Sunday, May 9, 2010

RI Rye Bread - When Great Things Come Together

One of the benefits of living in the smallest state in the union is that grassroots and collaborative efforts are easy to pull off.  When you can cross the state the long way by car in and hour and a half, it's not all that hard to get people to meat and talk about issues or take advantage of teamwork for the advantage of small businesses.

That happened very recently with The Rhode Island Rye Project, an effort to create a marketable bread product grown in RI, baked in RI, and sold in RI.  The project was brokered by an AmeriCorps VISTA (volunteer) that is stationed at Farm Fresh RI, a very active collaborative that coordinates our state's network of farmer's markets and supports and markets local agriculture.  Through the project, a local source for rye was found at Schartner's Farm.  Schartner's, as it turns out, routinely plants rye as a cover crop--a crop designed to return nutrients to the soil during the winter months.  It wasn't planted necessarily to market it, so in a sense, finding a good use for it other than tilling it back into the soil is a great thing.

After finding a source for a locally grown grain, Kenyon's Grist Mill, a local artisan grist mill was as to mill the rye into flour.  Kenyon's is the last of its breed, is little known--even amongst many Rhode Islanders, and is most famous for its stone-ground "johnny cake" (corn bread) mix.

With flour in hand, the AmeriCorps Vista reached out to Seven Stars Bakery, a fantastic artisan bakery that has a long history of working with Farm Fresh.  The folks at Seven Stars developed a Rhode Island Rye Bread that they'll be marketing at the farmer's market and their stores.  I haven't tasted it yet, but I'm very excited to give it a try.

This whole thing has given me mixed emotions.  Part of me is ecstatic that we see the need for an effort like this--to bring true artisan food production, from the field to the store, back to our state.  The other part of me wonders why and how we ever lost it in the first place and I morn that loss.  It's important that we support not just our local agriculture, but US agriculture in general.  The more of our food that we're able to produce here in this country, the more we'll help our health and our economy.  I truly believe that it's really that simple.

(Photo "borrowed" from the Farm Fresh website.  Hopefully, they won't yell at me since I'm supporting and promoting their wonderful efforts.)

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