There are only a handful of local grain growers in the area and when I met with Brian Walden, owner of Steadfast Farm in Red Hill, I learned why. “We don’t have the flat expanses of land they have out west, and Virginia’s hot and humid climate is treacherous for growing grains,” said Walden, who uses a hard red winter wheat developed especially for the East Coast to withstand humidity and resist disease.
Brian Walden, with wife Mihr and son Sylas, inspects his first barley. It’s just starting to sprout.
So why, with a 500-acre cattle farm, a half-built house, and a 2-and-a-half-year-old son among his list of responsibilities, did he add growing grains and legumes to the list last year? “I noticed that there’s no one supplying the largest and most important part of the food pyramid, and what is provided is lacking nutritionally,” he said.
There’s a huge demand among bakers and brewers for local grains, but Steadfast Farm is taking it slowly, selling the 10 tons of wheat harvested annually directly to shoppers at the City Market (and to Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, where it’s used in whole wheat pizza crusts).
Walden also grows black beans, oats, and barley, but doesn’t sell them yet. “Trying to juggle each crop and its individual problems is time-consuming,” he said. And for growers like Walden, who regerminate their seeds every year, the process is especially painstaking because you can’t harvest early and the crop must remain physically secure and disease-free in order to produce again.
Grass-fed beef is still Steadfast Farm’s primary business, and they are in the process of getting its organic certification. Farming is a labor of love that Walden wants to pass along to his son: “I believe we have a responsibility to cultivate our land just as homeowners do their lawns.”—Megan Headley
While most area farms raise grains solely for the dining pleasure of their hoofed residents, Mt. Solon’s Heartland Harvest Farm both grows and sells its own hard red winter wheat. Members of its buying club, which delivers to Charlottesville on the third Tuesday of each month, can purchase 50 lbs. of bulk whole berries for grinding at home, 5 lb. bags for cooking, or 5 lb. bags of freshly ground whole-wheat flour.
Heartland Harvest also uses its own fresh flour in its hamburger buns, cracked wheat bread, buttermilk rye, and sweet breads such as zucchini and pumpkin. Its Valley-grown wheat is also a key ingredient in the variety of pancake mixes, which includes whole wheat, cracked wheat, buckwheat, cornmeal, and oatmeal. Though not certified organic, the farm practices growing methods that don’t pollute, and visitors are always welcome to visit the farm and its small shop, which also sells a variety of farm-raised meat. Call (540) 885-7172 for more information.—Meredith Barnes
Going with the grain pilaf
In a medium saucepan, combine 2-6 cups of stock, 1 cup of the grain of your choice, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover saucepan and cook over low heat for 20-45 minutes (depending on the grain). Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes to steam. Stir in 2 tbs. butter, 1 tsp. fresh herbs, and a pinch of pepper. Serves six.
Good to the grain
We know our couscous from our quinoa and our buckwheat from our barley. Here’s a primer on a few of the more unusual grains.
Kamut is a rice-shaped heirloom wheat that’s almost buttery tasting and very high in protein and vitamin E.
Amaranth is a buff-colored spherical grain that’s gluten-free and, like quinoa, a complete protein.
Millet is the tiny, round seed that’s a common component in bird seed. It is gluten-free, highly nutritious and has a nutty taste, especially when toasted.
Spelt is a species of hard wheat that tastes similar to barley, but with a denser texture and sweeter taste.