CROP TO CRUST CONFERENCE 8TH OCTOBER 2016 SACREWELL HERITAGE FARM AND WATERMILL NEAR PETERBOROUGH
A personal report back from Nick Jones.
First, many congratulations to Jon Cook, who masterminded the conference and chaired it with his usual aplomb, and to Sophie Martin at SPAB Mills, Chris Evans from the Real Bread Campaign, the team at Sacrewell Heritage Farm and Watermill, and all those who helped to make this event such a success and inspiration. Not to mention an excellent range of speakers, confirmed by the fact that I did not fall asleep at all, even after lunch! All the little extra events and touches, like the vintage single and double ducker omnibuses that transported us in delight, not to Clapham, but to a beautifully restored watermill, and a delicious lunch. After a very wet start the sun shone and we were able to eat alfresco. The bakers even managed to get a rather tricky old oven to bake our loaves and buns. It all made for a memorable and very constructive day.
I hope that it will be possible to build on the energy and resolve that emerged from the strong linkage between the themes and subjects that the speakers covered. It is in the joining of the dots that the big picture begins to emerge and have real strength and significance :
Organic Farmer Howard Roberts and Chemical Engineer turned Food Process and Production engineer Peter Wallin set the tone by explaining their commitment to organic food production, and the rationale behind it – specifically personal experience and professional understanding of the benefits. The science (and the maths) is simple: Organic agriculture = improved soil = deeper plant roots = better access to water, micro-organisms, nutrients, minerals and vitamins = healthier, tastier food + improved adaptation to climate change + supporting biosphere (flora, fauna) + no bills for sprays or artificial fertilisers + reduced carbon footprint.
Next came millers David Howell (Offley Mill)and Paul Wyman (Tuxford Mill), current TCMG chair. Their formula for success ? High quality and unusual grains + milling the traditional way with horizontal millstones = less damage to nutrients from excess heat and friction + better flavour as the wholegrain germ is mixed in, + improved baking qualities. Add personal, bespoke service, milling to order = happy customers = a recipe for success.
It was a pleasure to see John Letts amongst the seventy or so delegates – he is the man behind the resurgence of interest in Heritage Grains. He has pioneered transformative work as an archaeo-botanist, finding old grains in old thatch or storage pits on ancient sites. His subsequent nurturing of small plots of “population” wheats (a genetically different mix of up to 200 varieties offering capacity, diversity, and compensation: if some fail, others take their place) has demonstrated how they adapt, resist disease and survive in tricky climatic conditions, or poor soils. The very opposite of Big-AG monoculture, totally dependent on fossil fuels for energy, fertilisers and chemical sprays, reducing diversity and increasing vulnerability to disease and climate change, as well as causing extreme soil erosion.
The afternoon session started with a Millers Tale from James Waterfield (Maud Foster Mill, Boston). A fascinating, moving story, taking us back in time to the days when milling, farming and baking was hard physical labour, time-consuming and exhausting.
It made me realise that, on the plus side, traditional harvesting, stooking the sheaves long enough to hear the church bells thrice, stacking to allow the ear to dry and ripen, and finally threshing, improved range of flavour, nutrients and digestibility as the grain was able to ripen fully. The combine-harvester, by contrast, often cuts the wheat early, to stop the grain falling out of the ear, and, if wet, dries it quickly and artificially.
The afternoon saw Chris Young, Vanessa Kimball, and Tom Herbert telling us more about how to bake the best bread. The message was clear – slow bread is the best, and, to achieve that, you need to allow a long fermentation, and use natural yeast, or, even better, brewers balm. This reduces loss of nutrients from excess phytic acid, improves digestibility and nutrient absorption, and results in better texture and flavour. All qualities which the Chorleywood Process so cleverly eliminate in the interests of speed, efficiency, and profitability. Which reminds me of that old saw: “ What shall it profit a man if he gains a lot of hot air and water but loses his soul, his hard earned cash and a decent loaf in the process.” Here are couple more shockers :
A loaf of bread is better than nothing
Nothing is better than God
Therefore a loaf of bread is better than God
Bakers work on a knead-to-know basis.
You’ll realise that I was beginning to feel conferenced out by now, so much to take in, so many people to talk to, now the taxi to Peterborough Station is here, no time to say farewells, what a lot to think about.
Something which wasn’t specifically discussed or mentioned was the inherent sense of common purpose, connection and community of interest amongst us, that is the social value of farming, milling and baking on a small scale, contributing as it does to quality of life at a local level, employing people, serving the community, reducing food miles, keeping culture, tradition and heritage alive. Not exploited for short term commercial gain or to promote a trendy image, but because, quite simply, it’s the best way, working with and for people and planet.
Six weeks later, I’m struck by how powerful all these different elements are when put together – ie heritage grains+organic agriculture+traditional harvesting+stoneground milling+slow baking = the best bread, but so much more. How could all this knowledge and experience be joined up to help promote the qualities, good practice, products and ways of life that we discussed? Is it best just to keep on getting on with it, or is there a case for undertaking some serious research to help us make the case? If so, how and who might do that ? Suggestions please!
Spotted a while back on a bus stop advertisement board in Edinburgh. It’s hard to decipher the scrawl top left, but I think it says “Corny” !
- Details of future meetings and associated Minutes, Papers and Reports.
- General mill related news items.
- A selection of template for forms and procedures relating to complying with Health and Safety regulations
On a lighter note, we have had a very nice poem from Joanna Phillimore :
Traditional Cornmiller’s Flour is simply the best
It passes each and every test
Soft and organic and oh so yummy
Turns into bread to fill my tummy!
Not for me the cheap imitation
I prefer quality on every occasion
No need to shout, no need to exclaim
Traditional Cornmiller’s are perfect – remember the name!!
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