Flour Power

Local farm mills heritage wheat

The room is sparkling clean and seems to be hermetically sealed from the outside world. This is Crystal Green Farms’ milling room. It holds the only flour operation in PEI growing and milling heritage Red Fife wheat.

Brian and Kathy MacKay are proud of what they’ve accomplished. Their interest in organic farming was the inspiration to start providing flour, which is turning out to be an economic boost for the farm.

Red Fife is one of the oldest varieties in North America. Brian said it has a lot of good characteristics. “We like it because as it is a heritage wheat, it is fairly disease-resistant so organically it works nicely, and customers like because it comes from a time when wheat was wheat.”

Red Fife isn’t red. It’s golden like most wheat. No wheat is native to Canada; this one travelled from afar. Perhaps Poland, but no one is sure. Its named for David Fife who first grew it in the 1850s in the red soil of Peterborough, Ontario. Now considered a heritage wheat, Red Fife was the standard baking and milling wheat in Canada from 1860 until the turn of the last century.

Brian and Kathy both come from family farm backgrounds and for them organic farming is a way of life. The decision to go from conventional to organic was an easy one: they didn’t like what was happening to soils and they believe in the organic principle of feeding the soil, not the plant. The MacKays say that healthy soil equals healthy plants and healthy eaters.

Kathy and Brian MacKay of Crystal Green Farms.//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Crystal Green Farms has nearly 200 acres in certified organic production. Currently, much of the land is rented. Brian said there is a lot of interest from seasonal Islanders to have their land certified organic, which gives the farm plenty of land to lease.

The flour is part of their CSA. Local companies are using it too: the Hand Pie Company in Borden uses it in its pastries and Angel McKann of True Loaf Bakery uses their product in her sourdough loaves.

“I really like the Red Fife flavour with my sourdough and also that the mileage on the flour is shorter,” McKann said. “I use their whole Red Fife wheat flour in about six of my sourdough breads. I also use Kelly Cheverie’s rye flour which he farms organically and mills for me here in the Island. Crystal Green’s flour is nice and fresh and has a wonderful nutty flavour.”

 

Milling flour in the clean room.//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

“Red Fife was the standard wheat for a long time,” Kathy said. “Compared to newer varieties you don’t get as much yield per acre, but customers are telling us they find it easier to digest.”

SunWest Food Laboratories in Saskatoon has found that Red Fife doesn’t have a lower total gluten content than other varieties of bread wheat, however; there is evidence to suggest that the gliadin protein level is lower than other bread flours. Wheat gluten’s insoluble proteins are gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is 35 per cent of Fife’s overall gluten protein compared to 80 per cent gliadin protein levels found in other varieties. Reaction to gliadin may account for non-celiac gluten/wheat sensitivity.

The mill the MacKays use is a compact machine that sits inside the clean room. It is a stone mill and the stones are encased inside a wooden cabinet and hopper. It can make 90 kilos of flour an hour. Originally made in Germany, the MacKays got it from a baker in New Brunswick who was retiring.

“We did it the farmer way,” Kathy said. “We traded the baker some straw for the mill.”

Currently Crystal Green Farms’ Red Fife flour is only sold on PEI. With the upcoming launch of new packaging and Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s official inspection, export can start for their newly designed flour and pre-made mixes.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also like writing about food. Go figure.

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