WILLSBORO — Cornell University’s Willsboro Research Farm held a field day in which organic wheat production, milling and baking were the focal points.
Throughout the day, there were presentations by Yannig Tanguy from the Crown Point Bread Co.; Sam Sherman, owner of Champlain Valley Milling; Heather Darby from the University of Vermont; and Farm Manager Michael Davis. Bianca and Daniel Moebius-Clune also spoke about soil health and nitrogen management.
In addition to discussions on organic grain experimentation, a tour of the farm’s research projects included cold-hardy wine grape varieties, grass bio-fuel production, canola oilseed trials and season-extension using high tunnels.
Davis welcomed the 40 attendees who included farmers, students, professors and others, and expressed the purpose of connecting the faculty of Cornell and the University of Vermont “with the folks up here.”
He said interest in organic grains has exploded and they now manage about 25 acres for grain on five-year rotations, wheat for two years and then other crops. “The heart of rotation is to see how to best feed the soil and have it recover.”
The research has been designed to see which varieties are best suited for the area. The Champlain Valley has been historically the “wheat basket of the Northeast,” he said. “We are looking at heritage varieties that are well-adapted to the area, and do they have unique characteristics that we would be interested in?”
Some of the varieties being considered for testing date back 1,000 years. Tests are being done on crop density, and records of seed fertility are also being examined. In all, more than 40 winter-wheat and 20 summer-wheat varieties are being studied on the farm.
Sherman, who started his milling business in Westport in 1985, has been obtaining wheat from the Midwest. “Bakers I supply ask, ‘Why can’t you grow wheat varieties from Kansas around here?’ But they don’t grow well,” Sherman said.
His clients include Wegman’s and whole-foods markets in the Boston area. Recently, he started providing grain for Williams-Sonoma for their gourmet cooking line.
“We put together blends which are being used for cooking instead of brown rice,” Sherman said.
According to Darby, there has been an increase in demand for local products. “Consumers are demanding more than what the traditional farmers’ markets are offering,” she said. “There have also been resurgences in homesteaders and those who want to get back to the land and work in their kitchens.”
She noted that you have to have staples, and grains are staples. “It amazes me as to what farms are growing now. We’re trying to figure out how to do this with the best varieties for fertility and disease resistance. It’s a collaboration.”
A discussion ensued on toxins that can be found in grains and their products. Though federal limits currently allow for minute amounts, there are still tests being conducted to determine both short- and long-term effects.
In an interview, Michelle Danforth, the North Country representative for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), explained that part of her duties are to make agriculture more accessible to people.
“We are looking for anyone who wants to support local farming,” she said. “This field day is a great opportunity for people to come here and obtain information. It’s the best feeling when you can grow your own crops.”
Tanguy spoke about his artisan-baked products including grinding the bakery’s own flour as well as utilizing Champlain Valley Milling. His pizza, which was enjoyed by the field-day participants, utilizes baguette dough. He obtains the vegetables from Fledgling Crow and Juniper Hill, both local farms.
“I grew up with a bread culture,” Tanguy said. “Bread was important to my family and I started baking at the age of 16 in Brittany. I have always been enchanted by the old-fashioned processes.”
He said it’s more and more difficult to have integrity in an old-fashioned process as the mega-retailers like Walmart and big business obscure the nation’s heritage.
“I take my time to make a worthwhile product,” he said.
In marketing his baked goods, Tanguy told of the difficulties of not only the baking process but selling at farmers’ markets as well as delivering to restaurants and other outlets.
“You have to run around to sell the product, and at times you realize you are not making any money.”
Amy Ivy, Cornell Extension executive director for Clinton County, gave a presentation on high tunnels, which extend the growing season as well as give farmer more control over climate conditions.
“We grew berries inside and outside of this tunnel and saw an amazing difference in crop yield,” she said, adding that it proved without a doubt that the high tunnels made the difference.
Ivy also cited the use of high tunnels for growing greens in the North Country as late as December with virtually no heating required. She discussed the crop of tomatoes currently being propagated.
“We are trying to figure out how to best use the tunnels,” she said.
Other topics discussed, as the classroom transported by two hay wagons meandered through the fields, were the use of grasses for bio-fuels such as for pellet stoves and the wine-grape project that has been in place the past few years.
The Baker farm, comprised of 350 acres, provides land representative of the Lake Champlain-St. Lawrence river valleys for applied research, teaching and extension. The farm property was donated in 1982 by E. Vreeland Baker, a retired independent investor in oil and gas exploration, to the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Baker grew up on the farm and attended Cornell, graduating in 1923.
During his childhood, the Willsboro farm was used by his grandfather primarily for the production of apples.
Field day sponsors included the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, NOFA-NY and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The Baker Research Farm is located at 48 Sayward Lane in Willsboro. For additional information, call 963-7492.
Email Alvin Reiner at: firstname.lastname@example.org