On a sunny, cold Saturday last February, my husband spent a hundred dollars and most of his morning driving to and from Washington to help me load up a huge bag of wheat. (There are certain times when you know with absolute certainty that you married the right person.)
We had plenty of time in the car to chat about the process that had brought me thus far: it began when I received a review copy of The Urban Farm Handbook last summer. Around Thanksgiving I finally cracked it open and was pleased with the innovative format, which successfully avoids the two extremes occupied by most of locavore literature: the personal quest for enlightenment (Farm City; Plenty; See You in a Hundred Years) and the dizzying professionalism of a no-holds-barred paradigm shift (Gaia’s Garden; Nourishing Traditions; The Four-Season Harvest.) It seemed just right for people like me, who are frustrated when their increased knowledge doesn’t lead to life changes.
This first life change, though, had been quite a challenge. Three months of on-again, off-again e-mail with 10 or 15 different sources yielded only a handful of mail-order options or possible day trips to farms that didn't deliver. Until my lucky break: one of the farmers had family in Washington, and his wife promised to bring a bag of red wheat up for me on her next visit. It wasn't emmer farro or einkorn, the heirloom varieties acquired by the authors in the Pacific Northwest, but I knew I could bake with wheat.
Or rather, I could bake with wheat flour. After several flurries of Craigslist correspondence, I still hadn't drummed up the courage to pay another few hundred dollars for yet another kitchen appliance. In fact, I hemmed and hawed for another two months before I discovered, happily, that my father had an unused manual grinder in his basement. Free is free; I would happily exercise my upper arms for the pleasure of watching clouds of flour settle into fine mounds of sweet-smelling powder.
Why all this trouble? Fresh flour ground from whole grains contains loads more protein, vitamins and minerals than the bleached, odorless dust that's mass-produced half a continent away. As with all local food, your purchase supports small farms rather than subsidized agribusiness. And it really does taste better: breads have a nutty flavor and surprisingly light crumb, while pancake batter is dense enough to stand up to additions of fruit, nuts and even chocolate.
It's quite possible that I'm way too extremist about this issue, in which case you could still enjoy one of the delicious options from a local bakery, rather than the preservative-laden offerings from the supermarket (fresh bread is quite stale and usually moldy after only a week; store-bought loaves can last over a month.) But over time, even considering the purchase of a grain grinder, it's far cheaper to grind and bake with your own flour -- and the investment of time isn't more than a few minutes per project.
Someday, I hope we'll have the option of purchasing grain grown on Maryland soil. For now, here are some local-ish options that make nice stops on a road trip in either direction on the I-95 corridor:
Farms That Sell Local Grain
Union Mills (mill in Westminster; grain from Central Pennsylvania) Wheat, Rye, Buckwheat, Corn, Rice and Grits are roughly $2 per pound for flour or $2.50 for whole grains. Open the weekend of May 4-6 and then regularly from June to August: 10-4 on weekdays and 12-4 on weekends. Call or e-mail for more information.
Steadfast Farm (Charlottesville, VA) Wheat for $1 per pound in 100-pound bags. Contact for pickup information.
Moutoux Orchard (Purcellville, VA) Wheat and wheat flour, both for $2 per pound. Open Tuesday and Friday from 2:30-3:30, or contact for additional hours.
Farms That Ship Local Grain
Four Star Farms (Northdale, MA) Wheat, Barley, Spelt, Triticale, Corn, and Buckwheat are all available for $1 per pound in bulk. Shipping to Baltimore (via UPS) is an additional $30 for a 50-pound package.
Wild Hive Farm and Bakery (Clinton Corners, NY) Corn, Wheat, Oats, Spelt, Triticale and Rye are all available for $2-4 per pound in small packages.
Small Valley Milling (Halifax, PA) Spelt and Emmer grains and flour for $1-3 per pound.