On a recent Friday morning, Wheatberry Bakery in Amherst, Massachusetts, was humming with activity. Behind hand-built wooden counters set with delicate French tiles, co-owner Adrie Lester dealt a brisk business in organic scones and muffins, loaves of fragrant artisanal bread, soups, and sandwiches. In the bakery’s kitchen, her husband, Ben, kneaded a batch of dough, then paused to slip a tray of sourdough baguettes into the oven.
The Lesters opened their business in 2005 and quickly established themselves as a neighborhood fixture. But in early 2008, everything changed. Commodity crop prices went haywire, sending the cost of flour soaring. “It was catastrophic,” Ben said. The Lesters decided that basing their products on an ingredient produced thousands of miles away in the Midwest no longer made good business sense, and they began to ask what it would take to source grain from local growers.
Two years later, an estimated 10 percent of the grains they use are locally grown, a number they hope to increase over time. In the meantime, the Lesters have poured their energies into a related endeavor: organizing the region’s first grain CSA, which in 2009 had approximately 115 members, with a waiting list to match. Last October, Ben and Adrie installed an electric mill in their bakery; now, a day rarely passes without a member stopping by to say hello and grind some grain into flour. The Lesters offer a remarkable example of the creative, community-focused thinking that has driven the local foods movement for the past decade, and they are not alone. From Maine and Vermont to New York and Pennsylvania, a growing number of farmers, bakers, brewers, distillers, and food educators are working to create a regional grain network throughout the Northeast.
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