A Growing Problem with a Healthy Solution
Scotland grows a lot of wheat but precious little of it is used to make bread. We rely on imports and so have little control over this staple food. It turns out that the wheat varieties in today’s bread may well have less of the vital nutrients we need for health than in the past.
When we apply a little joined-up thinking to the wheat we grow, the flour we bake with and the bread we make, we begin to see how growing better grain and baking better bread could help us to solve some of our health problems in Scotland.
Three years ago, we began to investigate where we might find, or how we might develop, more nourishing grain. We started by finding (in seed banks around the world), heritage grains, several of which once grew here in Scotland. Partnering with scientists in leading institutions, we began to identify traits in heritage Scottish and Nordic wheats that could help us to produce locally resilient, nutritious grains, suitable for low-impact farming.
It soon became evident that we needed to combine research with action, linking together plant breeders, farmers, millers, bakers, public health nutritionists and citizens - and to share this new knowledge - if we are to make better grain and better bread part of the solution to diet-related ill-health.
Macbiehill organic agroforestry: grain varieties in trial plots early summer 2014, during a farm walk in August 2015 and at harvest in October 2015.
Producing grain with the purpose of nourishing healthy citizens is essential. We also need to develop the skills that can turn those locally-grown grains into delicious, digestible, healthy bread. And we need to build a human-scale supply chain to ensure that this bread reaches those with least access and choice; older people, children, those looked after and ‘catered for’, in our hospitals, schools, prisons and care homes.
That’s why Scotland The Bread is a broad collaboration with the common goal of re-establishing a Scottish grain, flour and bread supply that is healthy, fair, sustainable and under local control. Its measure of success will be how reliably we pass on nourishment, from the soil to the slice. To achieve that, we need to create change in every part of the system: fair prices for local farmers growing nourishing food for people, fewer damaging food miles, more nutrition in every slice of bread and more jobs per loaf as we skill up community bakers to bring out the best in our local grains.
Communities Sow the Seeds of Healthier Bread
This summer we set out to involve community growers in the crop research and to give more people the chance to see what goes into the whole process of producing bread – from sowing and tending the crops, to threshing and milling the grain, to baking and sharing their own nutritious, slowly-fermented bread.
With the help of Funding Enlightened Agriculture, the A Team Challenge and the generosity of 117 people who pledged, we raised £6,880 (of which the project keeps £6,536) to provide seed, small-scale equipment and a full season of support to six community growing groups. (An additional £6,000 loan will follow when Scotland The Bread becomes a separate organisation.)
Four community groups are sowing three of Scotland The Bread’s trial wheats – Hunters, Golden Drop and Rouge d’Ecosse – during autumn 2015. By late summer 2016 they will be able to harvest, thresh, clean and mill that grain and (using slow, natural fermentation) turn it into healthy, digestible bread.
Each group will record what happens at each stage, through a full growing season - from the soil to the slice. Their findings will form part of Scotland The Bread’s participatory research. They will also be involved in redefining and redirecting the goals of grain research, making for a more citizen-centred food system.
Global Canteen at the Concrete Garden
Socially engaged artists from the Open Jar Collective are working with Concrete Garden, a community food project in Possilpark, Glasgow, to create the Global Canteen. Each week they harvest fresh produce from the garden, share recipes, learn new cooking skills and enjoy a tasty lunch together. They will also be exploring different methods, using a variety of grains and flours, to make bread, pasta, noodles and dumplings. Working with volunteers and local families, they sowed the three trial wheats in a communal raised bed on 15th October and are already watching closely for the first seeds to germinate. Follow Open Jar Collective’s blog to find out more.
This social enterprise in Glasgow is dedicated to local food and to creating a sustainable food system. It aims to ‘empower growers and communities by keeping money local, reducing food miles and climate change emissions, and nourishing us with fresher produce and a healthy food culture’. Locavore will be sowing the three trial wheats during November 2015.
Granton Community Gardeners
This grassroots group of local resident gardeners and food growers came from Edinburgh during September to see the ripening grain and discover what Scotland The Bread is all about. Their visit was part of an event called Be Brave on Land Reform, organised by Whitmuir Community Farm’s 2000m2 project, where the Granton growers got their first taste of harvesting and 'stooking' wheat. You can see some of them at work, here. Follow the progress of Granton Community Growers as they sow three 35 square metre plots, one for each of the varieties of trial wheat, in the next couple of weeks.
Théo Laffargue came to our first Sourdough Exchange in May 2013 and helped to coordinate the second, during which the short film, The Bread Is Rising, was made. Since then he has been involved, when time and opportunity allow, in growing grains, harvesting, threshing and breadmaking across several seasons of grain trials and agroforestry here at Macbiehill. He has recently set up the Riverside Bakery in Stirling as a Community Interest Company. Riverside was one of the dough-sharing bakers in our successful crowdfunding for Scotland The Bread’s soil-to-slice work. Théo experimented with a small sample of winter wheat at FEAST (Food Education at Stirling University) last winter and this month the growers there will be sowing a 32 square metre plot with the three trial wheats.
Angus McDowall and Andrew Whitley amongst the trial wheats at Mungoswells Farm in East Lothian, June 2015.
The first sourdough breadmaking tests in October 2015, using heritage varieties Rouge d'Ecosse, Hunters and Golden Drop with modern hybrid wheats Infinity and Mulika for comparison.
Veronica Burke 7th November 2015