Growing local grains, one seed at a time

Bread and grain close up - webBy Kelly Daynard for AgInnovation Ontario

Winchester, Ontario – In recent years, the local food movement has taken Canada by storm. There’s lots of interest by consumers in sourcing local products and in knowing the farmers who grow them. But in Shelley Spruit’s opinion, there has always been a missing ingredient.

Spruit is a farmer who professionally trained as a baker at culinary schools in British Columbia and Vermont. For many years, she and her husband Tony operated the Winchelsea Farms banquet hall.  Her training taught her that all good baking starts with good flour –and she was frustrated that she couldn’t find locally produced flour that met her quality standards.

They added to their original 200 acre property when they purchased an additional 50 acres, calling it Against the Grain Farms. In addition to growing conventional crops, they also began experimenting with alternatives, planting seeds from corn and barley varieties not traditionally grown in Ontario. Purple corn - web

They did a lot of research and attended many workshops before they settled on crops to try. Last year, they grew 26 acres of heritage grains and are especially excited about two of them.

The first is a hull-less barley, developed in Canada, which has half of the gluten found in wheat and high levels of beta-glucan fibre, vitamins and minerals.

The second is a non-GMO purple corn with origins in ancient Peru. When ground, it produces whole grain flour that is both a gluten-free alternative to wheat and has double the antioxidants found in blueberries.

Too often, she said, people with gluten allergies will turn to substitutions that have little nutritional value. Shelley Spruit - webAnd just as unfortunate, she noted that “so many of the superfoods that people are buying are imported from other countries”.

The grains that the Spruits produce solve both issues – superfoods with high nutritional values that are grown “right here at home”.

Both the barley and corn are now milled locally and distribution is expanding throughout eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

Four products – Purple Corn Flour, Purple Corn Meal, Beta-Glucan Barley Flour and Barley Berries – are available commercially. Spruit has been promoting the line within culinary and health networks, and many restaurants and bakeries in the Ottawa area are now incorporating the flour and corn meal into their products.Barley - webThe Spruits take a sustainable approach to all aspects of their farm. They grew another 10 varieties of ancient wheat and barley in trial plots last year, working with the University of Manitoba’s participatory breeding program to trial small plots of seeds.  In 2016, they will be participating in wheat and oat trials again as well as with the Seeds of Diversity heritage tomato project, helping to restore the seed bank of heritage vegetable and fruits in Canada.

The couple has also been working to rid their farm of invasive species of plants, replacing them with 350 varieties of native trees and shrubs. An interpretive centre is scheduled to open on the farm in 2016 that will enable visitors to come and see their efforts.

Against the Grain Farm has received support from Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario. To learn more about the farm and its products visit www.againstthegrainfarms.com.

Photo Source: AgInnovation Ontario