Valley Bounty: Flour
There aren’t many farmers who grow and mill their own grain in western Massachusetts. But Clifford Hatch isn’t your average grower. “He’s always been an experimental farmer,” Sorrel Hatch, Clifford’s daughter, explained during a recent conversation. “He’s never satisfied just growing the things that he’s used to growing. He’s always going to grow something new every year.”
Sorrel was four years old when her family began homesteading in Gill. In those early days, her father focused on raising sheep and bees. But Upinngil, the family’s business, has shifted countless times over the years. When Sorrel graduated from college and returned home to help her father manage the farm, pick-your-own strawberries were the focal point of the business. Over a decade later, Upinngil now has a full farm store featuring a wide lineup of products from the farm including raw milk, cheese, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and baked goods.
With so much going on at Upinngil, Sorrel is the first to admit that growing grain isn’t exactly the financial backbone of the business. “It’s not a particularly profitable crop, to be honest,” she said. But Sorrel manages their bakery and she has enjoyed watching the popularity of their bread grow over the years. “I can’t make enough of it in my little kitchen to meet demand,” she explained. “And I really take a lot of pride in the fact that it’s made with usually at least 30% of our own whole-grain flour.”
The team at Upinngil grows three types of grains: wheat, rye, and buckwheat. They primarily think of buckwheat, Sorrel explained, as a cover crop. “Some years, that cover crop does successfully make it to maturity and we get a crop of grain to sell. It’s sort of just an extra little perk if it works out.” It didn’t work out in 2019. “The grain has to be standing at full maturity and dry when it’s harvested,” Sorrel told me. In drier climates, like the Midwest, that’s typically not a problem. But ‘lodging,’ what farmers call it when a crop gets bent over by weather conditions, is a chronic issue in the unpredictable New England weather. Last summer, heavy rains around the time of the buckwheat harvest knocked the crop down. The lodging was so severe that the harvest was lost and Upinngil couldn’t make buckwheat flour.
Fortunately, wheat grows on a different timeline than buckwheat and Upinngil’s 2019 wheat harvest fared much better than the buckwheat. Upinngil grows primarily winter wheat varieties, which are planted in the fall. “They over winter in the ground. So in the fall they come up and look like grass, like a very sparse lawn,” Sorrel explained. That winter coverage plays an important role in the farm’s soil health. When the rains come in the spring and the soil defrosts, “you can have a lot of erosion if you didn’t plant a cover crop,” Sorrel said.
Having already established itself the previous fall, the wheat takes off quickly in the spring. “It looks like a beautiful field of green grass,” Sorrel said. In June, the plant flowers. It’s essential that the weather remains dry during this growth stage. Wet conditions can allow a fungus called Fusarium graminearum to flourish in the newly developing grain. This fungus produces a mycotoxin known as vomitoxin, which can make humans sick. Upinngil has their grain tested by a lab at the University of Vermont each year to make sure it is safe for consumption before they put it on the shelves for sale.
Last July, Upinngil took advantage of a well-timed dry spell and pulled in a great wheat harvest. Since the summer, Sorrel and the team has been milling the grain into flour. They sell the whole grain flour in the farm store and use it in their baked goods.
Cold January mornings make for a great time to bake up a warm treat. So search out some locally-grown flour at a farm store near you and try out a recipe from the Upinngil kitchen: Whole Grain Maple Walnut Scones.
Whole Grain Maple Walnut Scones, Recipe by Sorrel Hatch
Makes 16 medium small scones
2 cups whole grain wheat flour, 1.5 cups white all-purpose flour
1.5 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (4 oz.) cold butter
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup fresh milk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
2) With pastry cutter or stand mixer with paddle attachment, work in the butter until it’s in coarse crumbs and no bigger than pea sized chunks.
3) Stir in walnuts.
4) In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup and egg until smooth.
5) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
6) Line a baking sheet with parchment; or grease lightly.
7) Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead briefly (about 10 times) with well-floured hands. Divide in half. Form each into round discs 6” across. Spritz or brush lightly with water, sprinkle on dry maple sugar or coarse turbinado sugar. Cut into 8 wedges. Freeze up to a month if desired.
8) Preheat oven to 350F. Divide rounds and space wedges out on baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)