In an on-going effort to become acquainted with Kentucky small farmers and grain growers, I recently visited Berea College – a liberal arts work school with a progressive agricultural program. Spread over 90 organic acres with 30 in transition to organic cultivation is Turkey Red Wheat grown in rotation with rye, oats, corn, beans, and hay. It was a day of camaraderie between grower, miller, and baker and one that made a lasting impression on my understanding of the local food movement.
Working with miller Tom Edwards and his family here in Louisville has opened my eyes to organically grown grain processed on a small scale. Securing access to a consistently available, cost-effective alternative to industrial flour has meant understanding the hurdles of transitioning a farming community from commodity soft wheat to organic production of alternative grains. Farmers typically prefer varieties that have high yields but those crops may not always have the most lucrative market. As Kentuckians respond to the improved flavor and nutrition of baked goods made with organic, stone milled flour, increased upward demand will provide an argument to rationalize growing grains with less yield. Typically commodity wheat yields around 2-2.5 tons per acres as opposed to Berea’s yield of 1-1.5 tons. But whereas conventional wheat prices have dropped somewhat in the last year, organic grain has been demanding an inflated premium. Supporting agricultural pioneers in Kentucky such as Berea College will be an example to others wanting to make the transition.
But initially, growing these grains and working out the kinks of harvesting and processing is an experimental and laborious process. The transition from conventional to organic growing is an exercise in ethics and passion rather than capitalism and monetary returns. A college such as Berea has a ready audience of students who participate and make up the difference in labor, especially when costly large equipment isn’t available. Eventually the farmer sees lucrative returns but after a sometimes enormous investment.
Our first stop in visiting the college was the Farm Store that sells produce, meats, whole grains, flours, and baked goods produced on campus by students. I picked up some beautiful oyster mushrooms, beef heart pastrami, a righteous cookie, and gorgeous kale. We drove on to the processing facility nearby to pick up 400 lbs. of Turkey Red Wheat and had a chance to speak with Matt Wilson who is the organic farming coordinator for the college.
Matt explained that their biggest need is processing equipment and specifically a dehulling machine for several obvious reasons. One is that their fields would produce higher yields growing hulled varieties of oats rather than the naked variety they currently cultivate. In addition, the naked oats are extremely uncomfortable to process, likening it to itchy fiberglass because of the many tiny hairs that accompany them. Furthermore, grains such as spelt and buckwheat that are growing in popularity with the gluten intolerant because of easier digestibility, are inaccessible since they are covered in tenacious hulls that require removal before being milled. Dehulling machines are expensive however and he explained the college just doesn’t have the resources to make the 15-20k investment. And that’s a conservative estimate…
Fortunately, they are committed to growing heritage wheat varieties such as Turkey Red which Tom has been using to produce an excellent T85 or high extraction flour. Over the last few months I have been experimenting more using an initial hydration and autolyzation technique without the use of levain. The result is a loaf with well-developed flavor, gorgeous caramelization in the crust, and a tender crumb.
Yield: 1 large or two small loaves
150 g dried fruit
60 g water
12 g sea salt
420 g water
480 g high-extraction flour
120 g strong bread flour
150 g 100% hydrated refreshed starter
8 hours before mixing the dough, prepare the soaker when you refresh (feed) your starter. In a separate small bowl, mix together the dried fruit, water, and salt. Cover and set aside.
When your starter is bubbly and active (about 7-8 hours after feeding), combine the water and flours in a large bowl. Cover with plastic and allow to autolyze for 1-2 hours. Remove the plastic and fold in the refreshed starter until well incorporated and no visible streaks remain. Cover again and autolyze for 20-30 minutes. Fold in the soaker until the ingredients have become completely incorporated and the dough is consistent. Cover and bulk ferment for 3-4 hours longer, stretching and folding every 30-45 minutes.
When the dough has almost doubled in size, gently remove from the bowl and pre-shape, careful not to degas as much as possible. Perform final shaping into your desired form and place in an appropriate banneton. Cover with a towel and plastic and retard in the refrigerator for up to 10 hours. Bake at 500 degrees in a pre-heated Dutch oven or on a hearth stone with steam.
This blog post was originally written for BK17 Bakery’s website by Sarah Owens. All photography for this article was taken by Sarah as well.