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The Quiet Revolution
There’s a newfangled revolution going on in Virginia, albeit a quiet one – and in its neighboring states as well. The original involved James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and other colonists in the 18th century. It resulted in a scrappy bid for independence in 1776. The current rebellion involves groups of small independent farmers rescuing our native soil, one acre at a time, from the blight of conventional farming. It’s a battle to take back the food on our tables — all the way to locally produced meat, grains, fruits and vegetables. This quiet revolution is springing up across the country, as groups of local farmers are joining others to learn and practice regenerative farming, to follow the painstaking soil-cleansing required to gain organic certifications, and to develop clientele to sell their harvests. These confederations of farmers, restaurants, bakeries, markets and purveyors of food services are loosely based marketing and networking associations that are doing an outsized amount of good. As consumers we should join the fray.
Location, Location, Location
Every region has its own agricultural blessings and restrictions. For farmers in the Mid Atlantic area who are trying to refresh the soil and find markets for locally sustainable crops, a humid climate and indigenous pests are two of the hardest curses to overcome, particularly for growing grains. A newly founded network of these farmers under the name Common Grain Alliance, have joined forces to foster “best practices in sustainable crop production, sustainable land stewardship, pest and disease management and quality standards for specialty markets.” Historically, tobacco and cotton were the first commodity crops grown in Virginia during the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually wearing out what had started as moderately rich soil. Ironically, my husband’s forbears farmed these crops in King and Queen County, Virginia, but moved further south, ultimately settling in Mississippi where the topsoil in the Delta was over 20 feet deep and thus could withstand the harsh demands of these two crops and conventional farming. At least for a few generations.
Be A Part Of The Local Food Chain
Looking through the member list of CGA, many are farmers who supply bakeries, pasta makers, and beer and ale producers in our area. Although Common Grain Alliance membership is mainly local small farmers, many have websites that you can visit, and they welcome subscribers for their newsletters. They have a growing list of bakers who are using their flours or grains for their products. If you are a KD reader in other parts of the DMV, check out the bakeries on their member list who work with these farmers. I also want to add that there are local grain alliances across the US and CGA has provided a partial list so you can look them up and get to know and support them. I have long been going to Seylou Bakery, which has a stand at the Farm Fresh Market at Dupont Circle on Sundays. They have thankfully just opened a stall at the Old Town Farmers’ Market and, along with San Giovanni Farm, their stall will be one of my regular stops.
Flour plays a major part in my kitchen. I graduated from grocery store house brands to Gold Medal to King Arthur to Caputo outside of Naples. Their flour was so good that we used to break down 50lb bags in our shop, so that customers could purchase specific flours to make pizza, foccacia and pasta. Even their gluten-free flour, which took them almost 30 years to develop, was a revelation. Just as I was retiring and closing La Cuisine, I worked with the flours from a French Canadian company, La Milanaise which has been my working flour until now, as I am discovering the tastes and results from locally raised and milled flours in the US. And they actually have different tastes. Red Barn Mercantile and The Cookery are currently carrying some from Hayden Flour Mills in Arizona, which I discovered through culinary journalist, Domenica Marchetti . Just recently I purchased through Gustiamo three different Sicilian flours from Molino Del Ponte. On two earlier trips I was blown away by the unique tastes of Sicilian flours in their breads and pastries.
Ever since I got the book by Apollonia Poilâne, and took her online Master Class (over and over again) I have enjoyed making the classic loaf created by her grandfather, using different flours and her yogurt based sourdough starter. One might say that I have become a prisoner of that starter. I am also using these flours in pastas that I have learned how to make from the classes available on Domenica Cooks. The taste difference alone should encourage you to explore this new treasure in our backyard. The members of CGA are helping each other with composting, sharing of equipment and installing preserves on their property so that lost species are returning. And I think that the video produced by the Common Grain Alliance does one of the best jobs of explaining how we are all going to improve our food and save our soil for the next generation.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.