A grain gathering

The West Midlands Grain Network met for the first time this month. Farmers, millers and bakers with an interest in rethinking how grain is grown, processed and consumed in the region attended. Three of the Loaf team went along to be part of the discussion, and to see how we can help make a fairer and better system for everyone, at every stage of the process.

Similar networks have been emerging around the country in recent years – see the Britain & Ireland Community Grains Association Grain Map – but until now the West Midlands had no dedicated network of its own.

Mill Farm near Worcester, which we visited back in September 2021, hosted the event. It was great to catch up with Jonathan and Emma again, as well as a few other familiar faces from events such as UK Grain Lab and Matthews Cotswold Flour’s Soil, Stone and Sourdough.

It’s really encouraging to meet other bakers working in this area, to see how they’re working with locally grown and milled flour, and also to find people coming up against the same obstacles we are. Challenges such as how we transport, store and process the grains while still keeping our products accessible and affordable, for example.

Working with local and heritage grains is something Loaf wants to do more of. It helps us reduce the food miles of our products, supports local farmers, millers and the local grain economy, improves the traceability of our ingredients, and enables us to build direct connections between our bread and the land the grain was grown on.

Using a more diverse range of heritage grains and wheats, alongside farming methods that rely less on chemical inputs, is also of great benefit to the environment – and our diets.

All this comes at a cost, however. Current systems favour mass marketing of flour for lower costs, greater consistency of product and ready availability. As a relatively small bakery in a Birmingham suburb, we’re heavily reliant on some of these things. But, hopefully, working with the WM Grain Network will help us see a way forward that’s better for people at every stage of the process, from farmer to consumer.

Big thanks to Heloise, Emma and Savannah for organising the meeting, and to Jonathan for hosting. This was a great first step towards making good things happen, and we’re looking forward to the next time we can all get together.

Photo by Heloise Trott

Our interest in how and where our grain is farmed informs the whole of Loaf’s business, but surfaces particularly in our Heritage Grains and Wholegrain Baking classes. And when you’re in the bakery, look out for any specials marked “Heritage”.