Community Grains originally sprung from the community of Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland, CA.
Although Oliveto has always used the best available flours, we knew very little about the grain itself, about varieties, farming, and milling. Curiosity about these things eventually resulted in the creation of Community Grains.
In 2007, we agreed to take the facilitating role in a meeting of interested parties directed at growing grain in northern California. Our interest was in Italian heritage varieties of corn for polenta and wheat for pasta. It was a simple idea: if grains were grown nearby, we could have a richer experience, and make better food. That simple idea turned out to be a lot more complicated than we’d anticipated.
California produces a lot of wheat, but it’s grown within an industrial structure- by way of seed development, farming, milling, storage, cleaning, and end-use. We see our purpose as helping to create alternative links for a new, smaller-scale local structure where farmers, seedsmen, millers, bakers and cooks can talk to one another. And where consumers will be able to feel informed about the origins and the quality of the wheat they are eating.
The analogy for us is to imagine the “back to the land” food movement back in the 1970s, when small farmers began taking more of an interest in different varieties of fruits and vegetables and to refocus their attention on the health of their soils. Prior to that re-commitment, many of us had grown accustom to standing around the supermarket produce aisles looking at pointy rubber tomatoes and thinking, “what’s wrong with this picture?”
Forty years later, we know a lot more about tomatoes. There are 6,200 farmers’ markets in the country (at the time of this writing), CSAs galore, extraordinary varieties of fruits and vegetables being grown by talented farmers, and a growing number of excellent cooks who are excited about raw ingredients and know how to use them.
Growing great food is an interdependent system: farmers need to assess what is best to grow for their area and how to grow it, as well as the different ways to manage soil. With grains, problems of storage, milling, and distribution are an additional consideration. And of course, home cooks, commercial producers, and bakers must be adequately informed of the new properties of these improved flours.
Community Grains aims to help rebuild a local grain economy in northern California in less than forty years…we hope. In addition to offering superior grains, we intend to provide an information-base for understanding grains, milling, and flour use. We aim to facilitate the development of local grains that are healthy and delicious, and educate by sharing information, forming relationships, and strengthening our local community here in northern California through good food.