The Taste of Maine in Grain

Farmers, millers, bakers and chefs work together to save their Maine grain.

| February/March 2005

 This is the second part of our series about whole-grain breads. Part I, “Why Whole Wheat is Way Better,” appeared in the December 2004/January 2005 issue. 

Two hundred years ago in Maine, a farmer pulling his wagon up to the local gristmill was a common sight. Sweaty horses were tethered as sacks of wheat, barley, corn and rye were unloaded, ready to be ground into flour and meal.

In those days, grain growing was an integral part of a diversified farming strategy in the Northeast. By 1825, most small New England farms were growing grain for human consumption, and more than 15,000 small mills were scattered throughout Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Powered by rivers and tides, these gristmills were a vital part of a regionally self-sufficient food system, as were numerous locally adapted grain varieties. Many of these grain varieties are now extinct or endangered, and today, nearly all the grain consumed in Maine comes from afar. But a few intrepid souls are out to change that, as I discovered at this fall’s Maine Food Festival hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), in Unity.

A Champion for Local Wheat

Grains were the festival’s focus, and the first “grain activist” I met was Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads. He was proudly displaying a selection of gorgeous, hearty loaves from his pioneering bakery. I’ve eaten Borealis “Aroostook Wheat” for years and find it in a class by itself when compared to any other bread, locally made or not. I’m an avid supporter of locally grown foods, but, until now, I did not appreciate the full significance of the fact that Amaral’s whole-wheat breads are created with wheat grown right here in Maine.

Amaral told a workshop crowd in the MOFGA kitchen that when he started his bakery, he couldn’t find fresh, locally grown organic wheat. So he set out to find some farmers to grow and mill it for him. “Whole-wheat flour wants to be used fresh to retain its full flavor and nutrition,” he said.

Fortunately, Amaral found Matt Williams, an Aroostook County farmer who was eager to supply whole-wheat flour. After testing and tasting different wheat varieties, they settled on ‘Maxine’ winter wheat, and ‘Grandin’ and ‘AC Walton’ spring wheats. In a leap of faith, Williams organized a group of northern Maine growers and installed grain storage facilities and a 20-inch commercial Meadows grain mill. He now annually supplies Borealis Breads with 60,000 pounds of fresh, organic whole-wheat flour. Williams also supplies whole wheat to other Maine bakeries and recently contracted to grow 25 acres of organic oats for Grandy Oats, a granola maker in Brownfield, Maine. Aaron Anker of Grandy Oats said he is excited to develop a new product with all Maine-grown ingredients in an effort to support local growers and build on the local foods movement.

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