourced from New York.

Daric started out as a home brewer. While working in television, he came across a story, printed on the label of a European liquor bottle, about a distillery, and he began thinking about small batch distilling. Initially he sought to make eau de vie, distilled spirits made from fresh fruit like apples or cherries, but without his own orchard, the sheer amount of fruit needed seemed cost prohibitive.

However, distilling whiskey wasn’t exactly a compromise for Daric. As a beer drinker, his palate was accustomed to malted grain flavors. Because of the burgeoning craft distilling sector, making whiskey also allowed Van Brunt to work with local farmers. In Daric’s mind, using local and traceable grain pushes against the commodification of grain as well as industrial distilling. He was looking to add ingredients that impart flavor instead of just increasing the amount of alcohol produced.

Daric also noted that, though rye whiskey’s bold spicy flavor often causes people to reach for a bourbon instead, the category is not to be overlooked. “Rye whiskey is a fantastic cocktail ingredient. Making a Manhattan with rye creates a balance between the spiciness of the rye and the sweetness of vermouth that isn’t there when you use a bourbon.” New York also has a great climate for growing rye. “If you’re invested in thinking and acting locally, rye whiskey is a great way to do that,” Daric says. In fact, prior to prohibition, rye whiskey was the most common style of whiskey in the Northeast, but it largely disappeared after 1930. The market in the United States has shrunk over time, from over 100 major rye whiskey varieties to essentially three, but the wave of new craft distilling, supported by programs like Empire Rye, have presented the opportunity to bring that diversity of flavor and terroir back into the United States’ liquor cabinet.. Back to top.

Patrick Hayes, Brigid Meints, and Andrew Ross of BarleyWorld

Barley World is Oregon State University's Barley Breeding Program and one of the Regional Grains Project's partners on developing naked or hull-less barley. We sat down for a Q & A with Patrick, Brigid and Andrew, whose work we showcased in September at GrowNYC's Variety Showcase and Naked Barley Tasting. 

Q: ​What makes barely unique or different from other "small grains"? Patrick Hayes:​ Barley is unique in being so versatile: it is the base of beer, and that foundation lets one build on other attributes – including nutrition (human and animal), and flavor attributes. Barley is a much simpler organism – genetically speaking than wheat (14 vs. 42 chromosomes). That is an advantage when it comes to figuring out what genes drive what traits. Q: ​What are some of the main objectives for OSU and the other partners on the naked barley grant? Brigid Meints: ​The main objectives of the grant are as follows: 1. Evaluate multi-use naked barley varieties and breeding lines in diverse, representative organic systems across the United States. 2. Identify and characterize key agronomic and food, feed, and malt quality traits for naked barley lines grown under organic conditions. 3. Understand the genetics of traits important for organically produced multi-use naked barley. 4. Measure the economic and environmental benefits of organic naked barley production and products. 5. Educate the public about the performance of naked barley in various organic production systems, variety attributes, and end-use options. 6. Observe, analyze, and report the results of natural selection and artificial selection on an organically grown naked barley composite population. 7. Investigate, assess, and develop multiple markets for naked barley through engagement with the full spectrum of stakeholders. Q: ​How is barley influenced by climate? Is it more tolerant to any specific environmental stresses that will be of use as the Earth's climate continues to become more volatile? Patrick Hayes: ​Different varieties of barley are grown from high elevations at the equator to the margins of agricultural production in both hemispheres. A systematic characterization of the genetic basis of adaptation gives us hope that barley can be a tool to deal with the effects of climate change. Barley can be a key component of multi-pronged strategies to ensuring health, happiness, and satiety in the face of volatility. Barley is a robust and hardy grain: it has lower input requirements (notably water and nitrogen) than wheat. Fall-planting of barley is a strategy for making the most of available precipitation, a fall-planted barley will produce ~ 25% more grain yield than a spring-planted barley at the same location. Q: ​What are the advantages and disadvantages of naked barley for cooking and brewing? Brigid Meints: ​For food consumption, covered varieties must have the hull removed by pearling, a mechanical abrasion process removes some of the bran and germ as well, effectively making it no longer a whole grain. Therefore, naked varieties are preferred for whole grain foods. They require no additional processing between cleaning and food preparation. They can be cooked up whole, flaked, milled into flour, or cracked. Cooking times for whole-grain naked barley (cooked like rice) are typically longer than for pearled barley, which can be a disadvantage. However, cracking is one way to get around that, or using a pressure cooker. Q: ​What can you tell us about the potential naked barley has to change the way we think of barley as a food? Andrew Ross:​ Naked barley has a tremendous potential in foods. It can do pretty much anything that other non-wheat grains can do. We and our collaborators have had great success making breads, risen and flat when mixed with wheat flour, we have also produced noodles and pasta, cookies, crackers and shortbreads, we’ve nixtamalized it to make barley-masa, cracked it to make barley bulgur and coucous, and used it whole to make pilafs and risotto-style dishes where it adds texture, crunch and flavor. We have fed a hundred people with barley pancakes: a great and easy “gateway” product for anyone interested in learning to adapt barley into their formulations. One of the great things working with the barleyworld cultivars has been the opportunity to play with color. So far, the color palette we have to work with exceeds what is readily available in wheat. We have made layered-multicolored cookies, harlequin breads, or made batches of shortbreads and crackers with different colored (e.g. black versus white) barleys and then mixed them when plating to provide color contrast on the table. Because naked barley does not need to be abrasively dehulled, it is a true whole grain and brings the attendant benefits of whole grain consumption in general. Whole grains have yet again been identified as having health benefits, a recent (July 2018) publication looking at 55,000 middle-aged people showing higher wholegrain consumption to be consistently associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. In the specific, naked-barley is a potent source of soluble beta-glucan fiber, which is documented to bring a variety of additional health benefits. Our efforts are to make barley foods that are attractive and delicious, the health benefits then piggybacking on the desirability of the foods, eaten for their own sake and culinary qualities. Q: ​Generally in the brewing process, barley’s hull creates a filter bed that proves useful in brewing. Does naked barley work as well in the brewing process? Brigid Meints: ​For brewing, naked barley can present an opportunity through significantly higher levels of malt extract and improved beer quality due to the absence of unwanted compounds in the hull such as tannins and other polyphenols, as well as potential economic benefits associated with reduced freight and storage costs. As you point out, hulls play a key role during the lautering process of the brew where they provide filtration. There are a few ways to get around this. Mash filters, which rely on mash filter membrane cloths to clarify the wort are a potential way to get around the hull. Additionally, we’ve worked with some brewers who have had success adding rice hulls or using only a percentage of naked barley in the total malt bill.Back to top.

Amber Lambke, CEO and Founder of Maine Grains

Amber Lambke, Founder and CEO, Maine Grains

Amber Lambke, co-founder and CEO of Maine Grains and one of the leaders in the movement for restoring local grain, started out on a completely different career trajectory. Amber holds a masters in Communication Disorders and had established herself in the field when her family moved out to Skowhegan, ME. She started volunteering in the community. Amber learned that Skowhegan had lost its woolen and shoe businesses and was looking for ways to rehabilitate its downtown while showcasing the industries of the area. As the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project was taking shape down the coast, a cooperative effort between Maine's grain farmers and a baking-oven mason called Maine Wood Heat Co. was evolving into a much larger movement. That movement ultimately grew into the amazing Maine Grain Alliance, a non-profit organization seeking to preserve and promote local grain traditions. Amber took on a part time position as the MGA’s Executive Director. In 2007 the Alliance held its first Kneading Conference, “an intensive two-day event attracting bakers and grain enthusiasts world-wide. The event wraps up with a free Artisan Bread Fair offering wood-fired oven demonstrations, artisan bread samplings, and opportunities to talk with professional bakers and explore the best books, tools, and delicious accoutrements to whole grain and conventional bread baking.” As time went on, the Alliance realized that in order to achieve their mission of fostering a sustainable regional grain market, central Maine needed adequate processing infrastructure to make it worthwhile for farmers in the central and northern regions of the state to invest in the local grain movement. This led to the foundation of Maine Grains gristmill in 2012, a mill put together in Skowhegan’s former jailhouse whose Maine grown oats, flour, and grain you can find at the Grainstand. Building a mill is an incredibly risky and capital intensive venture but, as is often the case with developments within regional grain infrastructure, the holes filled by Maine Grains continue to pay dividends. The mill has doubled its capacity several times in the past six years, greatly expanded its oat processing infrastructure, and, as Amber explains, “an entire ecosystem has built itself around the mill." Beyond the production of delicious food-grade grains, the mill also makes animal feed, compost that has proven beneficial for the area’s fields and even commercial mushroom cultivation. Recently Maine Grains purchased pearling equipment to make spelt farro. Soon the machine will be pearling barley too! Amber recently attended the Wheat Landraces for Healthy Food Systems Conference in Bologna. She found the global network of people building regional grains economies invigorating, especially the land in Bologna sown with hundreds of wheat varieties submitted by conference participants. “We’re all talking about the same things, trying to bolster regional grain economies as a relevant and necessary aspect of community life and sustainability” she said. Back to top.Back to top.

Seth Seligman, Loring Place

Seth Seligman, Loring Place

This month we sat down with Seth Seligman, co-Chef de Cuisine at Loring Place, a farmer focused restaurant in Greenwich Village that prominently features several different wheats, ancient and modern, in their seasonal menu. The team at Loring Place--Executive Chef Dan Kluger and Chefs de Cuisine Karen Shu and Seth Seligman--have been working together for ten years, initially at the Core Club in Midtown. Throughout his career, Chef Kluger's work has focused not only on featuring local and seasonal produce, but on developing relationships with farms and farmers. "Chef Dan has known some of the farmers we work with for twenty years," says Seth. Those relationships provide the foresight and coordination needed to put together a praiseworthy menu that is still "as local and seasonal as possible."

Grains have been part of the plan throughout the restaurant's entire development. When Chef Kluger was first setting up Loring Place, the Regional Grains Project was gaining significant momentum. In-house milled local grain was literally baked into the identity of the restaurant from the start. Initially focusing on pizza dough, Chef Seth says they "did lots of initial testing of different varieties," eventually settling on warthog, which developed a good structure and has an excellent flavor. It's often mixed with emmer for an additional flavor boost. As they continued to experiment, they found ways to incorporate more and more local grain: Frederick wheat is incorporated into the whole grain house bread to lighten the texture and flavor, the vegan burgers are coated in oats, and freekeh is puffed to add to the grain salad. Pastry Chef Diana Valenzuela has made rye blondies and warthog chocolate chip cookies. Even at the bar, beverage manager Ann Marie Del Bello has worked to feature several New York State farm distilleries.

There have been challenges working with such small scale production, like when the barn fire at the Martens farm destroyed most of the region's emmer, a component of several dishes. But the rewards of finding innovative ways to incorporate these unique and flavorful ingredients more than outweigh the challenges. Chef Seth loves watching people react to their first bite of the freshly milled warthog pizza dough. "Tasting these dishes every day," he says, "I forget how much of a difference it makes." But at Loring Place, the ethos of local, traceable ingredients plays just as important a role as the wow factor of their flavor. For the team at Loring Place, knowing that they "have a hand in every process" is what makes all their work worth it. Back to top.

Eli Rogosa, Farmer, Seed Saver, Director of Heritage Grain Conservancy

Eli Rogosa on her farm in Massachusetts

Eli Rogosa is a radical grain visionary who has worked tirelessly around the globe to preserve and promote what she refers to as "our biological heritage," the wealth of ancient, heritage, and landrace wheats that make up the backbone of the regional grains project.

A Long Island native, Eli's passion for agriculture was catalyzed when, while studying at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, she had the opportunity to study biodynamic horticulture* at Emerson College in the United Kingdom. Through her work with an agricultural extension agency in the Middle East, Eli was able to make connections with farmers and scientists in the very landscape that saw the development of human agriculture. It was one of these connections, with the head of the Israeli gene bank, that helped Eli discover einkorn while attempting to make a traditional matzoh with native ancient wheat. Eli could find einkorn (or its wild relatives) growing around bus stops, but just as in many cultures, people had lost their connection with this piece of their biological heritage. With the help of funding from Anson Mills and the European Union, Eli was able to cooperate with Palestinian peasant farmers to explore and reintroduce the wealth of genetic diversity that exists in the Middle East as she collected strains of Einkorn in the Carpathian mountains in Eastern Europe for trial at her farm in Massachusetts. Eli has been a pioneer in introducing ancient wheats to the Northeast.

Out of this work was born the Heritage Grain Conservancy, a biodynamic* farm that Eli and her spouse CR Lawn (of Fedco Seeds fame) operate in western Massachusetts. Eli and CR work to grow out einkorn and other wheat populations along with landrace wheats, from gene banks in the Middle East and Europe and adapt those varieties to the climate and conditions of the northeast. A landrace is a population of a crop that, due to a lack of hybridization or selective breeding, remains genetically diverse and can adapt to its environment and climate. Rogosa's work with landraces emphasizes plants' resilience in the face of climate change and their interdependence with the ecosystem as evidenced by their stronger reliance with mycorrhizal fungi and leguminous nitrogen fixing bacteria for nutrients. Phew! That's a mouthful, but may account for the flavor-fullness of the grains Eli has been shepherding.

In addition to her work on the farm, Eli is working to restore a bakery in King's Park, Long Island that she hopes will be a space for workshops and retreats accessible to people from the city. Eli funds her conservation efforts through sales of freshly ground einkorn flour and baked goods which you can order on Heritage Grain Conservancy's website, www.growseed.org. The website and Eli's book "Restoring Heritage Grains" are both excellent resources for learning about and baking with heritage and ancient wheat. In Eli's words: "There is work for everyone here. I'm someone who wants to help people share the seeds and empower growers." Back to top.

*Biodynamics is a school of agriculture that takes a spiritually motivated, biodiverse, and ecosystem level approach to organic production.

Mary-Howell Martens, Farmer and Co-Founder, Lakeview Organic Grain

Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens on their farm, October 2017

GRGP is especially excited to have Mary-Howell Martens as our featured innovator this month -- a grain farmer who, with her husband Klaas and their son Peter, has fundamentally altered the New York City marketplace. And that's not an exaggeration. Mary-Howell Martens and her husband Klaas are the duo behind Lakeview Organic Grain, a farm in Penn Yan, NY, growing 1,600 acres of wheat and other small grains, as well as corn, beans, and soy. They raise the crops for organic seed and for animal feed, and increasingly -- to the great delight of GRGP -- for food.

The family is one of precious few growing commercial scale food-grade grains in our region, let alone doing it organically. It is thanks to Lakeview Organic Grain -- as well as Martens Farm, run by their son Peter -- that The Grainstand can offer such a wide selection of regionally grown grains and flour. In 2013 the Martens began supplying NYC shoppers with red fife wheat, the very first heritage wheat to be commercially available in the Northeast. Red fife has since become a beloved bread flour throughout NYC.

It's Mary-Howell, in particular, who deserves thanks for Fredrick, our featured grain this month. Fredrick is the Grainstand's most prized pastry flour. It's somewhere between heritage and modern because it was one of the first varieties to be developed when new breeding techniques revolutionized global food production in the mid-1900s, but it fell out of production when other more high-yielding wheats filled the demands of industrialized flour production. Mary-Howell brought it back from obscurity. "There's a huge library of seeds that are no longer grown," Mary-Howell told GRGP, "simply because they fail to produce a high yield. Fredrick could have ended up like that."

Her rediscovery happened about 20 years ago. At the end of a long, hot day, Mary-Howell walked the fields checking on the crops. She wanted to know more about the flavors each variety held, so she and Klaas saved some to try out after harvest. Two out of the three varieties tasted bad or were very bitter, but Fredrick had a "sweet, almost corn-like, sunshiney flavor," Mary-Howell recalled. She started adding it to her own breads and pies. A few years later, she met the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, Dan Barber. Dan had been spending time with the Martens on their farm while doing research for his book The Third Plate. (Klaas and Mary-Howell are two of the book's central characters.) Mary-Howell used the Fredrick in a cake she made -- rhubarb if her memory serves. Dan raved about it. Later he was quoted saying he never liked the flavor of whole wheat flour before trying Mary-Howell's freshly ground Fredrick flour.

The Martens started growing Fredrick at a commercial scale, and The Grainstand was pleased to introduce it to the NYC marketplace in 2014, selling it to chefs, bakers, and home cooks at Greenmarkets around the city. As Mary-Howell describes it, "It's mild and pleasant, goes well with a lot of things, has character, but not too much." Because it was bred in the 1930s-1960s with low pesticides and fertilizer inputs, "it has benefits of both modern and heritage: character, yield, familiarity, organic reliability."

Mary-Howell grew up on Long Island. In high school, despite having never farmed, she decided to pursue agriculture and went on to study plant breeding at Cornell University. Her farming career began when she met Klaas, who grew up farming with his family in Penn Yan, NY. In 1996 they bought the old Agway mill, responding to increasing demand for organic dairy feed. By 2001 they had over 100 customers and were exceeding their capacity, so they started expanding and sourcing crops from other farmers. "We try to see where the bottlenecks are," Mary-Howell said, adding that their investments "don't just help us, but provide a channel for a lot of specialty grains in upstate New York, and help keep this movement going."

One of the Martens' biggest contributions to the movement was their decision in the late 1990s to buy their first dehuller. (They have replaced it three times since.) They are one of the only farmers in the Northeast to invest in this expensive machine, necessary to process the three ancient wheats (also called farro) -- emmer, einkorn and spelt. As a result, they are one of the only regional suppliers of these grains.

Mary-Howell says that more varieties and more farms, rather than fewer, means greater security. For years farmers had been told to get big or get out, but greater biodiversity within plantings means more productivity and greater resilience, especially given increased climatic variability due to climate change. Likewise, for the Martens, more people farming means more friends and more collective learning. In Mary-Howell's words: "Organic farmers are often defined by their shalt-nots, the things they don't do, rather than their shalts." Those include diverse plantings, building soil health, grazing animals, and all the other things that help build a strong agricultural ecosystem.

Mary-Howell, the movement can't thank you and your family enough. Mary-Howell's advice for GRGP's readers? "If you haven't tried fresh ground flour or cornmeal, it's like being colorblind. The spectrum is vast. Try different things, and try grinding your own." 

After fire ravaged several structures on their farm in 2017, Klaas and Mary-Howell's Mennonite neighbors threw them a successful barn raising to help defray costs of replacing the barn. Klaas and Mary-Howell refused to take donations and requested that those who would like to, donate to the Mennonite Disaster Service. Back to top.

Mark E. Sorrells, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University

Mark grew up among the fields and farms of rural Illinois. After receiving his Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1978, he transitioned from corn, the focus of his graduate work, to small grains, eventually joining Cornell's faculty and -- to the great benefit of Greenmarket shoppers -- partnering with GRGP to bring more and more wheat varieties to market. Mark heads up Cornell's Small Grains Breeding and Genetics Program. The Small Grains Program works to develop new and better small grain cultivars and seeks to improve upon breeding strategies, and build a better understanding of small grain genetics. In its 111-year history, the program has developed over 40 new varieties. Last month the Grainstand started stocking Medina, Cornell's newest variety of wheat to be released for commercial sale. GRGP asked Dr. Sorrells about what the process of developing a new variety of wheat looks like.

Step one: Pick two cultivars that have the desired traits. Step two: Cross them by spending the next 10-15 years breeding and interbreeding the individual plants. But wait -- it's not that easy. During that time breeders have to find an individual that expresses the desired traits while maintaining decent yield, disease resistance, milling and processing quality, and above all flavor! Medina is a typical example. The soft white winter wheat with high protein levels and increased disease resistance was first crossed not 5 years ago, not 10 years ago, but 30 years ago, in 1988.

The latest buzz in the Cornell team's research labs and fields in Ithaca, NY, is about the development of a "naked barley" - a malting barley that grows well in the northeast, is disease resistant and cold hardy, and whose hull threshes free so it can be eaten as a whole grain instead of being pearled. (Pearling is to sand away the inedible hull along with the nutrient dense outer seed coat.

What makes Mark tick? The chance to work closely with graduate students to help them develop into excellent crop breeders is one of his favorite aspects of work, he told GRGP. Another is its interdisciplinary nature. Developing an excellent variety of wheat requires not just a breeder but a team of geneticists, plant pathologists, farmers, and other professionals.

The GRGP team can relate: The mission to build an economically viable and ecologically sustainable grains market is the product of cooperation between farmers, millers, bakers, breeders, governing bodies, home cooks, brewers, and so many other essential parties. GRGP first worked with Mark and his team at Cornell on a USDA-funded research project called Value Added Grains for Local and Regional Food Systems (2011-2016). In the project's 5 years the team brought eight varieties of wheat to the market that were previously unavailable. Check out our article in the Journal of Cereal Sciences.

Mark gives scientific proof to what our community already knows: Small grains are a crucial rotational cover crop, especially in diversified organic farming systems. They stem erosion, keep soil healthy and allow for sustainable growth of nutrient rich foods. Since standard commodity grain doesn't fetch a high enough price to make the use of wheat as a rotational crop worth it for most farmers, Cornell and GRGP and our partners continue to develop the market and infrastructure for ancient and heritage wheats and other specialty crops. More and more we are seeing long term investment in farm sustainability achieve economic feasibility in the short term. Back to top.

Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, baker, social entrepreneur, cookbook author, Founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen

Jessamyn Rodriguez, Hot Bread Kitchen

Stollen, naan, rye bread, tortillas. Though these delicacies from Hot Bread Kitchen(HBK) originate from far-away places in India, Europe, and Central America, they are made with New York State flour. That's thanks to HBK's founder and CEO Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez's commitment to use local flour, a practice that enables HBK to be a part of the Greenmarket program - and a much beloved one at that. "I've learned over the years running a bakery that using local flour requires high-level talent and yields a high-quality product," Jessamyn told GRGP.

Jessamyn started HBK from her home kitchen in 2007, after having become a master baker and the first female to work in Daniel Boulud's Michelin two-star restaurant. In launching the mission-driven, nonprofit bakery, Jessamyn married her passion for baking with her background in human rights, immigration issues and women's economic empowerment. Now an internationally recognized model for market-driven change, HBK trains low-income women from around the world in the art and science of baking, while developing recipes from the students' own culinary traditions and innovations. Graduates of HBK's baking program gain invaluable, life-changing skills. Many continue to bake for HBK, while dozens have gone on to start their own businesses after participating in its culinary incubator program. "Supporting the upstate grain economy is an important part of running a social mission bakery," said Jessamyn.

Jessamyn credits her head baker Peiwen Lee for developing and adapting traditional ethnic recipes for a wide variety grains that have been grown and milled in the region. "She brings to our baking an eye for how to make these different breads with local flour," said Jessamyn of Peiwen, who is from Singapore. The practice is woven into the baking training as well. "It's nice for the bakers; using a less commercially milled flour does require additional training, but that's an important part of the education," said Jessamyn.

The bakers have had their share of victories and setbacks. Jessamyn is particularly proud of their corn tortillas, made entirely with heirloom, non-GMO yellow dent corn from Oechsner Farm near Ithaca, NY. Developing the recipe took time. "People originally said the corn, traditionally used for animal feed, wouldn't make a good product," she said. "They were wrong. The result was one of the best tortillas on the market." Peiwen and Jessamyn are in agreement: The HBK bread that highlights the flavor and texture of regionally grown and milled flour more than any other is the Grindstone Rye, made from rye grown in the Fingerlakes. "The Grindstone Rye is a delicious dense bread that's great for toast and butter, or sandwiches," said Peiwen. "Thanks to the local and whole grains, it is one of our most healthful breads." Added Jessamyn, "The quality of the flour yields a really nice flavor and a really rustic bread that we love." Back to top.

Blair Marvin, co-owner of Elmore Mountain Bread

Blair Marvin, Elmore Mountain Bread

Blair Marvin and her husband Andrew Heyn were seasoned food industry professionals long before their current roles as owners of Elmore Mountain Bread (EMB). They knew that they wanted to be involved in the local food scene, but were not sure in what capacity. So when the opportunity to take over a bakery close to home (in the town of Elmore, VT) presented itself, they jumped at it—despite not having any formal baking experience. This required a hurried education, and Marvin credits the early success of EMB on “incredible books, each other, and lots of trial and error.” Now entering their 14th year of bakery ownership, the couple was right to take the leap of faith.

The first major hurdle Marvin and Heyn faced was how to increase production while maintaining a sustainable quality of life. Rather than bulk up staffing, they found that acquiring a larger and more efficient oven was key. Now they produce approximately 1800 loaves (as opposed to 600-850 using their original oven) with just the help of one “mostly fulltime” assistant baker. Once their production problems were remedied, they were looking for a new challenge. The goal was to grow in a way beyond simply increasing sales. They wanted to become more knowledgeable about their primary ingredient: flour. So six years ago they began transitioning away from the Quebecois organic flour they were using towards sourcing grains in their own community and milling it in house.

This endeavor presented several major issues. First, there was the issue of sourcing the grains. Vermont has a long-established history of grain growing with trailblazing farmers Ben Gleason and Jack Lazor. But getting local wheat in its whole kernel form, not pre-milled, was “nuts at the time.” Marvin caught wind of a farmer just 30 miles away from the bakery, Nate Rogers of Rogers Farmstead, who was beginning to dabble in growing wheat. Marvin cold-called Rogers to inquire about the harvest, and a handshake agreement later he agreed to sell the entire harvest of his “Redeemer” hard red winter wheat to Marvin and Heyn.

After securing the untested variety, they needed to source a mill that would allow them to maintain a consistent product for their customers, despite the overhaul of their main ingredient. They researched in-house mills being used by the few commercial bakeries. Ultimately they decided to take pieces of these mills and build their own, tailored to their specific needs. The mill they built allowed them to maintain the bread aesthetics their customers had come to know, but the taste was on a different level. Each grain being used had distinguishing characteristics, and the fermentation process was not just creating flavor but enhancing the existing flavor of this fresh flour.

Using fresh flour has demanded that Marvin and Heyn be more intuitive bakers. Each harvest presents different hydration and fermentation needs. But the customers have been incredibly receptive to their hyper-local approach to baking, and this model is beginning to take hold nationwide. Bakers milling their own flour include David Bauer, of Farm and Sparrow in Ashville, NC, who was a major influence on the couple in their early days.  Heyn and Marvin have even built mills for a few ambitious bakers such as Jonathan Bethany, of Seylou in DC, and Grayson Gill, of Bellegarde in NOLA. Blair Marvin believes that bakeries using fresh flour and sourcing local grains can have a major impact on the grains economy, and that it’s possible for urban bakeries to have an impact along with their rural counterparts. “Even if [urban bakers] are only milling 30% of their own flour, they are able to reach and educate thousands of consumers.” Back to top.

Peter Endriss, chef/owner of Runner & Stone

Peter Endriss, Runner & Stone

Peter Endriss, head baker and co-owner of Runner & Stone, did not set out to become a bread baker. He studied environmental science in college and transitioned into the field of civil engineering after graduation. Endriss felt that being an engineer was the sensible career path but found himself drawn to kitchen life, something he was familiar with from his school days when he worked in food service. In 2001, Endriss fully transitioned into a career in the food business, first as a savory chef. Eventually he found his way to bread baking.

One of his earliest baking experiences was at Amy’s Bread. He joined the team when they were developing an organic line of breads. At the time, this set Amy’s apart from most bakeries since very few were using organic flour. (It would still be at least a decade before local flour was readily available.) After several stints in Europe, as well as assisting with the development of Per Se’s bread program, Peter decided to take the leap and launch his own project.

In 2012, Peter joined forces with Chef Chris Pizzulli to open Runner & Stone, a seasonal restaurant and bakery in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. “I always wanted a retail bakery, but it doesn’t make economic sense in New York,” said Endriss. Combining his dream with Pizzuli‘s has allowed him to keep the bakery at a sustainable size and “adds a level of interest” to the restaurant. Endriss is fortunate that he has always worked with high quality flour. In 2010 he connected with GRGP and Hot Bread Kitchen at a Slow Food event and has been at the forefront of the local grains movement in the Northeast ever since. He is very comfortable using local flour and knows how to adjust for subtle changes that can be expected from flours that have not been homogenized to commodity standards. That said, Farmer Ground Flour, (which he has been using since the early days of the mill’s existence), has proven to be quite consistent. Peter has also found ways to integrate an assortment of local grains in his line of exquisite baked goods, where you will find spelt pretzels, buckwheat baguettes and a miche made with spelt, rye and whole wheat.

Something he may not have expected was the warm and supportive community he’s found in the Gowanus neighborhood. Runner & Stone opened within months of Littleneck and, the now defunct, The Pines. Since then, Gowanus has developed into a considerable food and drink destination with the arrival of Ample Hills Creamery, The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, and Givers and Takers, just to name a few. Beyond the ‘hood, Endriss has found that New York’s burgeoning community of “micro-bakeries” has grown into a “convivial and friendly” scene. And though “there could always be more” artisanal bakeries, dedicated to using regional grains, great strides have been made to elevate the quality of the bread being offered in the city. And the positive feedback from customers, both at the restaurant and at his Union Square Greenmarket stand, supports these efforts. Next time you’re at the market, check out Peter’s legendary croissants, or make your way through his plentiful offerings of local, artisan breads. Back to top.

Negro Piattoni, chef/owner of METTA

Not every kid is fortunate to grow up with an intimate understanding of the food system. Even fewer are able to turn that experience into a successful cooking career. Chef Norberto "Negro" Piattoni grew up in Argentina and learned to cook at a young age.  He also learned slow food agricultural practices on his grandfather's farm.

It was while studying chemical engineering at university that he discovered the other, darker, side of the food system: large scale food production techniques that wreak havoc on the environment and the dangers of pesticides and other food additives. From these experiences, Piattoni has gained a strong belief in sustainability and avoids highly processed food and industrial agriculture. "Cooking local is the healthiest way to eat, and the best way to support the community of people preparing the food at every step in the system. It's also a great way to stay away from food gimmicks. There is a lot of information out there that is manipulated by businesses with their own agenda, and it can be confusing to the consumer. Fish is a classic example of this: wild caught vs. farmed? Depends on the species! By working with small farms and producers one can avoid this misinformation. The key is to find people you trust."

Negro thinks another example of this confusion surrounding our food is with grains. In recent years, there has been so much conversation, largely negative, surrounding grains that one's impulse might be to stay away from it all together. However, Chef Negro is a big fan of grains and a huge supporter of GRGP. His interest in grains also hearkens back to his childhood. "In Argentina, due to a strong Italian influence, we eat a lot of flour in various forms, bread, cakes and of course pasta. Last summer, Piattoni got to know the Greenmarket well and was thrilled to discover the Grainstand. In preparation for opening his restaurant he would host dinner parties with friends, and over time grains became an integral part of the meal. Now that METTA is open, one can find lots of grains and beans on the menu. Some highlights are charred beets with pickled rye berries and freekeh risotto with mushrooms and celery root puree. The sourdough flatbread is made in-house using 85% half white flour and 15% red fife flour, both from Farmer Ground Flour

Chef Negro Piattoni continues to stay true to his upbringing with his cooking style. There is no gas-fueled equipment at METTA, just one electric oven and an open-fire pit from which most of the dishes are cooked. "Fire cooking" is something that he learned growing up in Argentina and perfected while working under celebrity chef, Francis Mallman. Negro has brought this expertise to Brooklyn, and the response from guests has been positive. For those who want to experience this unique style up close, they can dine at the chef's counter. He also uses preservation and fermentation techniques to add depth and increase the health benefits of his dishes. Often people believe they do not have time to shop at the Greenmarket or properly source their ingredients. But Chef Negro advises home cooks: "Don't be lazy with your food. Know where your food comes from, and eat well." Back to top.

Annie Moss, co-owner of Seastar Bakery

Annie Moss, Seastar Bakery

Let's take a trip to the west coast to meet our next Innovator, Annie Moss. Moss currently co-owns one of the hippest and most forward-thinking bakeries in Portland, Seastar Bakery

Moss once played an integral role in the development of GRGP. In 2011, while studying environmental policy at the New School in NYC, Moss connected with Heidi Dolnick, then working on a farmland retention project at GrowNYC. Soon after, they both began working with GrowNYC's fledgling grains project, where Moss helped develop promotional materials such as GRGP's "15 Reasons to Eat Locally Grown Grains." After grad school, Annie moved to Portland, OR.  She feared she'd have to shift focus due to the narrowness of the field of regional grains, and was pleasantly surprised by Portland's interest in wellness and overall locavore nature. Annie quickly realized that there was interest in local grains in the Pacific Northwest, and she got a job as general manager at Tabor Bread. "In New York, Greenmarket provides a level of coordination and organization that is unrivaled in other parts of the country. Tabor Bread has a different aesthetic than other Portland bakeries, one focused on advocating for local grains and its integral role in the food system."

In addition to Tabor, Moss cites Lane Selman, Founder and Director of the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN), and Lola Milholland, CEO of Umi Organic, as important to the revitalization of grains in the Pacific Northwest. The CBN's mission is to "break down the wall between breeders and eaters to improve agricultural and culinary quality in vegetables and grains." Milholland is dedicated to local grains, and Moss thinks her ramen noodles, expertly crafted with local barley, are "going to explode and take over the world." Moss, with Seastar bakery, fits right in with these ambitious trailblazers.

So how did Seastar Bakery come to be? Moss knew that she wanted to open a business with her grad school friend Katia Bezerra-Clark, who had moved to Portland to help out at Tabor, but she wasn't sure what kind. At the same time, her friends Will Fain and Matt Kedzi were looking to relocate and expand their pizzeria, Handsome Pizza. They decided to join forces and, in August of 2015, Seastar Bakery was born. Each partner has their focus: Annie bakes the pastry items, Katia concentrates on the breakfast selection, while Will and Matt oversee the pizza and bread production. At Seastar they use all local, mostly whole grains, and everything is baked in a wood-fired oven. The response has been "fantastic!" Customers adore the flavorful and complex bread and baked goods that Moss and co. offer.

While Seastar is the kind of bakery that many bakers dream of owning (small, nimble, creative and dedicated to sustainability), the business has faced some challenges by dedicating itself to sourcing local. Local grains are more expensive than commodity grains. However, because Moss and co. are retail-focused and do minimal wholesale, their dedication to regional grains is not prohibitive. Early on, they attempted to mill flour in-house, but that proved to be unrealistic based on the amount of space that milling requires. Distribution can also be problematic at times, since smaller producers do not always have a set delivery schedule and growers tend to run out of products in this nascent sector of agriculture. Lastly, recipe testing can be challenging due to the natural variation of the grains. Still, none of these challenges are insurmountable, and Seastar has set the standard of what a retail-focused artisanal bakery can be.

Moss has some tips for home bakers hoping to incorporate more local, whole grain flour: "Take notes!" It seems obvious, but it's imperative to make notes of any recipe adjustments being made so you'll have them as a reference later. Whole grains can have a bit more tannic flavor, so be wary about cutting back on sugar and or salt. You will also need to increase the liquid or fat to compensate for the thirsty flour. Lastly, take risks and fun!" Back to top.

Danny Newberg, Chef/Owner of Joint Venture

Danny Newberg, Joint Venture

Danny Newberg has worked as a chef at some of NYC’s coolest and most delicious restaurants. After 8 years he found the demands of restaurant life were stifling his creativity and left him feeling "disconnected from the food." So he decided to set himself free and start Joint Venture.

It started as a pop-up with the plan to eventually become a restaurant. Yet even as captain of his own ship, Newberg was resistant to go back to the monotony of daily service. So he found a way to stay nimble, moving between catering, throwing pop-ups, and striking new partnerships to satisfy his creative curiosities.

For Newberg, cooking is all about ingredients. Seafood makes its way into many of his most beloved dishes, thanks in no small part to his upbringing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Lately he's been featuring more and more local grains, and people are taking notice. He made his professional grains debut at a dinner on New Year's Eve with a “bean and grain stew.” Bon Appetit soon called it "The Unexpectedly Vegan Recipe We Can't Stop Talking About."  Guests were “surprised the grains were so flavorful,” Newberg told us, and since then he's gotten a ton of requests for this dish. In an email Newberg thanked our sales director Henry Blair for helping make the dish possible: "I have to give you a lot of credit for this recipe. ...Without having you at the market I would have never decided to make this recipe up. Also big thanks to all the farmers!"

So how did Newberg find out about the Grainstand? He credits Norberto “Negro” Piattoni, Executive Chef/Co-owner of METTA and longtime local grains supporter. He would meet up with Piattoni at the Union Square Greenmarket to see what was fresh. Soon he was making regular trips to the Grainstand. Over time Newberg became obsessed. Now local grains are a staple for Joint Venture, and “the response has been amazing,” he said.

For more you can find them on Instagram: @jointventurenyc. Back to top.

Kristina Razon

Kristina Razon 
Author of A Guide to Northeast Grains

Kristina Razon first became interested in local grains while pursuing her MS in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. When it came time for her to do her capstone project, Razon wanted to create something that would enhance her professional skills - she is the assistant kitchen manager at Four & Twenty Blackbirds. She decided that a local grains guide geared towards home chefs and bakers would do the trick.

Razon has often found that when baking, the flour is an afterthought. Her guide, and the local grains movement as a whole, puts more emphasis on the quality of the individual ingredients. In the fall of 2015 she stumbled upon GRGP and asked its founder, June Russell, to advise her with this project. She finished the guide earlier this year and it can be found on several online platforms (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, OverDrive and Baker & Taylor Axis 360), including Smashwords. A Guide to Northeast Grains includes history, technical information, and recipes focused on wheat, rye, buckwheat, and triticale.

The role of community is woven throughout A Guide to Northeast Grains. While doing research, Kristina found that “everyone knew everyone else,” and that there was a “communal spirit” surrounding the grains movement, she told GRGP. Take Blair Marvin, co-owner of Elmore Mountain Bread in Wolcott, Vermont. Marvin sources her grains from the farmer “down the road” and uses the mill that her husband built to bake the freshest bread one can find. If there is such a thing as “super local,” this is it. Another baker that has influenced Razon’s approach to baking is Peter Endriss, head baker/co-owner of Runner and Stone in Brooklyn. She credits him with “pushing grains to the forefront,” and finds that he helps and encourages other bakers to focus on the quality of the ingredients. Based on what she’s learned from these trailblazers, Razon’s advice for home bakers: “Grind [the flour] yourself.” This is becoming more possible with the growing availability of at-home mills. If that's not an option, she says, buy it fresh from the local farmers market.

Razon plans to stay at Four and Twenty Blackbirds for now. She hopes to incorporate local flour into production, though she acknowledges that this will take time, and pricing is an issue. Still, she’s developing a crust that’s half buckwheat flour and half all purpose flour, with the hopes that it will be on the menu soon. She also imagines that her guide will expand and evolve over time, and is excited to keep doing her part pushing the Northeast grains movement forward. Back to top.

Read the story of how GrowNYC and partners helped save 72 acres of farmland from industrial development. 

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