Bringing Turkey Red Wheat to Wisconsin

Turkey Red Wheat

Photo by Wesley Fryer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On the heels of my post yesterday about spelt, I thought I’d share some information about a pilot project to bring an heirloom wheat variety to Wisconsin. The story, featured in the winter newsletter from REAP Food Group, focuses on the relationship between Madison Sourdough Company and Lonesome Stone Milling and their efforts around Turkey Red Wheat.

As Madison Sourdough co-owner David Lohrentz describes,

Turkey Red Wheat came to the US in 1874 when Mennonites immigrated from the Ukraine territory of Czarist Russia. I was aware of this because my great, great grandfather was part of that migration and grew Turkey Red wheat in rural Moundridge, Kansas. As a history major, I knew that Turkey Red Wheat had been the predominant wheat grown in the Midwest in the early 20th century, and that it was responsible for turning Kansas into the wheat capital of the US. We thought that it would be awesome to experiment with Turkey Red flour, but the only place that sold it was in Kansas, and shipping cost more than the flour itself. It just didn’t make economic sense, nor did it fit with our desire to use local sources….

I learned via internet research that Bryce Stevens of western Kansas is one of a handful of growers of Turkey Red Wheat seed…. I drove a cargo van 13 hours from Madison to Bryce Stevens home. Even though it was late, Bryce, his wife Linda, and I had a fascinating chat about Turkey Red Wheat and the role it could play as an alternative to the agribusiness food system.

For the full story, check out the REAP newsletter PDF here.

For more on heritage grains in general, head to Chris Martell’s article last year in the Wisconsin State Journal, which also features both Lohrentz and Lonesome Stone:

“I strongly suspect that all the problems with gluten intolerance we’ve been seeing is that big corporations and seed companies are producing high-protein hybrid wheat that’s grown with lots of chemicals to keep weeds down and kept in large grain elevators where fungicides are used,” he said.

Mass-produced wheat also lacks the distinctive flavors of ancient grains, Lohrentz said.

The [more limited] availability of ancient grains can be a problem, though. Another challenge for bakers is that the heritage grains grown in small quantities by a handful of farmers have different characteristics, especially protein content, making it more difficult to develop recipes.

“Once we get great local sources, bakers will be able to amp up consistency,” Lohrentz said. “That’s the challenge.”

Gilbert Williams, co-owner of Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock, said he’s eager to work with any Wisconsin farmer who grows heritage grains.

“There’s a strong demand for low- or no-gluten crops, but they’re still pretty rare,” he said. “It’s hard to grow them in an economical way. Another hurdle is seed availability.”

Find Martell’s full article here.

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