As all of us at The Land Connection are gearing up for our 2nd Annual Organic Grain Conference & Trade Show on February 1st here in Champaign, I thought it was only fitting to feature organic grains in this week’s blog. I found out about The Mill at Janie’s Farm this past fall and was incredibly impressed and inspired by what they were embarking on, namely stone-milling locally grown organic grain and heritage and heirloom wheat for local and regional consumption. I emailed back and forth with Jill Brockman-Cummings, the Mill Manager at The Mill at Janie’s Farm in Askum, IL to learn more about The Mill at Janie’s Farm and Janie’s Farm Organics, and this is what I found out.
How long has Janie’s Farm been growing organic grains?
Janie’s Farm Organics has been growing certified organic grains since 2005. Harold Wilken started with 30 acres, and now Janie’s Farm Organics farms over 2300 acres organically.
What crops are grown organically on the Farm?
Crops grown organically on the farm include: wheat, oats, rye, corn, soybeans, popcorn, black beans, and hay.
What varieties of grain are grown on Janie’s Farm?
The varieties of grain grown on the farm include Hard Red Winter Wheat such as: Warthog, Emerson, Expedition, and AC Morely. Hard Red Spring Wheat is mainly Glenn, and heirloom varieties like Emmer and Red Fife. Also grown is Soft Red Winter Wheat, and also a Hard White Winter Wheat. Another Hard Red Winter Wheat we mill a lot of is grown by organic farmer, Dave Bishop. It is an heirloom variety called Turkey Red.
Janie’s Farm has grown the ancient grain Einkorn in the past, and may grow it again soon, as well as Spelt and Buckwheat.
Which variety of grain grown on Janie’s Farm is your favorite and why?
It is difficult to choose because each variety brings its own special unique qualities to milling and baking. My favorite variety to mill is Soft Red Winter Wheat because it mills quickly and easily, and the texture is so velvety and smooth. My favorite variety to bake with is Turkey Red. We mill a flour called “Mackinaw” that is incredibly versatile for baking. It makes a wonderful artisan bread with a lovely texture and flavor, and you can also bake muffins, cookies, and even brownies with it!
What do you see as the mission behind growing organic and heritage grains?
I think the mission behind focusing on organic grains is not just about growing good, healthy food, it is about how you steward the land. It is the environmental health-benefitting the entire ecosystem from microorganisms in the soil to honeybees and other pollinators, to all wildlife. The focus of organic grains is to improve the health of people, the land, and growing a better future for all.
Heritage grains [further this mission because]:
1: They are not altered or hybridized for higher yields or disease resistance.
2: They are not doused with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers so they are always healthier.
3: They are older strains which produce flours that are better tolerated by many people adversely affected by gluten.
4: They are grown as a local crop with micro-variations with a full spectrum of flavors and textures.
Do you think a shift away from corn and soybeans to wheat and other grain is possible in Illinois, whether organic or not?
Every shift, in my opinion, should include organic. Local food and organic practices benefit everyone.
Do I think there will be a total shift from corn and soybeans to wheat and other small grains? No. But as the demand for local, small grains and flours continues, the demand for varieties of Winter Wheat and Spring Wheat will continue to rise, as well as, heirloom varieties and heritage grains.
Can wheat and other small grains be grown in Illinois? Yes. On the farm we live on, my great-grandfather and my grandfather grew wheat, oats, rye, and sorghum, and open pollinated corn just a few generations ago. A farmer and his or her land benefits from a rotation of diverse crops and diverse varieties within each crop.
How long has The Mill at Janie’s Farm been in operation?
The Mill at Janie’s Farm has only been in operation since the fall of 2017. We sell wholesale and to bakeries, mostly in the Chicago area. We are pursuing customers in the Bloomington/Normal area, Champaign, and Springfield markets as well. We also sell retail in a few bakeries and small grocery stores, as well as online. Our website is https://www.themillatjaniesfarm.com/
What is the mission of The Mill?
We are committed to supplying the customer with the most delicious, nourishing, and best-performing flours that they have ever used.
What do you see as The Mill’s place in the local and regional food system?
This is an exciting time in Central Illinois as it relates to local food and the local grain movement. The mill will help fulfill the demand for sustainably grown, locally stone-milled flour. According to the food experts, locally grown and milled grains are the next wave for the local foods movement and The Mill at Janie’s Farm is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this movement while delivering our products to an underserved market.
What are the benefits of stone-milling as opposed to conventional milling?
Stone-milling retains the highest levels of flavor and nutrition. Stone mills run at less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit which in turn keeps enzymes alive, and all the nutrition intact: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Whole kernel flour contains essential proteins, oils, vitamins, and minerals. As the grain is stone milled, the germ oil is released into the flour giving it its coloring and “nutty” flavoring.
Whereas, conventional flour is processed on high speed steel roller mills which run at a very high temperature. All of the bran and germ are removed, leaving you with the starchy center. Thus, the flour is “dead” with no live enzymes, no taste and no nutrition.
How has the market and the community responded to The Mill and its products thus far?
We have only been in production for about 5 months, so we are beginning to fill the void in the market for locally stone-milled flours. Professional and home bakers alike have been very excited about our products. We have had several millers, bakers, farmers, and distributors guiding us and consulting with us even before we began milling our own flours. I think that has been the key-learn from the experts. We are building our sales and have so much potential to make a difference in the local grain economy.
How many varieties are you milling at this time?
We have 7 wheat flours available at this time: from bread flour to pastry flour to all purpose flour. We will begin milling rye flour this spring as well as cornmeal and polenta. Depending on what is planted this spring, we will be milling more varieties of wheat flour, and other heirloom and heritage grains after summer harvest.
What would you say the benefits of organic grains are, from a miller’s perspective?
I would say that the benefits of organic grains from a miller’s perspective is that they are organic — grown without herbicides and pesticides thus benefiting the environment. Pre-harvest organic grains are not sprayed with Roundup, the herbicide glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen, as a drying agent (crop desiccant), as is conventionally grown wheat. I don’t [however] believe there would be any difference, as far as the milling process, between organic and conventionally grown grains.
If you would like more information about Jill, The Mill at Janie’s Farm, or Janie’s Farm Organics you can visit their website: https://www.themillatjaniesfarm.com/
NOTE: All pictures were taken from the website for The Mill at Janie’s Farm.