Grains of truth


SUITS SMALL-SCALE Ancient or heritage grains, such as spelt, retain more of the bran and natural oils when milled on a stone mill rather than an industrial roller mill.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Earlier this month I spent a Sunday in the Cloughjordan Eco Village in Co Tipperary at a ‘Grain Social’, an event organised to facilitate conversations between Irish grain growers, millers, bakers and others interested in all types of cereal grains for human consumption.
I had the pleasure of chatting to the farmers who supply our shop with the nine varieties of Irish organic flour we stock, and meeting many more people an interest in helping the small scale industry grow.
Of course Ireland has a long history of growing and milling local grains, but like all traditional agricultural practices, things have changed dramatically since the 1980s, when farmers say that it became cheaper to import flour from the UK to Ireland and many mills closed. Now, it’s estimated that only around 5 percent of wheat grown in Ireland is for milling, as the bulk is used for feed. That’s lower even than other cereals, such as oat and barley, and an even smaller percentage is grown organically or using heritage grains such as spelt, emmer and einkorn.
Grains generally grow well in Ireland, with the challenge of occasional extreme weather conditions when they are to be sown or harvested, but the changing climate is a factor to consider in all agriculture now.
However, the biggest issue that farmers have is accessing a mill to grind grains into baking flour. The farmers I work with – Pat and Emma of Oak Forest Mills, James of Ballymore Organics, and Michael and Mark of Irish Organic Mill – all therefore have their own stone mills to produce the flour themselves.
There is necessary talk about the need for a cooperative model for processing equipment, so more farmers who are interested in milling high-quality Irish grains have access to what they need. As most of these small-scale farmers are growing organically, they also need to be able to clean and process the peas, lentils and beans that they are already intercropping with their grains to promote nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, as they do not apply synthetic fertilisers.
So, there are incredible opportunities for increasing Irish food security by enabling an ecosystem whereby grains and legumes are grown across the country, with different flavour and structural characteristics and excellent levels of nutrition.
Ancient or heritage grains milled on a stone mill instead of an industrial roller mill retain more of the bran and natural oils, especially if they are sold as wholemeal flours; white flour has simply had all the bran and germ sifted out to leave a lighter, but less nutritious, product.
We all have a part to play in this, as Irish farmers will grow what people pay them to grow.
In my shop we support farmers by ordering from and paying them directly, and every time they have another flour option, we take it.
I bake with 100 percent Irish flour, mostly wholemeal, at home, making sourdough in all shapes, bagels, cakes, cookies and more. I’m happy to share tips and help more people do it, just pop in and ask!

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.