Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Wheat flour, like sugar and salt, is a thing so readily available processed that it’s hard for even a committed locavore and foodie to think in terms of growing wheat in the back yard. What’s more, wheat  seems – despite its prevalence – to be a picky, demanding crop, as needy as a toddler close to naptime. Fertilizer, sunshine, special equipment to harvest are all necessary, and then with all the work will there even be enough to bake a loaf of bread? If you have an acre of land, you can get 1,381 loaves of bread  – enough for about three loaves each day of the year, with some flour left over for cookies and pies. For the average family, half an acre should be enough.

People have begun to test the limits of wheat cultivation and are having successes that suggest there might be a future in grow-your-own. After all, wheat stalks are quieter than the urban chickens that are so popular these days, and less likely to run into local zoning codes. Thousands of varieties of wheat have been hybridized to grow in many climates and soils – dwarf wheats, wheats resistant to diseases, and wheats for cold weather.

Storing grain is relatively simple. One website suggests five-gallon plastic buckets with tight lids are ideal. Buying a mill to grind your own wheat is as easy as searching the Internet for home flour mills. There are dozens of possibilities, ranging from hand-cranked to high-speed electric mills. The website eHow has suggestions for how to make your decision.

Photo of Alaska wheat at the Alaska State Fair, August 27, 2011.
Not everyone has the half-acre required to grow enough wheat for the family for the year, or wants to go to that amount of work. But many farmers are finding it profitable to grow wheat again in fields that were devoted to other crops for the past hundred or more years. Many farmers with small acreage are growing wheat to feed livestock, or to supply consumers with locally-produced flours, making it easier to find local flour without having to grow your own. From Alaska to California and the southern states, amber waves of grain are brightening vistas and supplying local mills and households with custom-ground choices for every kind of cooking.

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