Shepherd’s Grain is a collective of 30 farmers that utilize a remarkable no-till method of wheat production to produce the best flour I have worked with. My opinion of Shepherd’s Grain is shared by the best bakeries in the Northwest. From Pearl bakery in Portland to Seattle’s Grand Central and Macrina bakeries to Petit Outre in Missoula; Shepherd’s Grain flour is a the not so secret ingredient in the region’s best products.
I have known founding farmer Fred Fleming for over a decade and every time we talk I learn more about wheat than I thought there was to know. During the recent harvest I took our baker Hannah Bartholomew and sous chef Irina Burda out to Fred’s farm in Reardan so we could see what it’s like to harvest the wheat in a $250,000 combine. It seemed like a joy ride (and yes it was fun) but in the process we learned about the history of the farm that was homesteaded by Fred’s Great Grandfather, the evolution of his farming practices and the science that goes into his work. His passion for their sustainability mission makes him a busy man. He speaks frequently at conferences and community gatherings and is featured in numerous articles and books including one of my favorite books, The End Of Food by Paul Roberts.
In addition to the flour business, Fred also has a separate seed operation. He showed us around test patches of seeds that are in development the old fashion way (not by genetically modifying the DNA). He talked about the different components involved in forming wheat gluten and the work being done to change wheat in a way that minimize people’s gluten issues. You should ask him about it because I can’t begin to explain the concept.
We are happy to use Shepherd’s Grain not just because it is produced locally, not just because it uses environmentally sound practices and is Food Alliance Certified; we like buying those bags of flour because we feel a connection to the cycle of this food system. Knowing Fred and his family, seeing his fields and hearing his stories of the life he has lived has influenced how we think about the bread we make. We know the thoughtfulness he puts into his work and we know he will be by for lunch as soon as the harvest is over. After lunch he will leave with some of our bread to take home. Because of that we try to make sure we continue what he has started with the same level of integrity he has put into it.