I had the wonderful and unique opportunity to visit Huasna Valley Farm on Tuesday with a few other members of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers group. The farm is a beautiful piece of paradise run by the charming and hospitable Skinner family. It is located about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles in the pristine countryside outside the village of Arroyo Grande. I was the first to arrive at the farm and was greeted by a child’s hand-drawn note wired to the gate, welcoming me inside and politely asking me to shut the gate behind my car. Ron and Jenn Skinner waved as I pulled up next to the combine and gave me my first glimpse at their approximately 10 acres of organic heirloom Sonora Wheat fields, gently rustling in the morning breeze.
The other Bread Bakers had not yet arrived so Jenn and I drove up the lane to their house so we could check the answering machine (to make sure nobody got lost on the way) and to load my order of wheat and barley into the Prius. She and Ron had already prepackaged my 15 lbs of Sonora Wheat berries, 15 lbs of ground Sonora Wheat flour, and 10 lbs of Ethiopian Blue Barley. I got excited when she showed me the oats they had grown and rolled themselves and so I added a nearly-full 10 lb bag onto my order, encouraged by Jenn’s suggestion that I’d be able to find a KitchenAid attachment to roll the oats.
Jenn and Ron’s daughter Linnea joined us on our stroll back down to where Ron was looking for a misplaced farming implement (he found it), and we picked some fresh blackberries on the way. The other Bread Bakers had arrived in our absence so we all gathered in one of the wheat fields to learn about how they first started growing the wheat as organic feed for their hens, which they were raising for eggs. After doing an economic analysis, however, they realized they could make a higher profit selling the wheat directly rather than feeding it to the hens and selling the eggs. Lucky for us!
Ron taught us how to thresh a head of wheat by hand, rubbing the grains against our palms to free the wheat berries and passing them from hand to hand to allow the breeze to blow the chaff away. We thoughtfully chewed on our handfuls of wheat berries, working them down into a wad of pure gluten as he described the organic farming method they are using this year to battle unwanted weeds and improve the soil. They have introduced a beneficial plant (technically a weed, but a helpful kind) called Black Medic amongst the wheat in their fields. Medic is a low-growing plant that fixes nitrogen into the soil, prevents other more troublesome weeds from establishing themselves, doesn’t compete with the tall wheat stalks, and doesn’t interfere with the harvesting process. We also had the chance to learn all about how their vintage combine works, which was incredible. Unfortunately, the video I took of the combine tour came out with way too much background noise. Note to self: buy a proper microphone.
We were invited to stay for a delicious lunch consisting of build-your-own omelettes (with vegetables picked fresh from the garden and eggs from the hens), a salad carefully assembled by Ron and Jenn’s son Kyle, and a dessert of Sonora Wheat biscuits made by Linnea and topped with fresh whipped cream and blackberries. After that it was pretty hard to leave, but I was excited to get home and try out some recipes with my new flour.
My first attempt at a 100% Sonora Whole Wheat loaf didn’t turn out quite as planned. The rough grind of the flour was delightful to the touch but didn’t allow the gluten to develop very much, so my dough hardly rose at all. Undeterred, I made crackers out the dough instead. In a second attempt at making bread I used a combination of organic bread flour and the Sonora Whole Wheat. It turned out beautifully, and made for an incredible sandwich.
Thank you so much to Huasna Valley Farm for having us! If you want to learn more about Sonora Wheat and our trip to the farm, visit Erik Knutzen’s blog.
Until next time,