Monday, October 27, 2014

The Grain Divide

Carolina Ground is honored to be featured-- alongside our friends at Farm and Sparrow Breads, Smoke Signals Bakery, Dr Stephen Jones's Bread Lab, Monica Spiller, Chad Robertson, Glenn Roberts, and a handful of other inspiring folks-- in the upcoming film, The Grain Divide. Follow this link for the trailer.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Please Vote for Carolina Ground!

I know it's been forever since my last post, and I am sorry for that. Slowing down and telling the story is important. But since April I have been full throttle pretty literally nose to the grindstone, navigating obstacles and addressing both the challenges and opportunities presented by increased business.  We made it through another harvest and we are very happy with our 2014 crop. Growers are now getting ready to plant and we have our sites set for Carolina Ground 2.0... 

We were able to get this mill off the ground with a relatively small investment coming from various sources. And yet, this enabled us to merely pilot the idea.

Over the last two years, because of this mill, we have witnessed our bakeries shift their buying practices from purchasing their most essential ingredient from 1000 miles away, to within our region-- supporting our Carolina (and GA + VA) growers. Which means the consumer now has the ability to buy local bread; not just locally made or locally milled, but locally grown, ground, and baked. AND we've created a niche market for our large-scale organic grower-- shifting their mindset from feed-grade to food-grade crop rotations and influencing their thinking toward more diverse rotations-- which is good for the soil and for their pocket book.

We've proven that this idea was worth pursuing. And now time that we turn this endeavor into a durable business.

We've recently been presented the opportunity to expand our existing space which would enable us to increase and improve our grain storage capacity, and provide added workspace so that we can improve our mill flow, adding pneumatics for streamlining movement of both grain and flour and adding a cool room. This should enable us to increase our throughput capacity, keep our flour cooler, improve air quality, reduce the physical demands placed upon our miller, and very important-- improve our bottom-line.

And SO I stumbled upon this grant opportunity that feels like an ideal fit. The kicker is that we have to get 250 votes via Facebook by October 17th in order for us to be in the running for the actual judging of our grant proposal. We need your votes. AND pls promote this through your own social media sites so we can swiftly meet and exceed the 250 votes necessary!

Carolina Ground is an essential part of rebuilding a sustainable food system. Help us make this happen. 

Vote via link below...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fundraising Dinner!

A fundraising pig roast dinner will be held this Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza, 175 Clingman Avenue, Asheville, NC at 6:30PM. Funds raised will go to Carolina Ground and our efforts to expand grain seed varieties for the Southeast.The pig that is to be roasted had a fine life, raised on  wheat mids-- the waste product-- from our mill.
Tickets for the dinner are $50. The dinner will be hosted by All Souls allsoulspizza.comexecuted by chef/co-owner Brendan Reusing, and served family style in the field adjacent to All Souls. Slow roasted pork, pancetta, and sausage will be featured alongside cowpeas, greens, and other savory sides. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike shall be well fed. This event will be held in conjunction with the 10th Annual Asheville Bread Festival, so expect an impressive assortment of breads and baked goods made with Carolina Ground flour from various bakeries. Desserts will be provided by Grove Park Inn, French Broad Chocolates, and West End Bakery made with CG Flour. And beer made with Riverbend Malt House malt will be poured. Riverbend is the sister company to Carolina Ground-- working to connect the farmer with the brewer in the Southeast.
Tickets are available here:

Monday, March 31, 2014

And another post!!

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you already know a good bit of our backstory-- that Carolina Ground Flour Mill (and it's predecessor, the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project) was very much a response to the fact the we suddenly had bread wheat varieties that could be grown in the Southeast. Dr David Marshall of the USDA-ARS based in Raleigh, began the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials back in the early 2000s and by 2008, the first varieties of bread wheats were being released, exhibiting strong disease package and yield in the field, and good performance in the bakery (see post). Dr Marshall is a public breeder and the Uniform Bread Wheat trials is a public breeding project. In a world of agribusiness where private breeds have become the norm-- GMOs taking this to a whole other level-- the ability to work with a public breeder, old school breeding (no GMOs), to launch a flour mill, and begin connecting farmer with baker-- existing outside the global commodities market/ finding real and sustainable pricing-- is a pretty extraordinary thing. Because of this mill and other similar efforts nationwide, bakeries are changing/expanding their buying practices. For us, the push to launch a regional flour mill came from our bakeries here in the Carolinas, and our story continues to unfold. The bakers have had great results with our flours. Extraordinary looking (and tasting) breads have been produced as a result of this mill (AND our growers and the fine work of our bakeries). 

But what about pastry wheat?  

North Carolina grows more soft wheat (soft wheat is pastry wheat; hard wheat is bread wheat) than any other Southern state. Most of it lands at the grain elevator, blended into obscurity, and from there, the majority heads to the feed mill. What is traditionally grown in the Carolinas is a soft RED wheat. 

We are a food grade market interested in variety, flavor profile, and performance (in the bakery). We stone grind, and so even our most sifted flours are relatively dark in color. Some months back I asked Dr Marshall about soft WHITE wheats-- lacking the tannin (and resulting bitterness) of red wheats, and he encouraged me to call Dr Paul Murphy, a soft wheat breeder at NCSU (another public breeder).  And bingo--Dr Murphy did produce a variety of soft white wheat but he said there was no market for it. I told him WE ARE A MARKET. He sent me a sample of which I shared with Riverbend Malt House. We were both satisfied, so Dr Murphy sent the 40lbs of seed he had to the Rocky Mount research station to be grown out as foundation seed. We convinced Dr Daryl Bowman of NC Foundation Seed to not spray down the seed with Storicide post harvest so we could get the seed in the hands of an organic grower. If all goes well with harvest, Looking Back Farms in Tyner, NC will get the foundation seed of this soft white wheat come June, and plant 14 acres to produce a double certified seed-- that is, certified seed that is also certified organic-- this will be a seed source for 2015 planting season. 

I was asked by Dr Murphy if we want this to be a private breed or public breed. I said definitely a public breed. It's not just about the market-- Carolina Ground-- but about the growers having various markets and that various markets decide to buy from our growers instead of importing from the Midwest.  

And so from that simple loaf of bread and our intention to close the gap between farmer, miller, and baker, we now have this. We will have expanded seed varieties that grow well in the Southeast and work well in a food grade application-- as bread, beer, spirits, miso, a pilaf... They have offered to allow us to name the variety too, so if anyone has a great idea, send it my way: 

Once last thing-- we-- Carolina Ground-- are having a fundraising event dinner Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza. This event is partly to raise the funds to pay for the foundation seed (that soft white wheat with no name (yet)) . Should be a great event. Click on the pig for more info and to buy tickets!! Please come.

from the ground up,

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Update: What we've learned thus far...

Yes, it has been far too long since my last post. I have not written since wheat harvest of 2013. At that point, there was not much to say beyond the fact that it was a terrible harvest. It was one of the latest harvests on record, and a very wet one at that. There was sprouting in the field, high levels of mycotoxins, and crops that simply did not get harvested because the ground was too wet. Our wheat breeder, Dr Marshall, lost a good bit of his test plots. He said it is to be expected that once every ten years, there will be a bad harvest. This was that year. And yet, we are still here, milling forward.

And so, what we've learned thus far....

#1 Grain that looks vibrant, often is (and vice versa). 

We were lucky with our 2012 crop.  It convinced us that we could do single variety milling (most modern mills blend to spec) maintaining the provenance of the grain, variety, etc. Out the gate we had wheat that could stand alone as a whole grain or sifted product. 2013 wasn't nearly as straightforward. 

#2 Specs don't often equate.  

There are certain defined parameters that most flour mills exist within. We have milling quality standards-- lab tests reveal protein, falling numbers (a test that indicates potential sprout damage), and test weight (average weight in pounds per bushel (weight to volume))-- but regardless of what the lab numbers say, the tell-all for us is the bake test. This past harvest we had lab results that simply fell off the page, and yet some fine loaves were still produced. 
Turkey Red, TAM 303, NuEast hard red wheat harvest
Looking Back Farms, Tyner, NC

#3 Plan to have enough of the previous year's harvest on hand to buy oneself enough time to sort through the new harvest. 

I assessed the harvest available to us-- the brunt was coming from the Sandhills-- Billy Carter's farm in Eagle Springs. Lab results were okay and it performed well enough as a sifted flour, but it lacked the strength to stand alone as a whole grain flour. The grain coming off Looking Back Farms in Tyner had terrible lab results but seemed to perform well, and yet the harvest was minuscule-- not even a full truckload. I thought this would be the year we'd have to import from the Midwest. I called farmer friends in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and contacted the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative, whose span reaches from Tennessee to Wisconsin. All the while, we were milling what grain we had. We were still working through what remained of 2012 crop. Our 2013 rye crop was in good shape and arrived just as we were finishing up 2012 rye. When we milled the last of our 2012 wheat, we shifted gears. The best of the lot-- Looking Back's wheat-- was devoted solely to whole wheat flour; Carter's crop would be used for our sifted flours. This was the plan until Looking Back's wheat ran out. And at that point, no solid plan was in place. I just wasn't ready (or quite willing) to commit to importing wheat. 

I literally found myself counting the totes while counting down the weeks... and then the days. I knew I needed to make a decision. Do we import? Carter Farms still had two more truckloads of wheat in the bin--  about what we needed to make it through the year, but could the bakers work with this wheat as a whole grain flour (the brunt of what we mill)? 
Ive always felt that beyond connecting our farmers with our bakers, our charge has been to produce the highest quality product-- fresh flour, cold stone milled-- a flour of provenance AND of quality. Quality has to exist, or we may easily find ourselves in the ranks with other 'local' products we all secretly wish were coming from California (Napa Valley, that it..).
I finally milled some of Carter's wheat into whole wheat flour and distributed samples amongst some of my favorite local bakers-- Dave Workman of Flat Rock Village Bakery, Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery, Dave Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Bakery and Cathy Cleary of West End Bakery to perform bake tests  All four bakers came back with the same feedback which equated to a resounding thumbs up! This flour had received a thumbs down a few months earlier, so we-- including grower Billy Carter-- were all very excited to witness the improvement.

#4 Yay! Grain improves with age!

Stickboy Bread Company, Boone, NC
Chicken Bridge Bakery, Pittsboro, NC

Independent Baking Company, Athens, GA
La Farm Baery, Cary, NC

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On Flavor

The idea for the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project (NCOBFP), the grant-funded project that led to the launch of Carolina Ground, L3C, came in the wake of the 2008 spike in the price of wheat, where at its worst, the cost of the baker’s most essential ingredient rose as much as 130%. What was later termed the Wheat Crisis was, at the time, a rude awakening for the baker who was hit with a flour price that far exceeded what could be passed along to the consumer for a loaf of bread. It became all too clear that the disconnect between the baker and farmer was unsustainable and that closing the gap between the farmer and baker was the necessary next step in (re)building a sustainable food system in the Carolinas. And so, centered upon the growing consumer demand for local (a demand that has proven itself recession-proof) we plowed ahead and NCOBFP was set in motion with funding from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund and Santa Fe Tobacco. 

Fast forward five years-- Carolina Ground is milling Carolina grown bread wheat, pastry wheat, and rye-- connecting the farmer with the baker. And we are part of a growing movement.  But local grain to flour is different from a local tomato when it comes to appealing to the masses, as a recent article in Slate entitled, Going Against the Grain states, “Local produce has found a market beyond hard-core environmentalists because of its taste...whether rice or wheat comes from across the ocean or across the road has little impact on its flavor.”

It’s an interesting point, and there is some truth to it, but there’s more of the story to tell.

Hand-in-hand with this burgeoning regional grain movement has been the resurgence of stone milling. Rewind 100+ years and one would have seen our county’s landscape dotted with stone-burr gristmills. For thousands of years grain was processed into flour between stones, up until the late 1800s when, as Thom Leonard, baker and author of The Bread Book explains, “the stone age[ ]at last ceded to the age of steel.” The advancement of milling technology-- from stone-burr gristmill to roller mill-- a technology which employs steel rollers that strip away and separate the three components of the wheat berry-- germ, bran, and endosperm--  not only brought speed and efficiency to the processing of grain to flour but it made for a shelf stable product, as it is the oils contained within the germ that causes rancidity in flour, and in the roller milled product, the germ is completely removed; hence, the centralization of the milling and growing of wheat. But what was also removed with this method of milling was FLAVOR. 

The very fact that we are local enables us to process our grain to flour in a method that preserves the nutrients and emphasizes the flavor of the wheat. Because we are local, we have little concern with shelf life. We stone grind our flour and we embrace the idea that a local loaf of bread can carry the flavor of our region. 

from the ground up, 
jennifer lapidus

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

that simple loaf of bread?

Wheat harvest is upon us and in this moment-- pre harvest-- if feels as if the dice are suspended in the air and we-- the farmer, miller, and baker-- are simply waiting for them to land. 

What do we millers and bakers hope for? Quality wheat with good baking performance! 

But what quality characteristics equate to good baking performance and how is the miller to determine if a lot of wheat deems worthy of purchasing from a farmer?

To begin with, on the farmer’s end-- beyond yield-- the first measure of his/or her grain is test weight. Test weight is a good overall indicator to both farmer and miller as to the quality of the wheat, as it measures the density-- or how filled out the grain kernel is. It also may indicate-- if low test weight is detected-- the presence of diseased kernels. Grain is accounted for in bushels, which is a volume measurement, and a bushel of wheat is about 60 lbs (though this may vary a bit with the variety). In general, 56 lb. test weight of unclean grain is the minimum acceptable test weight for a miller. Low test weight can be caused by poor growing conditions, disease, or sprout damage. Cleaning grain, especially running it over a gravity table, can increase test weight by vetting damaged and diseased kernels.

The next test a farmer’s grain must undergo is testing for mycotoxin deoxinivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin. DON (or vomitoxin) is caused by the Fusarium fungus commonly known as head blight. Cool wet weather around flowering time can threaten even an extraordinary stand of wheat. High levels of vomitoxin can be visibly detected in a field by a pink hue over the crop. When ingested, high levels can cause vomiting and diarrhea in humans and livestock. The FDA has set a maximum DON guideline of 1ppm for human consumption, but to many a miller the acceptable threshold for organic human food grains is essentially zero. On the farm end, if Fusarium is identified, the grower can reduce levels in a crop by turning the air up on his or/her combine at harvest to blow out the lighter, diseased kernels. Post harvest, the grain should be cleaned well, especially run over a gravity table. Good crop rotations and seeking resistant varieties of wheat can also help alleviate future disease pressure. And of course, hopes and prayers for good weather never hurt.

Yet another test wheat is subjected to if said crop hopes to land with a miller (and into a loaf of bread) is falling numbers. A falling numbers test determines the level of enzymatic activity in a lot of grain, and in doing so indicates whether there has been (pre harvest) sprout damage to the crop. Heavy sprout damage can be extremely problematic to the baker, as flour made with this grain will have reduced mixing strength, produce sticky dough, and affect a loaf’s volume and shelf life. A small amount of heavily sprouted grain-- as low as 5%-- mixed with a lot of sound grain may deem the whole lot unacceptable for a baker. 
On the farm end, sprout damage becomes a threat with the onset of wet weather around harvest. Certain varieties of wheat are more susceptible than others, with white wheats being more susceptible than red wheats. 
The falling numbers test measures the number of seconds a plunger takes to fall through a slurry of flour. The less viscous the slurry, the greater the enzymatic activity (the enzyme-- alpha-amylase-- is starch degrading) and the quicker the plunger will fall. (High enzymatic activity is the indicator of the sprouting process, btw.) The falling number is the number of seconds the plunger takes to fall. Falling numbers of 300 and above are deemed sound wheat. 200 and below are unacceptable for a mill.  Somewhere in the range of 250 to 300 are usually the minimums set by flour mills. 

And still more tests! The baker needs quality protein. Gliadins and glutenins are the gluten-forming proteins in wheat that enable the baker to make a leavened, lofty, loaf of bread. These proteins provide the extensibility and elasticity to dough. While testing for protein in wheat does provide a measurement of wheat’s quality, it is still quite possible to have a high protein number and yet poor quality wheat or the other way around-- a low pro number with high quality performance. The protein number is somewhat one dimensional and so without a bake test and/or the use of a farinograph (lab equipment which measures extensibility, elasticity, and water absorption of dough) it is difficult to fully determine the quality of wheat. Although diverse crop rotations aimed at building soil fertility, well timed field application of nutrients, seed variety choice, and good weather all factor in when it comes to producing a quality crop of wheat.

And lest we forget the quality of the baker. From the miller's end, we can convey part of the story--what we received from the grower (the falling numbers, protein, test weight, hardness), the variety that was planted, who grew it and where-- and how and when it was milled. But we leave it to the baker to engage with their flour. Each baker will approach his or her dough differently-- fermentation times vary as do mix times, leavenings, and ovens. The baker too will interact with the weather-- ambient humidity, heat, cold -- and with each season, a new crop. 

And so that simple loaf of bread-- of wheat, water, and sea salt; sun, soil, and rain-- is not so simple after all. 

from the ground up,
jennifer lapidus