Community Grains Exposé
By Jacob Nachel, GBCFC Local Food & Sustainability Coordinator
It’s old news that the organic and sustainable food system has taken over the mainstream. Everywhere you go, farmers’ markets are on the rise, consumer-owned food cooperatives are proudly advertising their direct relationships with local farmers, and ecotourism is actually a real word.
In other words, people want to know their farmers, and they are doing more and more to know the people who grow their fruits and vegetables.
And while congratulations are in order for such a cultural coup that shows no signs of slowing down, there is a hard truth to the idea of “know your farmer, know your food.” You see, people are getting better and better at knowing their fruit and vegetable farmers. But only about 7% of the food consumed in this country is actually fruits and vegetables, and the rest of the food system is still light years behind the growing transparency in the produce world.
Take grains, for example – the staple food for an incredible diversity of cultures worldwide. Rice in Asia, corn in the native Americas, wheat in Europe, millet and sorghum in Africa – these are the foods that shaped cultures that have lasted for thousands of years.
But in today’s modern food climate, they are as foreign to our bodies and our cultures as any food can be. Try it out – go into your local food co-op, choose an organic flour (because it’s organic, it must be nourishing AND local, right?!?), and ask what farm the wheat was grown on. The answer? “I don’t know. Let me check with my distributor.” What’s the distributor’s answer? “I don’t know. Let me check with the processor.” The processor’s answer? “I don’t know, let me check with the grain mill. And, finally, after all that, assuming you’re really dedicated and you happen to ask the right people, you have the mill’s answer: “Well, that flour comes from one of these hundred plus farms.”
The point is, our system of growing, milling, and consuming grains in this country has become so centralized and so removed from small-scale local systems that is has lost all semblance of transparency.
That’s why Community Grains is so special – they are at the forefront of the local food movement, pushing the envelope in places that most people have not even yet realized needs to be pushed. They source specific grains from specific farms in California, supporting small organic farmers like Full Belly Farms, a diverse polyculture in the Capay Valley who already supplies many of our organic vegetables. When you buy a box of Community Grain pasta, you can, on your own, figure out exactly which farm that grain came from. This is new, this is a little crazy, and this is where the local and sustainable food movement needs to go next.
To stay true to the quality of the artisanal organic grain being grown, all their products are whole grain. We know, everyone thinks that whole grain flour tastes icky. And most of the time, it’s true – whole grains still have the nutritious oils from the bran in the flour, which make it go rancid faster, so people are used to rancid or stale whole grain foods made from industrial varieties grown on massive monocultures. We’d be turned off by that too.
But when you mill the grains fresh and sell them with fewer middle-men to people in your little shared corner of the world, the flavor shines through and suddenly whole grain becomes a revelation, something unexpectedly wonderful, something to shout about, and not just that thing your grandma forces herself to eat to stay regular.
It’s hard to overstate how special Community Grains is, as a company, an innovator, a pusher of local and organic food, and simply as a group of people who know how to make good food from the best ingredients.