The Heritage Grain Share, CSA for beans, flour and grains

Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 1, 2019. By Andy Castillo

Standing in a barn at Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Jim Perkins of Leverett scooped a pound of locally grown whole wheat flour into a paper bag.

“I love the fact that we’re encouraging local grains,” Perkins said, gesturing to the surrounding bins filled with 22 types of heirloom and ancient grains, beans, and flours — buckwheat flour, steel cut oats, einkorn, emmer, kidney beans, organic whole yellow peas, rye, spelt berries, popcorn and red llama wheat.

For three years now, Perkins has participated in the Heritage Grain Share, a regional CSA (community supported agriculture) founded by a Shutesbury resident.

Perkins even bought a grain grinder to make his own flour for bread that’s “fresher and tastier,” than store-bought loaves, which “loses its quality pretty quickly,” he says.

The grain share was started in 2008 by Ben Lester, who previously ran a bakery and café in Amherst called Wheatberry. Until the cafe closed in 2014, Lester says he purchased many of his ingredients through local vegetable and meat CSAs. He couldn’t find anything similar for grains because they were too expensive.

Around that same time, driven by increasing demand for grain and a few large crop failures in Russia, Lester says global grain prices tripled — which had a positive and negative impact.

“It made it difficult for the bakery,” Lester said. On the other hand, rising global costs made the price of local grains more competitive and “a lot more feasible. … The CSA was a way to target directly the people who wanted the grain.”

Initially, Lester says he was planning to grow 5 acres worth of grain at his home in Shutesbury for 25 people in the CSA membership. But when he started the CSA, “immediately, we had 90 people sign up. That was encouraging and challenging,” and he had to network with other farms to make it work. The CSA now has 400 members throughout the northeast.

Much of the grain is grown locally by Alan Zuchowski of Hadley and on Whitesfields Farm in Hardick. The rest — buckwheat flour, einkorn, emmer, and other grains that can’t be grown locally — is from two farms in Maine and one in Pennsylvania.

The grain share provides a substantial revenue stream for Whitesfields Farm, according to co-owner Abbie White, who runs the farm with her husband, Stanley White, and their two sons. The CSA was the primary reason why they started growing grains, she says.

These days, “our farm is growing basically enough wheat for the CSA and local bakeries,” White said. “We’re not by any means a large operation.”

Over an average season, she estimated their farm produces between 6 to 7 tons of grain at a maximum, in addition to milling the grains from Zuchowski’s operation and elsewhere for the grain share.

“We’re probably grinding about two-thirds of that amount,” she said.

Starting in the fall, members sign up to purchase different types and certain amounts of grain. Locally, the share is distributed from Brookfield Farm once a year. Elsewhere in New England, the CSA distributes from farms in Lincoln, Westchester, New York and Connecticut.

A half share, which is designed to be a year’s supply for one or two people and costs $190, consists of 40 to 50 pounds of mix-and-match grains, beans and flours. A $375 full share is 90 to 100 pounds.

Inside the Amherst barn, where Matthew Soffen of Chicopee was browsing the bins beside Perkins, the air smelled earthy, and the sound of rice being poured from metal pitchers echoed through the rafters.

This year, Soffen split his 42 pound half share between 1.5 pounds of buckwheat flour, 8 pounds of popcorn, 2.25 pounds of groats, 3.5 pounds of steel cut oats, 5.5 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of einkorn, 3 pounds of einkorn flour, 5 pounds of emmer, 6 pounds of kidney beans, and 2 pounds of organic whole yellow peas. He hauled his grains away on a cart.

“It’s a good value, and the stuff lasts forever as long as your store it well,” Soffen said.

At another bin, Dawn Winkler of Amherst said she’s been coming since Lester hosted the first grain share in 2008.

“Everything you make (from these grains) is dense and delicious,” she said, noting that the sifted wheat flour from the grain share she uses in cookies “behaves so much like white flour,” but contains more nutrient-rich germ.

“I can eat a whole wheat cookie and not feel as lethargic or have any sugar cravings,” she said. “This year, I spent a good amount (of the grain share) on buckwheat flour for chocolate buckwheat cookies.”

While it’s expensive up-front, the grain share is a good value, says Anna Fessenden of Ashfield.

“I still have 2011 beans,” she said, as she weighed a paper bag filled with organic rice. “The beans, literally, will last for decades.”

Fessenden, who used to own a bakery in Ashfield called AnnaBread, says she appreciates the quality of the grains and uses them to make a mixed-grain hot cereal.

Besides lasting for a long time, the grain share is also a chance for consumers to support local agriculture in a way they might not be able to otherwise. Jennifer Pelletier says she makes the trip annually from East Longmeadow to invest in her community.

“I’m happy to see people doing this,” she said, noting that this year she selected “lots of sifted flour for bread baking,” along with steel cut oats for oatmeal and cookies, and popcorn.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

For more information, visit localgrain.org. The signup deadline for next year’s distribution is Dec. 15, and members can sign up any time before then. Distribution of the shares is typically held in January or February. Lester noted that most people usually sign up in the fall. Discounts are often available for those who sign up early.

Cranberry Banana Quick Bread from Whitesfields Farm

2 eggs beaten

½ cup butter softened

⅓ cup white sugar

1 t vanilla extract

1 banana mashed with a fork

1¾ cups whole wheat flour

½ t baking soda

1 t baking powder

½ t ground nutmeg

12 oz bag fresh cranberries washed

Mix together eggs, butter, and sugar. Add vanilla and mashed banana. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in cranberries. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes in a loaf pan.

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