Weiser Farms Dinner Raises Funds for New SoCal Grain Hub
June 28, 2015 | Rose Egelhoff
by Rose Egelhoff
The spread is irresistible. A bevy of Los Angeles star chefs has been cooking all day, using grains and produce fresh from Weiser Family Farms. A Santa Barbara winemaker portions pours small glasses of a bright, sweet white wine to accompany appetizers. Sixty-two guests mill around the barn and a long, white-clothed table, framed by rows of apple trees, has been set for dinner.
The chefs—including Brian Dunsmoor of Hatchet Hall, Cadet’s Kris Tominaga, Steve Samson from Sotto as well as Daniel Mattern, Roxana Jullapat and Travis Lett—prepare luscious ham wrapped figs. Flatbread made from the Weisers’ Sonora wheat is accompanied by Fromage Blanc and apricots, followed by tomato and cucumber salad and a boil of Santa Barbara ridgeback prawns served with sweet corn. Jeff Fischer of Habit Wine provides the wine.
This is not just a beautiful meal. The dinner, organized by Outstanding in the Field and held on Saturday, June 22, 2015 is a fundraiser for southern California’s new Grain Hub. Special guest Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills speaks about the importance of preserving and producing heirloom grains. Alex Weiser and Jon Hammond of Linda Vista Ranch, two farmers leading the local grain movement in California, show guests around the farm and share about their work growing wheat, rye and oats.
The Grain Hub started with the work of Sonoko Sakai, a noodle maker, food writer and educator (among other things), who started the organization Common Grains to promote appreciation of Japanese food and culture.
Sakai’s interest in local grains led her to Glenn Roberts at Anson Mills. Roberts in turn donated heirloom seed that Sakai shared with interested southern California sustainable farmers—including Alex Weiser and Jon Hammond.
Hammond explains that small cereal crops like rye have been self-propagating in southern California for more than a hundred years. He is particularly interested in Tehachapi Mountain Rye, a cultivar that southern California farmers abandoned in the 20th century, but which has stubbornly continued to grow as a weed in fields and along roadsides. This tough local variety has adapted to the dry local conditions and requires only a couple inches of rain to produce a harvest.
Recent years have seen a grain renaissance across the country. While the local and sustainable food movements have focused on produce, a few select growers have brought fresh-and-local sensibility to the world of grains. Heirloom local cereal varieties—known as landrace crops—offer a well-adapted option for farmers’ local climates.
Freshly-milled local grains can also offer better flavor, according to chefs and bakers, because they include the bran and germ, which are tasty and nutritious but go rancid if stored for long periods of time
Glenn Roberts was one of the earliest heirloom grain devotees, founding Anson Mills more than 15 years ago. Southern Californians have been able to get fresh local flour only since 2013 when the urban flour mill Grist & Toll opened in Pasadena. But the Grain Hub will mean an expansion in both varieties and quantities of cereal products available.
On the Weisers’ farm, heirloom grains are just one of many crops grown. Alex Weiser rotates wheat and other cereals with carrots and his famous fingerling potatoes. The farm will also continue to produce the crops that have made them beloved among both chefs and farmers’ market shoppers, including shallots, beets, melons and little shishito peppers.
Besides crop rotation, Weiser Family Farms uses holistic practices including cover cropping and fertilizing with compost—what Alex Weiser calls “the Rolls-Royce treatment for your ground.”
As Hammond says, “the future is bright for small cereal grains.”