Anita Loiselle's freshly baked bread made from her own home grown Red Fife wheat. Photo courtesy Marc Loiselle
Because of my poor wheat harvest this year I realized I was going to have to buy in flour if we were going to enjoy bread, muffins, and pancakes this winter. I just couldn’t see ourselves going without bread products as they have become such a staple in our diet. Not only don’t I want to go without, there is a whole bunch of new experiences and learning to do in order to convert raw wheat kernels into bread products. Therefore, this year we will ‘cheat’, buy in the whole wheat kernels and spend our energies instead learning how to mill our own flour and how to make bread and other products with it.
Another part of food security and personal food sovereignty for me is having access to seed. In other words, above and beyond our bread making needs, obtaining the wheat kernels was also important in terms of securing seed, sufficient for next year’s planting. I am determined to grow my own wheat but until I am successful, I will just have to give in to those who know how to!
Because I had knowledge of the Marquis 10B from the Seager Wheeler farm, I began my search by contacting the farm via the email ‘contact us’ information on their website, asking if they might sell me some more of the heritage wheat. Several months later, with no response from anyone from Seager Wheeler Farm, I began looking further afield for a source of Canadian heritage wheat. If I could not get more Seager Wheeler wheat, then I would like to find another Canadian heirloom wheat: Red Fife, organically raised if possible.
I began my search for the above on the Web. Surprisingly, it did not take long for me to find what I was looking for. The Loiselle Organic Family Farm, in Vonda, Saskatchewan grows the Red Fife wheat. Not only that, they grow it organically on their biodynamic farm. Through a link on their website, I found a source of what I was looking for in British Columbia, the True Grain Bread of Cowichan Bay Village.
Upon discovering that they sell whole wheat kernels in 25kg bags, I phoned True Grain Bread to see if they would do a mail order for me. ‘Of course!’ said the voice on the other end of the phone, ‘Just come on down to the store’. This of course, is easier said than done: I’m a 13 hour drive from the port where you catch the ferry to get to Vancouver Island, never mind the drive to Cowichan from the ferry dock! ‘Oh’.
Upon hearing this minor obstacle, the gal on the other end of the line suggested that I send an email to Bruce, and ask him if he would do a mail order. So I did. Bruce was fantastic. He not only shipped me the wheat, but also he did all the legwork for me: contacted the post office, advised me of the cost of shipping, and put the wheat in the mail–he didn’t cash my cheque until I confirmed that I had received the wheat! When you live as remotely as I do, this sort of ‘over and above’ service is warmly appreciated. Moreover, it is a huge relief!
To cover my options, I also had emailed Marc Loiselle of Loiselle Organic Family Farm, about my wheat shipping options (in case True Grain couldn’t fulfill the mail order request). By the time he got back to me, thanks to the efforts of Bruce at True Grain Bread, I already had the wheat in my possession.
I was pleased by Marc’s email response however because, despite getting the wheat from an entirely different source, he revealed its contemporary pedigree, adding another welcome layer of knowledge and an additional thread of personal heritage to the wheat I now own:
That wheat [you have just bought] is part of the Red Fife we grew. It is actually a blend of 5 different lots of Red Fife from Saskatchewan…from members of our Prairie Red Fife Organic Growers Cooperative. 50% is 2006 and 2007 harvests from our farm, 24% is from the Wyatt farm at Canwood, 14% from the Schriml farm at Bruno, and 12% from St. Peter’s Abbey (Benedictine monastery) at Muenster.
Wow. I was thrilled to learn more about ‘my’ Red Fife wheat. These sorts of layers and links to other farmers, friends and families, and the ‘ghosts of farmers past’, add a cultural, if not a spiritual dimension to farming for me. Now, I am part of those farm’s living heritage: their work, their wheat, their families’ heritage passed on through generations of seed growing and saving, will live on here in Bella Coola so long as I too am able to sow their seeds, grow their wheat, save the seed, add water and repeat.
Despite the fact that I no longer needed to buy wheat from the Loiselle Organic Family Farm, I did have a bunch of other questions which Marc was kind enough to answer. The bigger questions for me with respect to my ‘Year in Provisions’ project for which I needed answers to were: how much wheat to grow, how much land to sow, and how much wheat might I need for my family for a year; I had no idea. All I knew was that a loaf of bread takes about 4-5 cups of flour, but that was the limit of my knowledge. How many wheat kernels it takes to make 4-5 cups of flour I also had no idea–let alone how many kilos of wheat one needs to sow over how much area of land, or how much yeild to expect, or how much we’d need to supply us for a year in bread.
To answer theses key ‘Year in Provisions’ questions for me, Marc Loiselle, rose to the occasion:
Sounds like a great project you have going! I’ve never had such a question about growing a certain amount for a year’s supply. But, presuming that you want to grow enough for your food needs and have enough left over for a subsequent year’s sowing, and are able to sow and harvest adequately, I suggest you could purchase a single 25 kg bag for example. If you sow 1/2 of it in good fertile soil with adequate spacing (30 lbs would sow about 1/4 acre….and save the other 30 lbs in case of need to resow due to natural disaster such as hail…) and it grows well, you could anticipate harvesting up to ~ 6 bushels (360 lbs) and that is based on a good yield of 25 bushels/acre.
A single bushel of harvested and clean wheat kernels would make ~70-80 regular sized loaves of bread. So you could do the math and sort of figure out what that would mean for you; especially if you have a family to feed too. 6 bushels x 75 loaves = ~450 loaves potential, which would be more than 1 loaf per day.
As it happens, I had bought exactly 25 kilos from True Grain Bread, which according to Marc’s calculations, is about double what I need for sowing purposes next year (allowing for poor harvest/return). That means I can use half of it now for bread making purposes. Of course, this will likely not be enough to get us through to next year’s harvest (thinking optimistically!), so I will have to order another 25 kg, maybe two, for our winter’s supply for bread making.
Not only did Marc answer many of my questions, he also was kind enough to send the above photo of Anita’s (his wife) freshly baked bread. In addition to this, he sent along a couple of other recipes that use the Red Fife wheat in interesting ways, such as in salads. I will post these recipes eventually and link them to my recipe page, as and when. Thank-you Marc and Anita Loiselle!
Now, I’m on the hunt for a grinder so I can turn this gorgeous Red Fife heritage wheat into bread! Suggestions on grinders most welcome.
For more information on Red Fife wheat
See the Loiselle Organic Family Farm. They have a wonderful website with ‘everything you wanted to know’ about Red Fife wheat, including interesting photos, as well as the history of the Prairie Red Fife Organic Growers Cooperative they helped found.