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Farmer raises heritage wheat to make healthy flour available

Teena Bailey of Germansville, Pa.’s Red Cat Farm is adding a missing ingredient to her hometown’s food supply.

She’s a “pioneer” who is introducing something old and making it new again, and giving locavores something more to buy and try.

Bailey’s latest project is raising heritage varieties of wheat and turning them into flour for local home cooks and chefs. She already is an established grower of greens and vegetables, which she sells at the seasonal Macungie Farmers Market.

Two-pound bags of her Germansville-grown and Doylestown, Pa.-milled Red Cat Farm 100 percent whole wheat flour are available while supplies last at the Mill at Germansville for $4.95.

Bailey, who accidentally got into growing heritage whole grains for flour, has become an avid promoter.

“Whole wheat flour is better for you than processed white flour. When you use it to make bread, scones or cookies, it sticks with you longer. Whole-grain baked goods are more filling than those made with regular flour,” she said.

Whole wheat pancakes were a “wake up to discovering how good whole grains taste,” added Tianna DuPont, Penn State Extension Service educator for sustainable agriculture. “I was amazed by their taste. The whole wheat flour added its own distinctive flavor. Because it does, you don’t need to add lots of butter, milk or sugar for taste.”

Chef/owner Mark Muszynski of Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn bakes bread with Bailey’s flour at least once a week, in his homemade focaccia and the breads he makes for Sunday brunch. “It adds a touch of sweetness plus some malty and nutty flavors,” he said. “My guests like the breads, so I plan to use the flour until her supply runs out.”

Because heritage grains contain many flavor factors, DuPont said, “When you begin tasting them, you realize different varieties, and where and how they’ve been grown, do make a difference. It’s the concept of terroir that’s also applied to wines and cheeses,” she said.

It’s also one of the reasons why local foods “are really hot,” said DuPont.

Lynn Prior, director of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local, added additional reasons why the demand for local food has triggered major growth in area farmers markets and their customers.

“People are looking for nutritional benefits, want to help preserve local farms, conserve energy and help establish a local, sustainable food supply system. That’s why they’re buying homegrown vegetables and fruits, as well as locally produced meats, eggs, poultry, cheeses and honey,” Prior said.

DuPont added: “Survey statistics show 77 percent of consumers say they currently are buying products they perceive to be locally made or produced. Currently, their focus is mostly on fruit, vegetables and meat. Since most of our diet (70 percent worldwide) is from grains, caring about locally grown grains should be next.

“There is a good deal of grain grown in this area, including corn, soy and small grains (wheat, rye, barley and oats), but most of it goes into animal feeds.”

Jill Youngken, assistant director of the Lehigh County Historical Society, recalled a time when Bailey’s locally grown flour would have been one of many varieties available. She lamented, “When people just go into a supermarket and grab a loaf of bread, they don’t even think about where it has come from or where the wheat has been grown.

“Lehigh County grist mills were the economic centers of rural communities. Farmers sold their wheat and corn to the mills and bought their flour and livestock feed from the mills. Although Cedar Creek was a relatively small stream, there was a time when six mills operated along its banks.”

She added, “Daniel Rupp’s 1845 History of Lehigh County notes there were 70 flour mills.”

But that wasn’t the case when Bailey needed a grist mill. She had to haul her heritage wheat to Doylestown’s Castle Valley Mill to have it ground into flour.

“Finding a mill that will work with such a small quantity is just one of the challenges I’ve faced,” Bailey said.

The 60-something grower said, “I’ve wanted to be a farmer since I was a little girl, but didn’t achieve my dream until four years ago. That’s when my husband and I purchased Red Cat. I love working with the soil and growing good food. It’s so basic and so important for a good life.”

A vegetable and herb grower at the start, she admitted, “I wasn’t interested in grains, but knew I needed to rotate them in and out as cover crops. They’re necessary for organic growing and help to avoid insect and disease issues where I had been growing vegetables.”

At first, she planted a few strips of Red Fife, a heritage wheat variety that has been around for more than 100 years. “I figured that if it had survived this long, it would grow for me - even though I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

It did, producing high-protein grain on stalks nearly 5 feet tall. Bailey explained, “It was flourishing, so we let it mature. After harvesting it by hand, I used it to make bread. I was intrigued.”

How long will she continue trying to grow the market for locally grown whole wheat flour? She answers, “We’re planting for this year and 2014. If I don’t succeed in five years, I’ll give it up. But even then, I’ll still grow wheat for us. The taste is worth it.”

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