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Author

JOSH HOPPEN
PROVENANCE HUB

LAST UPDATED

13TH JULY
2020

READING TIME

APPROX
7 minutes

INTRODUCTION TO FARMING IN NORTHERN ENGLAND

The North East of England is very diverse in terms of landscape, and is a treasured part of the country home to four national parks, four areas of outstanding natural beauty and over a hundred miles of heritage coastline. Farmers across the region look after this beautiful countryside, and manage it carefully to ensure it retains its attraction but also to produce some exceptional cereal and grain products (in addition to meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables too).

Arable crops including wheats, barley and oilseed rape are widely grown on the fertile soils, and the thriving agricultural sector provides a wealth of produce which goes on to be milled and processed for bread products. However, in recent years many farmers have diversified their crops away from these processed or refined grains into what are known as ‘ancient grains’ – those which have not undergone any selective breeding for centuries.

‘Ancient grains are pretty much unchanged since they were first farmed. Until the 19th century, ancient grains had almost disappeared from the arable fields of Europe, before a movement to reintroduce them in second half of the 20th century’

A RISING STAR

The revival of the ancient grain economy is exciting while people are paying more attention to what goes into their bodies. From considering pesticides sprayed on their vegetables, to caring how an animal is raised before buying meat, and the same goes with bread products. Most breads are made with flour that is extremely processed, or undergone selective breeding to give the farmer some sort of economic advantage.

While there is no official definition of what qualifies as an ancient grain, they are pretty much largely unchanged since they were first farmed. Until the 19th century, ancient grains had almost disappeared from the arable fields of Europe, before a movement to reintroduce them really kicked off in second half of the 20th century. They cover a wide array of cereals and grains, and have a range of flavours and textures which constantly surprise the consumer – there is diversity in flour!

‘The kernels of ancient grains contain three nutrient-dense parts – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Extreme refining, as with the kind of flour milled from modern wheat, leaves you only with the endosperm after which many important nutrients including fibre and about a quarter of the protein are lost.’

HEALTH BENEFITS

Craggs & Co is now the UK’s largest producer of spelt products harvested from a 2,000 acre estate, in addition to einkorn, emmer and rye. The kernels of ancient grains (like whole grains) contain three nutrient-dense parts – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Extreme refining, as with the kind of flour milled from modern wheat, leaves you only with the endosperm after which many important nutrients including fibre and about a quarter of the protein are lost. Ancient grains not only taste different, but many have a naturally lower gluten level, which means that those with mild gluten intolerance can enjoy them too.

Many varieties contain more minerals, proteins and trace elements than modern grains, and are usually gentler to the digestive tract than traditional wheats. With high levels of riboflavin, niacin and thiamine, ancient grains have been shown to strengthen, stimulate, and boost the immune and nervous systems, and help maintain a healthy hormonal balance.

‘Thanks to the significantly reduced amount of human intervention, ancient grains tend to have a lower carbon footprint. They also conserve soils and contribute to ecological diversity in the fields themselves

GUARDIANS OF THE ENVIRONMENT

Ancient grains are naturally very hardy. Many species do not need much to survive, and can thrive on nutrient poor soils as well as being comparatively weather resistant. They also tend to grow with lower levels of pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation generally. Where the ears are further away from the ground, fungal spores and other potentially harmful crop ailments find it more difficult to reach the grain itself, meaning that they require fewer pesticides and undergo less stress in growth. The husk that surrounds each grain helps with their comparative resistance too. Thanks to the significantly reduced amount of human intervention, ancient grains tend to have a lower carbon footprint. They also conserve soils and contribute to ecological diversity in the fields themselves.

In the North East of England, this helps the local farmers pursue agri-environmental schemes. These drive important local projects and recognize, reward and encourage farmers to manage the land from which they grow with care. Many projects in the North East are funded by these schemes, such as looking after the area’s distinctive dry-stone walls, which stretch for over 4,500 miles. Additionally, they have helped the farmers of the North East pioneer new ways to support the emerging biofuels industry. The region is home to a large number of bioethanol plants and power stations which use biomass crops and waste produce. Craggs & Co operates a biomass straw burning system which is used to dry the following year’s crop, making them totally renewable at this part of the process.

Overall, ancient grains are not just good for the body and good for the environment. Growing them is part of a broader movement helping people make more informed choices about the food they consume. The ancient grain revival is part of an ever growing hunger for food provenance.

CRAGGS & CO ANCIENT GRAIN FLOUR & SPELT FLAKES

CRAGGS & CO GALLERY