Local Grains: Better for You and the Environment

19 May

Ask any locavore, outside of the bread belt, what the hardest part of eating locally is and they will tell you – grains. Wheat has a long history in the United States. It was brought to North America in the 1500s. From the 1500s until the 1880s, wheat and other grains were grown all over North America. In 1880s the steel roller mill was invented. This machine was able to remove the perishable germ from the bran and wheat berry. By removing the germ the shelf life of wheat was increased from one week to several months. The steel roller mill did not work well with softer grains. It was most affective with wheat.  Therefore, wheat became the dominate crop, because it was cheaper to produce, harvest and transport. The Midwest had excellent growing conditions for wheat and with the increased shelf life the product could be shipped without it spoiling. This lead to a major decrease in grain production outside of the Midwest.

Other grains have pretty much died out in the last 125 years. However, as fuel costs soared in the summer of 2008 bakers suddenly started looking for local and cheaper grains to use. The system that served us well for so long was beginning to show its major flaws. These flaws are not limited to the distance the wheat must travel or the lack of variety. Growing wheat also has nutritional ramifications. When the perishable germ is removed much of the nutrients are lost.

Locavores and local bakers have started using other grains like kamut, spelt and buckwheat. The environmental advantage of using these grains is two fold.

1. using local products decreases transportation emissions

2. the landrace grains are tougher and more resilient. They don’t require as much fertilizers or intensive irrigation and require less pesticides to survive.

The homogenization of the US bread making process has lead us to grow a wheat that lasts for several months and can be transported around the world. Sounds good right? Well this same product is less nutritious because of the way it is harvested and is very susceptible to price caused by oil price hikes. Additionally, this product is worse for the environment because it is not as tough or resilient as the local grains that it replaced.

Luckily, because oil prices sky-rocketed last summer and local food movement has increased in popularity, more and more farmers are growing grains, outside of the Midwest. The West Kootenay Eco Society in British Columbia has organized a CSA for people to buy grains from farmers. Growing and consuming local grains has also increased in popularity in New York and North Carolina.

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Posted by on May 19, 2009 in Sustainable Agriculture


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