The Grain Innovatos panel at the Asheville Bread Fest this year was a great forum for discussing our regional grain economy. Our own Caroline Lindley contributed to the group, which was moderated by Amy Halloran and included Dr. Erin Mckenney of NC State, Sharon Burns-Leader of Bread Alone, Stephanie Swane of Modernist Bread, Amy Poirer-a small grains wheat farmer in NC, and Jennifer Lapidus of Carolina Ground. They discussed the growth of our regional grain economy and the connection between farmer, miller, baker and we would add consumer. Read more to hear about this awesome discussion.
With so many varied perspectives and backgrounds on grain we had a farmer, millers, bakers, scientists, and educators who brought years of experience and knowledge to the table. Each is working on a project of sorts that is pushing the boundaries of grain, flour, and baking. From growing new varietals and trial plots, to milling new flours, to testing the incredible microbiology of sourdough starters, we covered the whole lifecycle from seed to loaf.
We know that the consumer is looking for taste first and their opinion matters most because it ultimately provides the long term sustainability of the market. Nutrition and a great story help the customer understand what's behind the grain, but the flavor is the first place to meet them. Super Sprout™ flours are a great way to accopmlish this and we were excited to share what we've learned so far about the implications it has for nutrition, flavor, and our baking community as a whole with the audience.
Beyond these new products, we believe that it's time to include the consumer in the farmer-miller-baker circle. Without all of us continuing to consume these grains as flour, beer, and bread, we won't have a long term plan for keeping these grains growing. While the cycle of regional grain diversity has to start with the farmer, they have to be incentivized to do that by knowing there is somewhere for it to go. The miller's job, beyond adjusting to milling a new grain, is to act as a conduit of information about what bakers are most interested in and what will work well for both the miller and the baker. The bakers also have to be willing to try something new and adjust their formulas. These adjustments have to go a step further than just technical baking success. Bakers have to create something that tastes so great that it makes the average consumer more interested in learning about what they are eating.
Education here is really two fold. On the one hand, bakers have to educate consumers' palates, by baking with new grains and allowing them to show their full potential in flavor and nutrition. The farmers, millers, and bakers together have to tell the story of these grains and educate consumers on why they are important for our regional and even national grain economy. This may be a long process, but ultimately, could change the way that our grain system works and provide more biodiversity, nutrition, and flavor options. The farmer, miller, baker connection has to be a strong one, but the consumer has to be on board to build sustainability.
We were so excited to share our ideas on this panel and hear from the other contributors and the public at the Bread Festival. Meetings, discussions, and forums like this advance these ideas and we look forward to taking it further next year!
If you'd like to know (a little) more about some of the ways we support our regional grain economy check out our blog on NC Wheat here.