Randy George, co-owner of the Middlesex bakery with his wife, Eliza Cain, said Tuesday he first met Loïc Dewavrin, who runs the farm with his two bothers Thomas and Côme, at a conference for the Northern Grain Growers Association nearly three years ago. The Les Fermes Longpres farm is in Les Cedre, Quebec. They grow sunflowers, corn, soybeans and, most importantly from George’s point of view, wheat.
George said Dewavrin gave a presentation about their farm at the conference three years ago, and last year George was invited to visit and tour the farm.
“I was really impressed,” he said. “Not only with their farm, but the fact that they’ve put in a pretty sophisticated mill right there on the farm to be able to add the value to their grains right there on the farm rather than sending it off to whoever to be milled.”
The brothers constructed a roller mill, which, George said, is necessary to produce the white flour needed for breads by removing the bran and germ from the harvested wheat. He said two of the brothers are engineers so they were able to buy used parts from Europe, refurbish them and build the mill right on their Quebec farm. George said that’s very rare, as even the big flour producers like King Arthur don’t do their own milling because of the costs and opt instead to contract the work out.
He said the drought “added an extra level of interest” to get the partnership done with the Canadian farm, though he would have pursued it anyway.Red Hen had been working with two Vermont farms, Gleason Grains in Bridport and Aurora Farms in Charlotte, to get some organic flour locally, but George said most of the organic flour the bakery was using comes from the Midwest. That part of the country has been experiencing a severe drought, which George said has increased the price of organic grain and strained the supplies. He said it has forced some mills to import their flour from as far away as South America.Currently only about 10 to 15 percent of the flour George uses comes from the Midwest, with the remainder coming from Canada and farms here in Vermont. That 10 to 15 percent will be replaced by Canadian flour this fall.
When considering grain producing regions, the Northeast probably isn’t the first location to come to mind, and George admitted it can be difficult to grow grain here. He said wheat needs dry conditions in summertime to grow well — though not as dry as the American heartland is currently experiencing — and summer, of course, can be wet here in New England and Quebec. It’s a legitimate, if ironic, concern for George as he consolidates the sources of his flour to this area.
Undaunted, though, George notes that the grain growers associations has been working with farmers on developing strains of wheat that work better in this northeastern climate and are trying to develop techniques to minimize the risk of crop failure from rainfall.
Dewavrin said Tuesday that in the 20 years he’s been growing wheat, he has seen some lesser yields because of rainfall, but he’s always been able to produce a quality harvest. He said the soil in his part of Quebec is very good, perhaps even better than out west.
Dewavrin explained his new partnership with Red Hen from his own perspective. In his earlier years of farming, his family’s wheat harvest was mixed in with wheat from other farms north of the border, diminishing its uniqueness. The Dewavrin family decided to build their own mill to reclaim that sense of identity and to assert more control in their business by shipping their flour directly to their customers. Now, those customers include the Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex, the very first U.S. venture for the farming family from Quebec.
Dewavrin explained his choice of Red Hen for his first partnership in the states: Their shared values — a dedication to organic agricultural practices and environmental consciousness.