By Matt Williams, Wheat Farmer
Welcome to Linneus, Maine, 354 miles from Boston, 246 miles from Portland and six miles from the Canadian border. Although I come from a line of New York dairy farmers, I bought land here on my own, in 1986, just after I joined the faculty of the University of Maine’s agriculture department. At first, I leased it out to the potato farmers; then I started using it for applied research. But by 1997, I decided I wanted to do something different: grow organic wheat.
At the time, there was no real wheat production in the state, just small niche farms. Even though Maine had in the 1800s been the breadbasket of New England, grain production had vanished. In its place farmers had moved to monocultures: potatoes in one area, dairy in another, some blueberries, some apples. But that type of agriculture – especially if it’s done with chemical fertilizers and pesticides – isn’t good for soil health, or the insect and animal worlds. We wanted to help the state diversify again, and to produce the kind of pure crops that everyone grew and consumed before big industrial farms started to dominate our food supply.
Today, we have 350 acres and use a regenerative organic farming model involving rotation crops designed to improve the quality and quantity of our yield. Apart from spring wheat, we grow buckwheat, legumes, soy, rye, and oats, plus vetch and clover as cover crops. As we’ve expanded in recent years, we’ve added more land that we’re transitioning to these organic methods, which takes about 36 months from the last pesticide application.
My daughter, Sara, who left a successful landscape design career in D.C. to join me on the farm in 2013, often tells people that wheat grown and milled the right way has a terroir just like wine or coffee. She says ours tastes like Maine, and it’s true. We’ve been saving seeds for 20 years and pick the varieties we plant based on their flavor, not their yield. Some of what we grow is – again, in Sara’s words – “rich, bold and earthy;” some is sweeter and nuttier. She and her husband, who’s also an agronomist, just bought a 90-acre field nearby and welcomed a new baby -- maybe another wheat farmer in the making…
Working together, we continue to supply grain – both fresh and milled – to other bakers, including Borealis Bread, a terrific Maine company, which was one of our first customers; to Allagash Brewery; and to several university food services, including Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts University. But we’re incredibly excited about our partnership with One Mighty Mill because we and its founders share so many of the same goals.
We also want to help people relearn how to grow, mill and make food with regional grains.
We also want to push producers and consumers to care more about the environment and nutrition.
And we also want to take this movement way beyond affluent communities to the larger population – reintroducing real food to less advantaged rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods all over the country.