Look at the labels on the bags of flour and wheat berries, and on the gorgeous baguettes and boules, wrapped in parchment paper and marked with flour from the bannetons in concentric rows like faintly dusted crop circles, and you'll read not only provenance but etiology.
There is the name: Roan Mills. The description of “Farmer Miller Baker,” itself a genealogy. A graphic of a properly hatted farmer walking between the rows of green fields under a broad sky and the far horizon of California mountains. There is “100% whole grain” and “stone ground” and “grown on a farm not a factory” and “support sustainable agriculture.” But maybe most telling, if you know your local farmer and farmers market history, the central label of “Kenter Canyon Farms.”
The backstory goes like this. Andrea Crawford, who with her husband, Robert Dedlow, owns and operates Kenter Canyon Farms, a large, mostly wholesale greens, salads and herb farm in Ventura County, began growing greens way back in the early '80s in Berkeley, to sell to Chez Panisse. Crawford then moved to L.A. to grow greens for Spago, after Wolfgang Puck called her up and gave her the money to plant her first garden.
Fast-forward a few decades to the vast fields of mesclun and arugula, and a dream of heirloom wheat, then to two years ago, when Crawford started growing the wheat itself. This year's crop, grown in Hollister, was planted on 50 acres and produced a harvest of 80,000 pounds of wheat.
Fast-forward even further, to this past Wednesday, Oct. 2, when Crawford set up a table at the Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market next to that of Maggie's Farm — which is owned and operated by Crawford's son, Nate Peitso — and began selling her wheat berries, whole-grain milled flours and the beautiful breads made from them.
“I've been dreaming about doing this,” Crawford said Wednesday morning, as she wrapped bread after bread in parchment paper. “I feel kind of trippy now.”
Crawford's second trip to the market will be this Sunday at the Hollywood farmers market, and Roan Mills will continue at those two markets every week, until they see how it goes and decide if more are in order.
Roan Mills — “Roan” is a mashup of the names Robert and Andrea, as well as a nicely Celtic name, a valley, a color and a reminder to watch more John Sayles films — grows, harvests, mills and bakes using three varieties of wheat: Glenn, Red Fife and Sonora. The Glenn wheat is a modern variety, and the Red Fife is a heritage variety dating to the 1800s; both are hard red winter wheats. The Sonora, a white winter wheat, is an older heritage variety, possibly the oldest in North America, and has much less gluten than the other two. Roan grows three wheats and has them stone-ground into three corresponding flours, all of which are sold at the markets in $8 4-pound bags.
The breads, including a marvelous baguette made from the Sonora flour and bronzed country rounds made from the Glenn flour, are made from only that flour, salt, water and nothing else — except Crawford's sourdough starter, begun from her own wheat five years ago. (For home cooks and bakers: Crawford suggests using the Sonora flour for pancakes and a combination of the Red Fife and Glenn flours for breads.)
Crawford says that for now she'll be selling her products at the two farmers markets, but eventually the plan is to open a bakery and cafe in Fillmore, near where they grow much of their crops, and where they've recently bought a historic building for that purpose.
At the market on Wednesday, Roan Mills product manager Pete Scherer — better known to many of us as Pete the Baker, the veteran of Lucques and A.O.C. whose stellar croissants and breads have been sorely missed since Storefront closed — said that he's also been thinking about making tortillas with the flour, which sounded almost as good as the baguette we were eating for breakfast as we talked. (Check out the Roan Mills blog for notes and recipes, including soup and wheat berry risotto.)
Note to self and others: Fillmore is only an hour away. In the meantime, you have yet another reason to head to the two best farmers markets in town on a very, very regular basis. (Maybe bring or buy some jam and butter.)
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