When it comes to grain, the future looks like the past. Go back a half-century in Boulder County, and there’s Old Man Webber coming into town with his portable combine. Word gets passed around and Webber goes to every farm, home and plot growing wheat and chops it. Then Beth near Valmont gets her seed cleaner running, and people take their grains there. Of course John Miller has the mill, and he gets it running in his barn. Out comes flour of all types of grain — dozens of varieties of spelt, rye, winter wheat, oat, einkorn… and on and on. Bakers buy some for their loaves. Families buy bags instead of the prepackaged grocery store cheap stuff. Webber moves on to a new community, Beth and Miller shut down their machines, and Boulder County has local, healthy, hardy flour for another season.
If you ask the people trying to rebuild that local grain chain, they’ll say that’s a system that’s not too far away from being revived — maybe five to 10 years. That’s assuming, however, that we overcome major obstacles: we have to find seeds to grow; the fields that once grew wheat now grow other crops; Old Man Webber is dead; Beth sold off her seed cleaner for a hoop house; and Miller’s mill is mothy and only grinds rust nowadays.
But change is afoot. Now that we’ve buoyed a resurgence of heritage and heirloom vegetables, fruit and meat, a motivated group of locals is creating a network to restore grain.
“All these vegetables are great,” says Bill McDorman, founder of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, which is working to put heritage grains in the hands of growers. “But they’re just the icing. We need the cake.”