Clean, Fresh, Local Foods. Affordable, Seasonal Breakfasts & Lunches, Artisanal Loaves made with NY flours, From-Scratch Baked Goods and Desserts, all prepared in-house from responsibly grown, primarily local ingredients.

540 Delaware Avenue
Albany, NY 12209


Wed: 6 & 8pm Farm to Chef Dinners (reservation only)

Thurs/Fri: 11am-7pm

Sat/Sun: 11am-5pm

(kitchen open from 11 to 5, limited sandwich menu available between 5 and 7pm)
Loaves, Baked Goods, Sandwiches!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Flour Factor: Just How Local is Local Wheat?

We've been working on getting some answers about the locations of wheat growers who supply our flours.  Hillcrest Foods (our flour distributor) was unable to provide definitive information, so we decided to go to the next source in our short supply chain, Champlain Valley Milling in Westport.  Investigating how our vendor-partners work with their raw ingredients helps us become more aware of the integrity of our materials and the views of the people producing them.  After conducting some research, we discovered CVM's owner, Sam Sherman, is dedicated to helping NY grain growers perfect and distribute their wheat.  On an active and ongoing basis, he collaborates with farmers, bakers and organizations like NOFA to help boost NY organic grain production and use.  Mr. Sherman started the company in 1985, it remains family-owned and they process only organic wheat (absolutely no GMO).  We order almost all of our flours from them and we're very happy to be partnering with a small (in comparison to some other mills), local company whose values are inline with our own with regard to supporting local, sustainable farming.

This morning, I (Britin) spoke with Sam's daughter, Arya, who helps run the mill; she graciously answered all of my questions.  Here's a rundown of what I discovered:
  • In general, most of Champlain Valley's wheat comes from the Midwest, but there are a few farms in Central NY that provide them organic grains.  Arya (pronounced "Era") explained to me that CV is reluctant to give out the names of the farms due to an incident with a business owner who circumvented the miller, went straight to the farmer and then handled the whole affair in a, shall we say politely, less than forthcoming manner.  Champlain Valley doesn't give out the names of their grain partners any longer in an effort to protect the farmers they are trying to help support. They do an admirable job of distributing their local flours affordably, with a low carbon footprint (the grain takes a direct route to the mill).  We're okay with this for the time being, what do you think?
  • The Greenmarket Blend All Purpose White and Whole Wheat Flours we just received contain 25% Regional Grain (from just over the border in Canada).  The rest comes from Montana.  While 25% local wheat is higher than the (apparently rigorous) standards required of Greenmarket NYC vendors of 15%, this percentage doesn't jive with our idea of truly local flour.  If it was all we could get, then we'd be glad to buy it regularly, fortunately there are other options.  
  • Other materials we use in our bakery (dairy products, vegetables, some fruits, honey and maple syrup) are fairly easy to obtain within the proscribed 100 mile radius that is generally understood as local, but wheat is a different story and a fascinating one.  Wheat had been grown for centuries here - originally on Long Island - but is only recently making a comeback in our state (lengthy history & current info on NY wheat:  The short story is: wheat crops in NY can be difficult to regulate due to the weather and there are ongoing experiments with (often ancient) varieties that produce high enough protein levels to be appropriate for modern bread baking.  According to Ayra, in the last several years local farmers have been encouraged to grow organic wheat and last year's crop was superb, but even with a high level of interest expressed by the NY baking community and the ability to distribute it, Champlain Valley only sold about 2,000 pounds of local flour in 2010.
    • The Organic Whole Spelt Flour we have been using for some time is grown 100% in NY State and supplied by one farm.  We use the spelt in our (aptly named) Spelt loaf and some of our Muffins.
    • Champlain Valley Milling does have available a 100% NY-grown All Purpose White flour for a comparable price.  It will be available from Hillcrest on January 24 and we'll be exchanging some of the 50# bags of the Greenmarket Blend we received for that as soon as possible.  Nick blends a bit of AP in our Spelt, Rye and Whole Wheat loaves and we use it for our Bialys, Croissants, Scones and Cakes.
    • CV also has an Organic Whole Wheat that is 90% NY-grown (better than 25% and from a NY farmer, we'll take it).  We'll have to cycle through the Greenmarket sack we have now before we can order it again.  We use it for our Whole Wheat and Hearty Multigrain loaves and most of our Muffins.
    • According to Ayra, our Rye comes from South Dakota, but there are some NY farmers working on growing a suitable variety.  If any becomes available, you can be sure we'll be trying it.
    • Our Mt. Marcy Hi-Gluten flour (used in our Bialys and Vegan Cinnamon Buns) hails from Montana - we're not able to get locally-grown right now (as far as we know).
    Discovering just the right questions to ask our suppliers in order to maintain our values of supporting local farms, refraining from consuming pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and GMO foods, and understanding the detailed outlook of the small business owners we partner is often like navigating through a maze!  We're happy to make the effort, because we care where our food (and the food we're offering to you) comes from.  Part of building a small, growing business is learning about and understanding the issues of people we come in contact with (suppliers & consumers alike).  We welcome your contribution to our discussion about local wheat and other local food issues.  Don't be afraid to comment!

    Your bakers,
    Britin & Nick

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