The Grain Gathering: connecting farmers and bakers (and oven builders)

With this post we welcome first-time King Arthur Flour blogger Jeff Yankellow, a talented and visionary baker who coached Team USA at the 2012 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (“bread-baking Olympics”) in Paris; and who’s currently our West Coast bakery flour sales representative. Welcome, Jeff!

How do farmers, bakers, millers, the locavore movement, and cereal scientists work together to put food on our tables?

The Grain Gathering (formerly Kneading Conference West) is an annual event dedicated to the rebuilding of local and regional grain networks, networks that can supply grains of all kinds – traditional wheat, barley, oats, einkorn, and more – to the bakers who need them.

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This year’s Gathering took place in late August on the grounds of the Washington State University (WSU) Research Station in Mt. Vernon, WA, home of The Bread Lab. King Arthur Flour is a key sponsor of the event, the only major flour company that participates; and a generous sponsor of The Bread Lab, as well.

WSU is a land-grant university, one of many originally established in the 19th century to teach agriculture to our growing country, thought of as a necessity if we were to survive and thrive. The research station, where over 40,000 varieties of wheat are grown in a series of trials, was one of  many set up nationally to support local farmers through experimental studies, research, and other activities.

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In a nutshell, WSU is doing work to help farmers agriculturally, and therefore economically.

The work being done in Mt. Vernon covers a wide scope of agricultural categories, but national attention is being focused on wheat and other grains. Dr. Stephen Jones is the director of the station, and the driving force behind The Bread Lab.

The Bread Lab is a think tank for anything and everything related to grain. Dr. Jones and his colleagues are providing the missing piece of the puzzle that will ultimately make local grain economies successful by connecting bakers and farmers and millers.

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Farmers need varieties of grain that grow well, and bakers need varieties that perform well and taste great. Growing the type of wheat that bakers want to use is good for both – the farmers’ wheat will have value beyond being sold for feed, while bakers like the idea of using wheat that’s grown close to home.

Dr. Jones supports the education farmers need to help them showcase their grains the way they deserve to be seen and tasted.

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The Skagit Valley, where Mt. Vernon is located, is a diverse agricultural area with very fertile soil. It’s well suited to a variety of crops, grains being only one of them.

Wheat has been grown in the region mostly as a rotation crop, not for its profitability. The Bread Lab is working to change that by focusing on identifying varieties that not only grow well there, but are also high in nutrition, flavor, and baking performance.

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The Grain Gathering attracts bakers from around the country, but specifically the Northwest, a very “local”-driven region. This year King Arthur Flour’s bakery director, Jeffrey Hamelman, gave a keynote address and taught a workshop on baking pretzels in a wood-fired oven.

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In addition, a variety of different wheats were used to produce an array of the typical baked goods that bakeries might offer their customers.

An annual event at the Grain Gathering is the building of two portable earth (mud) ovens, which are then auctioned off as a fund-raiser.

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First step: making the mud!

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Interested in reading more about building these earth ovens? Check out Build a Wood Fired Earth Oven.

The ovens are built around a wet sand form; once the shell is hard, the sand is scooped out, and the oven is lit (the natural way, using dry moss), to harden the inside.

And, eventually, that hand-built oven will be used to turn flour into bread (or pizza, or even pies or cookies), completing the journey from grain in the field to food on the table – thanks to dedicated farmers, millers, scientists, and bakers.

King Arthur Flour is proud to participate each year in The Grain Gathering, and committed to our ongoing strong financial and personal support of The Bread Lab. We commend all of the farmers, millers, and bakers out there equally dedicated to one of world history’s greatest traditions: bread.

Jeff Yankellow
About

Jeff Yankellow, King Arthur Flour's western U.S. bakery flour sales representative, is a long-time member of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, serving on its board of directors. A member of the 2005 championship Team USA at the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie ...

comments

    1. PJ Hamel

      Don’t know, Justin, but I’d guess it would take two people to load it onto the back of a pickup! PJH

  1. Paula

    I wish I knew about this at the time, I live in Washington and am an alum of WSU. I would love to build one of those ovens in my back yard. Are directons somewhere?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, not sure Paula. I would check online for this type of oven and see what comes up! Jon@KAF

  2. Shirley Graves

    HI Jeff. I have cooked and baked most of my life; ground my own flour some of the time, and enjoyed baking bread. Here’s the rub: 6 months ago I went on an extremely low carb diet at the suggestion of my doctor. I was also being treated for inflammation, which presented as joint pain. I am now pain free, and inflammation is greatly reduced. But if I have any refined carbs or even very starchy vegetables, the pain starts to return. Do you know of any grain that would not induce this reaction? I have read that wheat has been greatly changed over the centuries and wonder if the earlier versions would be less likely to produce this reaction. Everything I read these days says that refined foods and sugar promote inflammation, and I guess I am living proof of that. I am 76 and have cooked and baked since I was 10. It’s hard to give it up. But I tell myself it’s not worth the pain.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Shirley, have you tried any of our gluten-free recipes? Those might help, as it might be the gluten as well as the carbs that are bothering you. Unfortunately, I imagine you’re also avoiding sugar, since it’s a refined carb; so this does indeed curtail a lot of baking… Just a thought: some recipes use nut flours instead of grain-based flours, and you might try something baked with almond flour or coconut flour sometime. Good luck – PJH

    2. Pauline Carmody

      Dear Shirley,
      I too had the same situation that you described. For about a year and a half I ate mostly veggies and chicken, beef, and fish. No grains, beans, lentils etc. No wheat, rice, nut flours etc. No flours at all. No sugar, or sweetners artificial or natural. No dairy, butter, cheese, yogurt of any kind. I got my fats (lots) from healthy, cold-pressed oils…get informed about these. No coffee or alcohol … and wasn’t a cigarette smoker. Sounds very drastic and it turns out it was the Paleo Diet. I eliminated sugar and any baked goods and rice first. Then lentils and beans. Then coffee and tea (no caffeine)…and no nightshade veggies….peppers, tomatoes …get informed about these. Well!! Wonders happened. I ate a lot of steamed veggies and would add the healthy oil after removing them from the stove…some salt…and the taste was marvelous! (Did not use ground pepper….just Himalayan Salt) It was worth the effort. After a year and a half my stomach healed and I can now eat all the things I couldn’t before and I have no pain! I was told my stomach would heal and it did! So worth the freedom from pain! And I get to include all the wonderful things like bread in my diet…though its balanced strongly with veggies and protein. 🙂 It’s a wonderful world! Wishing you the best!

  3. Kalisa

    Mmm, those pretzels look amazing! That’s really cool that you work to make the oven that then bakes all the treats!

    One day I will make it up to the KAF headquarters for one of your great classes. Until then, thanks for sharing your events through the blog.

    Reply

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