I was unmistakably attending the LA Bread Festival when I popped out of the car and into the bustling Grand Central Market with grain sheaths peacocking from my backpack. Immediately at the entrance stood Leyna Lightman in a beckoning white dress, who led me through the masses, past the butter aerobics, and to my presentation station.
I had never been to the famous Grand Central Market. I could tell the original bodegas apart from the sleek, sans-serif new restaurant arrivals. I felt my place as farmer meeting merchant in this old place of many edible exchanges. Today was for exchanging more than food, but stories, passions, missions of a better food system.
A mess of wheat paste with a sweet, fermented tang signified that a sourdough starter class was in the works when I descended into the Market’s subterranean level. I laid out my wheat heads of various varieties and my modest farm photo display. By the time I was ready to begin, there was already a large crowd.
I told the story of heritage grains: why resurrect them? what’s their place in modern day farming? I spoke of the need to farm with the land, with the ecosystem because we’re running out of water, clean air, and soil nutrients. Some heritage grains are drought tolerant, and bringing them back in California will help us be fed without compromising our water sources. I talked about how wheat sequesters carbon, how integrating animals, grains, veggies, and all kinds of kingdoms into a farm rotation cultivate soil nutrients.
I reminded people that farmers always see nutrients going to customers, going to the city. Farmers can regenerate those nutrients, those necessities for our human and environmental health, on site, but it takes time. Yet, we’ve been forced to produce at a pace and scale to make ends meet, which at the same time we can’t replenish our resources at that rate. So we’ve used chemicals, synthetics, imported inputs to make up the difference. These substitutes give a boost but with a heavy toll. This is like when you’re sick. You take medicine that can make you groggy, upset your stomach, or have other negative side effects. Instead, you could have been taking care of yourself, eating well, exercising, and doing the day to day, long-term benefit actions. The same principles apply for farming. We could be taking care to maintain a healthy system that perhaps is slower, but is more balanced than injecting boosts of select inputs. Those boosts like nitrogen can runoff and cause algal blooms, fish die-off, and habitat damage. So, let’s take a different view on productivity, on time. Let’s take our time to do things well rather than do things now.
There were lots of questions. What’s the diff between modern and heritage? What’s it like to harvest and clean grain? Does baking with heritage grains require more needs? What’s the best way to store grains? Why the price difference? Do you have problems with people wanting you to have all kinds of certifications? Why do you farm? I’m glad to see so many interested people and to have the chance to talk with them! People stuck around, hung out, asked more questions, and overall it felt inspiring to see that people are interested in alternative farming methods and products.
Afterwards, I rewarded myself with some eats. We say that farmers don’t eat their food, bakers don’t eat their bread. But this farmer got to eat the bakers’ bread! Yes, I tried 6 different loaves with a butter flight from DTLA Cheese. I highly recommend the buffalo butter.