The relationships we sustain with our community members are deeply important to us at Community Grains. And we must admit – we know some pretty spectacular people, and we want you to know them, too.
Today we are highlighting one of our farmer partners, Full Belly Farm. In addition to being local superheroes, the folks at Full Belly cultivate some of the tastiest, most ecologically sound small-scale wheat we’ve ever tried. Here’s why.
Full Belly Farm is located in the beautiful Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento, origin of some of the state’s highest-quality organic produce. With the valley’s alluvial soil and gentle California weather, Full Belly is able to grow year-round on their 350 carefully-stewarded acres, raising more than 80 crops, from nuts to berries to fruit trees to vegetables.
Hallie Muller, one of Full Belly’s co-owners, describes their philosophy as a whole-systems approach: “every action must be made with purpose, thought, and consideration of the impact it will have on the long-term sustainability of our farm.” This extends far beyond their farming practices. Thanks to their diligent focus on hiring long-term, year-round employees, paying a living wage, and creating personal relationships with their customers, Full Belly has become a center of community in the Capay Valley. And in the civic sphere, Full Belly’s co-owners have been strong public advocates for policies supporting long-term ecological thinking and creating access to land for young and beginning farmers.
We asked Paul Muller, one of the four co-owners of Full Belly, to answer a few questions for us about his experience growing grain on a small scale.
How did you get started growing wheat?
We realized that there weren’t a lot of people growing wheat at the farmer’s market, and so there was probably a market for fresh-milled wheat. Early on we decided to grow landrace varieties, which have a pedigree that we’ve coevolved with.
Landrace wheat will produce half, or less, than a modern variety, but we still like it because it has a great story. And we can explore the character of the wheat, its nutritional profile, and its flavor, palatability, and digestibility.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered?
Growing wheat raises a lot of “downstream” questions: how do you harvest it? How to clean it? How to store it? The first crop we ever grew, over 30 years ago, was a 10-acre wheat crop. We tried to grow it organically, and we made no money at all! Now we have a better harvester and planter; and we’ve found ways to clean it, store it, de-hull it, and mill it. In the span of 12-14 years, we’ve integrated, on a small scale, the pieces that we need to grow these grains.
How do growing grains fit into your vision of sustainability?
We’re employing practices that keep the soil healthy, that build fertility and replace nutrients. We grow a lot of cover crops that fix carbon and nitrogen. We try to look at the micronutrient balance, keeping calcium in the soil. A well-balanced, healthy soil reduces diseases and insect attack. Grains fit into this picture because they allow the ground to rest. And they allow the soil to dry out completely – this is an important part of the soil’s life cycle.
Full Belly Farm’s Durum-Iraq wheat is currently being featured in our Identity Preserved Fettuccine. It’s a limited-run batch so get it while it lasts!