Paths of grower, baker join to feed local food craze
By MITCH LIES
TANGENT, Ore. -- A serendipitous call from a seed and grain farmer to a Portland-area baker has resulted in a bread made almost entirely from locally grown ingredients.
According to the Milwaukie, Ore., baker NatureBake, 95 percent of the ingredients of the Oregon Grains bread that it unveiled last December are grown from inside 100 miles of its headquarters.
The bread can be found in Fred Meyer, New Seasons markets and several Portland-area food cooperatives.
The creation of Oregon Grains can be traced to a blog from Portland reporter Mark Niemann-Ross, who wrote about trying the 100-mile diet made famous by Canadian writers Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon.
Niemann-Ross found it hard to find locally grown bread.
After reading the blog, Shobi Dahl, CEO of NatureBake, started working on Oregon Grains.
"When the inspiration for this bread came, I knew we had to pursue it," Dahl said. "It fits in with who we want to be as a company. And Portlanders, myself included, simply adore local products."
Dahl quickly discovered, however, that it was difficult to find locally grown grains that can be used for making bread.
Not until Tangent, Ore., grass seed and grain farmer Willow Coberly called Dahl did the effort take root.
Coberly, it turns out, was on a similar path 90 miles south of Dahl. She had been trying unsuccessfully to interest Corvallis markets in locally grown whole grain.
"I sold a few pounds here and there," she said, "but mostly no one wanted to buy whole grain."
Coberly called NatureBake after seeing the company's phone number on a loaf of Dave's Killer Bread, which is run by Shobi Dahl's uncle, Dave Dahl.
"I figured they were local and I wondered if they'd be interested in purchasing a locally grown product," Coberly said.
At the time, Coberly had about 20 acres planted to hard red spring wheat on the 6,000-acre Stalford Seed Farms she runs with her husband, Harry Stalford.
Breads are made from hard red wheats, not the soft white wheats commonly produced in the valley.
Coberly said she planted the hard red wheat before learning from Oregon State University extension agents that hard reds don't grow well in the cold, wet Willamette valley.
By that time, it was too late, she said. The wheat was already growing.
While the hard red wheat isn't performing as well as soft white wheat, it is doing well enough to keep Coberly interested.
Coberly expects to yield 40 bushels per acre in the hard reds, which she is growing under organic standards, versus the 120 to 150 bushels per acre she can get from soft white wheats grown under traditional production methods.
Hard red wheats grown here also can't match the 14 to 15 percent protein levels typical from hard reds grown in Montana, the top hard red wheat state in the Western U.S.
"Ours are typically coming in at about 12 or 12.5 percent," Coberly said.
Lower transportation costs, however, and market appeal from the locally grown organic movement, could help Coberly compete with Montana wheat, she said.
Today the farm has about 100 acres dedicated to producing the organic hard red wheat used by NatureBake.
In addition to wheat, NatureBake is buying flax and oats from Coberly's Stalford Seed Farms and from the Corvallis farms A2R and Harry MacCormack's Sunbow Farm. The three farms make up Willamette Seed and Grain.
The grain is milled at Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie, Ore.
NatureBake purchases honey from Olsen Honey Farms in Albany, Ore.
Coberly said she eventually would like to have 1,500 acres dedicated to organic hard red wheat on the farm, but increasing the acreage has been difficult, she said.
"Incorporating an organic food farm in the middle of a conventional ryegrass farm is problematic," she said. "But I'm completely committed to it.
"We are proud to be a part of this," she said, "and to have that fantastic bread come out of this grain.
"I'm really impressed with what NatureBake has done," she said.