Bridges to the Land

One of the last interviews I did for The New Bread Basket was with Greg Russo from Farmer Ground Flour. Listening to him, the book took the shape of a mission, one that hinged on a single sentence: Mills, like farmers markets, are the levers growers need to put something new in the ground.

Rye flour makes perfect crepes.

This observation followed his experiences with local foods. Greg worked at Roxbury Farms, a large biodynamic farm and vegetable CSA in the Hudson Valley. Working in vegetables, he saw the local food movement needed staple crops. He didn’t plan on being a miller — who does? — but he was happy when the opportunity to start a mill arrived. After building that mill, and helping Farmer Ground Flour expand into a brand new building, Greg helped me see that local flour needs local mills.

If we want grain production outside of the grain belts, we need facilities dedicated to these crops. Mills grow farmers, and Farmer Ground Flour has grown a dozen. That could not have happened without Dan Gladstone, farm manager at Oechsner Farms.

Dan helps steer the 1200 diversified acres that Oechsner Farms tackles each year, and helped to build up the organic grain supply for the mill. This is wild work, stuff city folks can’t imagine. When I once asked Dan if he had plans for the summer, he laughed. Farmers work summers. Right.

Just how little eaters know about food production is amazing. I learned this again from a 1908 letter I read with John Linstrom, a Liberty Hyde Bailey scholar, who invited me to spend some time with him at Cornell with Bailey’s papers.

John Linstrom gave me a day touring Liberty Hyde Bailey’s life in Ithaca. Here he is in front of Bailey’s house.

This letter was part of the Country Life Commission’s inquiry into farm life, and the writer recommended a national organization should be formed to show the work of farming to the consumer. (Liberty Hyde Bailey Papers, #21/2/3342, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.)

John’s phone sports the cover of The Holy Earth, the Bailey book he edited. This was republished last year in honor of its 100th anniversary.

KNOW YOUR FARMER is a bumper sticker and campaign launched in 2009 by the USDA — 100 years after farmers told the government they needed this sort of help.

I will always be learning about the work of farming, and with my writing I hope to help close the gap between farm and fork, belly and brain. I want people to know what it takes to get food from the ground. I think we owe that to the farmers.

Since flour is my favorite food, I’ve put together a list of regional mills. I’ve also written an article about mills for the New Food Economy that further explains the importance of mills, and of the mill that made Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

Please take a look, and as you plan your summer travel, think about finding the grains that live where you visit. And of course, don’t forget that pancakes are a great way to taste this flour revolution.