East Coast USA Bulk Food Sources. Part One: Wheat berries and flour
This is Part One of Three. Part One encompasses wheat berries and flour growers/millers/retail for the east coast. Part Two covers (edible) dry beans. Part Three still to come will cover organic rice suppliers in the USA.
The Why, the What, the How…
Wheat, rice, and dry beans. As in for people to eat. I’m not talking animal feed or growing seed.
Three things my family buys in bulk but given our Maryland location, cannot buy at the local Farmer’s market. So I wanted to know, if not down-the-street local, just how close could I get them? The hunt was motivated by environmental consideration by reducing transportation time and all the energy and resources that get wasted in going the extra mile (or 1,000 miles). Why buy veggies shipped into a grocery store from Mexico, when you can get them at a local farm stand down the road? Why buy grain from Montana when I can buy grain from Pennsylvania? Sure there absolutely can be quality and even loyalty reasoning, but I wanted to know what was out there, er, or “here” in this case. I also thought it would be cool to just know exactly where my food was coming from…something I had NEVER before paid attention to. To be honest after this research I feel a humbled gratitude to live in a country that is capable of growing such a huge variety of food, and of course to all those who make it their life’s work to feed the rest of us.
From a geographical stand point of east coast Maryland, I figured I had my work cut out for me, but the search still proved more difficult than anticipated. At least half the websites I tried no longer exist (farmers definitely spend more time in the field than online), the next 40% only sell commercially (or only for animals), another 3% would sell to the public if you came to pick it up, and at long last about 2% loosely fit my goals. On one hand I’m sad to say the final lists are short, but after all that (and at least one migraine) I’m happy to report that I did at least find something.
Why buy in bulk? We buy staple items in bulk because I cook most of our food from scratch, (yes, I spent A LOT of time in the kitchen). Buying in bulk therefore reduces packaging waste, and is cheaper (even with the shipping costs factored in). I’ve tried to buy in bulk from local stores both health and Mennonite but I faced the same issue I’m trying to resolve now; they were not local. Health stores around me will prioritize the organic label, over getting to know the local farmers growing methods/practices. Just because a product isn’t labeled organic doesn’t mean it’s been drenched in chemicals. Furthermore, just because something is organic, doesn’t mean it was grown in the USA. See the product list for Golden Organics; your organic dry beans could be from USA or they could be from China or Turkey.
Wheat Berries = Flour. In trying to make most of our food from scratch (breads, wraps, cookies) I’ve learned a lot about flour quality. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned, you may be as surprised as I was.
What is white flour? White flour is whole wheat flour after all the nutrients have been striped out. Bleaching is even common to obtain a whiter color. In other words, white flour is simply just filler, one that is so devoid of nutrients that it’s also devoid of pest problems because even rodents refuse to eat it. No nutrients also means that white flour has a very long shelf life.
What is whole wheat flour? Whole wheat flour is what you get when you take wheat berries (aka wheat seeds) and finely grind them up. This flour is packed with nutrients, a quick search will give you all the details, or just check out the charts in “Whole Wheat, Whole What” to get you thinking. While the nutrients are kept, you also get the well known (and often disliked) “whole wheat taste”, density in baking, AND the fact that once ground, whole wheat flour begins to go rancid due to the oxidization of the oils. Paul Pitchford in his book “Healing with Whole Foods” and Erin Alderson in “The Homemade Flour Cookbook” both state that fresh stone ground flour is best consumed within TWO WEEKS. Refrigeration or freezing can slow the oxidation and prolong this time. I have never seen a grocery store sell their whole wheat flour from the refrigeration section and I doubt the timeline from grinding, to packaging, to shipping, to stocking, to buying, only takes two weeks. Now I know what you’re thinking-“best by” dates at the grocery store allow for months of time. Which begs the question-is commercial whole wheat flour different from fresh stone ground flour? I can vouch for this one from personal experience. A few months ago I bought a Komo grain mill and not only is fresh ground a totally different taste (my kids will even eat the crust of freshly baked whole wheat bread) but I have to alter flour and liquid measurements and handling, in every-single-recipe. But why? That I’ve been unable to find a concrete answer on. A google search turned up theories of processing methods, grinding temperatures, genetic seed changes, nutrient omission, herbicide application, and then simply rancid flour.
What about wheat intolerance? Grainmaker and The Healthy Home Economist both point to genetic modifications, chemical applications, and rancidity as being a major culprit in allergies and illnesses associated with gluten and grains. From personal experience when making bread, I have to kneed my fresh ground flour 2-3X longer than commercial ground flour in order to activate the gluten (what gives dough that stretch and aids in achieving a light fluffy loaf). Such implies to me that commercial flour has more gluten in it. I don’t know anyone personally who is willing to subject themselves to getting sick to test how they fare with fresh ground, but I would love to hear someone’s experience if they’ve tried this/found differences.
What if [I] hate that whole wheat taste? Let’s go back to wheat berries, the thing that flour comes from. There are 2 main types “red wheat berries” and “white wheat berries”. There is no nutritional difference between the two, but there is a taste difference. That familiar “whole wheat taste” we all know is from red wheat berries. So the cool thing you can do when you grind yourself is to use white wheat berries and voila! you have lighter colored, lighter flavored but secretly whole wheat and wholly nutritious bread. Alternatively I’m told King Arthur sells “White Whole Wheat Flour” which would be from white wheat berries.
You do what now? I grind my own flour. I chose to do this from the nutritional, storage, and financial stand points. Wheat berries can store for years (some even say indefinitely) in the right conditions of cool and dry, while ground flour as you have just read, cannot. Since I make most of our food from scratch I go through a lot of flour so I want to buy in bulk, and buying in bulk, especially wheat berries vs ground flour, is cheaper. In a small home it is easier for me to store large amounts of wheat berries as opposed to giving up refrigerator or freezer space to store a large amount of ground flour. Sure I spent money on my electric Komo grain mill, but I’ll get that back in time in flour and health savings. I’ll have a future post reviewing my Komo mill and my trial and errors of my initial manual mill. Feel free to send me a message if you want that info sooner, since I spent many hours banging my head against a wall with that research and experience.
GIVE ME THE LIST ALREADY!
OK, OK, here’s who I found….
East Coast Grain Sources [For Humans]
- Small Valley Milling– A small scale milling company located in central Pennsylvania. These guys are great. I’ve personally ordered several times from them and each time they have been patient with all my questions, and shipped out my order usually that same day. You can buy whole grain kernels or ground flour, from 2lbs up to 50lbs bags. All their grain is either grown by them in Pennsylvania, or other local organic farms, “all east of Ohio” I was told, and they personally know every single one of those farmers. They have spelt (natural and organic), organic einkorn, organic emmer, organic rye, and organic wheat (hard white Appalachian and soft red winter wheat at the moment, with plans for hard red at the end of 2016 summer). Just to clarify, as I did with them, the name “hard white Appalachian wheat” doesn’t mean it was grown in the Appalachian mountains, that’s just the name of the seed they used, but again it is all grown in farms local to their farm in central PA. I like to buy their natural spelt kernels for all my baking (like cookies, scones, pancakes). When I asked how their natural spelt differed from their certified organic spelt, they told me the only difference is the certification, they are grown/treated/processed the same. I just bought a big order of their organic hard white wheat berries for bread baking with future plans of blending it with their hard red white next fall. In case you are also wondering as I was, if an item is certified organic than it is also non-GMO. Ordering from them is very easy. You go to their product order form on their website, fill it out, and wait for them to send you an email with product and shipping cost total. When you’re ready you just give them a call and relay your PayPal or credit card information and you’re done!
Here’s a quick idea of some prices: 25lbs of organic spelt is $1.35/lb for kernels and $1.70/lb for flour. 25lbs of Organic wheat $0.705/lb kernels and $1.10/lb for flour. Shipping a 50lb bag for me is $22.21 via UPS ground.
2. Castle Valley Mill An even smaller milling company located in eastern Pennsylvania. All GMO-Free and Pennsylvania grown, they grind to order: spelt, emmer, rye, grits, cornmeal, soft wheat, hard wheat, and polenta. By selecting the grains on their products page, you can read more details about each grain such as protein percents and if organic. Their website lists that spelt, emmer, and rye can be bought as berries, and verified via email that they will also sell whole wheat berries.
You have to contact them for pricing, but they did tell me that whole wheat berries are $1.00/lb and spelt is $2/lb. when ordering 25lbs. Shipping will also be high, again for me to ship 50lbs of grain is about $23.
3. Daisy Organic Flours This is a company you may have seen in stores, located in Eastern Pennsylvania. Their Annville Mill, is the oldest mill of it’s kinds in the United States. They only sell ground flour (bread, whole wheat, white, pastry, all purpose, spelt, and heritage) but provide a thorough description of each on their website here. Take a minute and read about their Lancaster Red Heritage Flour that tells the story of why and how it took them ten years to regrow and (recently) sell 3 varieties of vintage grain. You can purchase their flour from their online store or view their retailer list.
Quick price look: whole wheat pastry flour is $2.18/lb and whole grain spelt flour is $3.05/lb when ordering 25lbs.
4. Anson Mills For a change of location this mill is located in South Carolina. The company began when owner Glenn Roberts vowed to bring back the almost vanished Carolina Gold Rice. Not only did he succeed but he continued on to revitalize the production of many other native heirloom grains. They sell online: grits, hominy, cornmeal, polenta, carolina gold rice, laurel-aged Charleston gold rice, variety of bread/biscuit/pastry flours, rye, oats, buckwheat, farro, and sea island red peas and benne seeds. All flours are ground and shipped on the same day.
Quick price look: With such a niche of the varieites they grow, Anson Mills is the most expensive. You can only purchase up to 10lbs and only ground (as far as their website says). Their ‘French Mediterranean white bread flour’ is $7.00/lb when ordering 10lbs.
On their retail page, Anson Mills does a great job summing up how “fussy” fresh ground flour can be. Perhaps another testament to the difference between fresh and commercial flours. From my own experience transitioning to fresh ground, I gave a sigh of relief when reading this to know that “it’s not just me” in my new baking trials and errors….
“We’re fussy. We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t. Our products are fussy, too. They may look like their grocery store counterparts, but they don’t cook like them!….So if you purchase our oats or grits, wheat flour or rice, be sure to use the recipes and techniques we provide—at least until you have a good, working feel for the product. The bottom line is this: our products can’t be relied on to work with standard recipes, and standard recipes can’t be relied on to work with our products.”
Have more to add to this list? Awesome! Send me a message, or leave it in the comment section below.
Beans, Rice, and maybe nuts sources too, coming up next!