California Farmer Grows Specialty Grain to Meet Resurgent Interests of Local Bakers and Brewers

Amy Scattergood reported on Friday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “At Weiser Family Farms in Tehachapi, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Alex Weiser is harvesting his fields of Sonora and Red Fife wheat, as well as those of Abruzzi rye and French Black oats, as part of what he and others have named the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project. The farm, which Weiser owns with his parents, brother and sister, is a mainstay at Los Angeles-area farmers markets, where Weiser is often manning the tables of fingerling potatoes, French melons and Bloomsdale spinach — until three years ago, grain was just a cover crop. Since then, Weiser and a small collective of farmers and friends have been working to bring back landrace grains, a traditional, drought-tolerant crop, as a way of meeting the resurgent interests of local bakers and brewers, as well as a recalibrated climate. If you spend time in Los Angeles’ dining culture, you’ve likely heard of the grain project through a restaurant fundraiser, a bakery class or one of the loaves of bread that have traveled around the city like breadcrumbs embedded in a narrative.

“‘We’re trying to create our own non-GMO grain belt,’ Weiser said recently on the 83-acre farm his family has owned and worked since 1982, in a bowl valley surrounded by the Tehachapi Mountains. Weiser is in his third year of growing heritage grains that he was seeded, literally, by Glenn Roberts, the founder of South Carolina-based Anson Mills, who gave four tons of seeds to local farmers to start a Southern California grain hub. The first year Weiser grew two acres, the second 20; this year, he’s got about 35 acres. ‘We’re getting some momentum,’ said Weiser, gesturing from his vantage point in a field of rye to another of Atlas barley.”

The article pointed out that, “Weiser and Jon Hammond, a fourth-generation farmer whose Linda Vista Ranch is adjacent to Weiser Family Farms, have been working with other nearby farmers, including Nate Siemens of Fat Uncle Farm, not only to grow and harvest successive seasons of grain, but to build an infrastructure for it. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with various pieces, if you consider that the road from grain to table includes a combine and a thresher, as well as a mill, then a bakery — and a knowledgeable, hungry public. And those are just the obvious parts of the equation.”

More broadly, last week’s article added that, “Weiser and Hammond aren’t, of course, the only ones doing this. On about 150 acres in San Luis Obispo County, John DeRosier grows between 20 and 40 acres of oats, heirloom wheat, barley and rye, depending on the rainfall — or lack thereof. And on fields in Hollister and Imperial, Andrea Crawford and her husband Robert Dedlow of Kenter Canyon Farms recently harvested about 75 acres of emmer and wheat that also traces back to the original grant of seeds from Roberts. These and other farmers are part of a patchwork quilt of individual fields knitted together — a kind of cereal mosaic that connects them to other fields, in Northern California and Arizona, where other farmers have been growing heritage grains.”

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