In Tehachapi, a small California community tucked away in southeastern Kern County, a young farmer named Jon Hammond is reviving a family tradition of growing wheat. He’s working closely with a neighboring farmer, Alex Weiser. Wheat is currently grown in California, but much of it is produced for animal feed. Hammond and Weiser have both grown wheat previously, using it as a cover crop.
The wheat they are currently producing are heritage varieties. And this wheat is destined for a growing consumer and chef market segment that craves better bread…and less-processed flour. Sonora wheat, Roman rye, and Red Fife are three of the heritage varieties under production.
What do these heritage varieties bring to the marketplace? Take Part reports:
“It’s like night and day,” says Roxana Jullapat, pastry chef at Cooks County in Los Angeles. She got a few pounds of Tehachapi-grown flour to experiment with, and after one bite, she was in love. “There’s a real flavor difference. The flavor and the structure, I mean it’s just impressively good.”
There may be another advantage to this kind of crop: sustainability.
“Hammond also spoke of the convenient sustainability of heritage grains: “We dry farmed this crop,” he said while scooping a handful of harvested Sonora wheat and sifting it through his hands. That means this wheat-growing effort didn’t expend any of the ever-scarce irrigation water. “It takes very little out of the soil and it’s something you plant anyway. It just makes sense.”
Making the business model work is going to be challenging. Jullapat says that a pound of this heritage wheat would cost around $40 today.
UC Food Observer will catch up with Jon Hammond and report back in the future on his progress.