A Lincolnshire Breadbasket

I was recently in a meeting about agri food, when an academic said to me – Laura, remember that farmers don’t really have that much to do with food.

At first I was taken aback, but there is a sense in which selling a crop into a global commodity market does create a fairly stunning disconnect between farmer and food, let alone the people who will one day eat it, after it has passed through various further stages of travel and processing.

Many of us think that this disconnect (which is NOT universal among farmers) is a problem in itself, but it also makes it harder to solve some of the other big global problems in the food system.

What would a Lincolnshire Loaf be like?

I like to shop local and often ask at bakeries about the flour. And I am often disappointed to hear that it is Canadian – because we can’t get the “quality” we need from the UK.

This perspective was turned on its head for me last year, by Kimberley Bell from the Small Food Bakery in Nottingham, who invited me on a farm walk on a Lincolnshire farm – Turners of Bytham, near Grantham.

Walking in the fields, I learnt about some of the choices the farmer, John Turner, was making.

These included strategies for attracting wildlife to the farm, rotating crops and animals to look after the soil, choosing grain varieties for nutrient density, or that were adaptive to the local environment, or that would be resilient in the face of unpredictable and extreme weather events that we can expect with climate change.

These are thoughtful, deliberate choices on important issues.

But what made it possible for Turner to make these choices is his direct relationship with the miller and baker who understood these issues.

He’s working with bakers who take the flour, and instead of saying – this is not the right “quality” (usually meaning it is not hard enough, and won’t rise readily and predictably) – they say, this is the grain we humans need, for nourishment and health and resilient farming. What shall we do with it?

Needless to say, she does not go away and make “poor quality” bread – she makes delicious, diverse, beautiful, nourishing bread, as well as pasta, biscuits, pastries, pizza, and so forth. Pay the Small Food Bakery a visit, if for one moment you doubt me.

Photo: Henry Kenyon

Reclaim the Grain

During my visit to the Apricot Centre last week, I walked from the fields (pictured below) where YQ population wheat is being grown. (The crop is grown between rows of trees, by the way, in a system of agroforestry. Another story that I will write about soon…)

I walked to the farm where it is cleaned and dried, to the Almond Thief Bakery where it is milled and baked.

The journey was about a mile. I bought some just-baked snacks for my considerably longer walk to the train station!

What blew my mind was that, what I took to be a hugely complex process, was being done so simply and effectively by three parties collaborating with each other through the Dartington Mill CIC.

There are challenges to overcome – for example, stone-milling is skilled work (and we don’t have enough millers or millwrights) and farmers and bakers may not be particularly interested in operating and maintaining the various machines involved between field and kitchen.

But, the Almond Thief baker told me, the venture was working and profitable (they’ve recently opened another bakery) and the fresh grain makes notably better bread.

OK Lincolnshire!

So Lincolnshire – we are a great grain-growing county!

Wherever I go and chat about what would a Lincolnshire loaf be like, people are interested!

This includes visitors to the county, heritage and tourism-minded folk, environmentalists, foodies who care about provenance, residents who take a pride and interest in their village or county, and the increasing number of people who just appreciate good bread!

But I think the notion of “a Lincolnshire Loaf” lacks both imagination and honesty – we could have a whole Lincolnshire bread basket! What might that be like?

A Lincolnshire Bread Basket

Millers and bakers have a vital, skilled, creative and powerful role to play in the future of food.

We’re inviting millers and bakers (commercial, micro-, aspiring…) who are interested in exploring this question to get together with each other and a few farmers who are making thoughtful environmental choices.

We’ve had some great events and conversations, and this is the one for people who are ready to roll up their sleeves, get stuck in and put their hands in the flour!

The deal is that bakers take away some flour to experiment with, and return to a subsequent event with a loaf (or other thing they’ve made) and we get to share it, enjoy it, talk about it, and see what might be possible next…

Our hope is to facilitate connections and opportunities that would lead to the production of a diversity of Lincolnshire loaves, with a deeper understanding by bakers and farmers of the issues and challenges each other face.

Then we get to work together in a way that deepens our connection with food, land, people and place, and start to heal the disconnect between ourselves and our food.

From the blog

The Future of Food in the Lincolnshire Fens

In this workshop, we will explore collectively the current and foreseeable challenges to producing, processing, and transporting food in the Fens. We will build on the experience of local farmers, processors, retailers, IDBs, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and others who live and work in the Fens. Through discussions, punctuated by snippets of information on…

Baking with Diverse Grain

Baking using flour from diverse population wheat, from Turner’s of Bytham and South Ormsby Estate in Lincolnshire Photos from Lincolnshire Breadbasket event at Heckington Windmill on 3rd May, and sent by the bakers in the following weeks

The Reality of Food Poverty in Lincoln

A new report shows a dramatic rise in the number of Lincoln residents needing emergency food parcels from the city’s food banks. The greatest increase is among households with children: children now account for 35% of all people fed by food banks in Lincoln.  The two largest food bank networks in Lincoln provided almost 47,000…

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