Niche grain supplier seeks heirloom wheat

Jade Koyle, of Teton, Idaho, holds bags of einkorn, an ancient relative of wheat. Koyle plans to add a mill to his operation and is seeking producers to raise 700 acres of organic heirloom wheat varieties.

TETON, Idaho — A local supplier of organic specialty grains is building a flour mill and is seeking area farmers to raise about 700 additional acres of heirloom wheat varieties.

Jade Koyle sells seeds and flour made with ancient grains such as einkorn, spelt, millet, quinoa, black chia seed, amaranth and black Nile barley directly to residential customers and commercial buyers through

Koyle is capitalizing on a trend of producers and small businesses doing their own milling or malting and selling specialized grain products directly to customers at a premium, rather than marketing grain as a commodity. His customers buy grain in packages as small as 5 pounds.

“We want to create a regional market here that is based on our ability to service organic growers in the area and help them to get their products off to customers in a package size they can afford,” Koyle said.

Koyle said it’s been increasingly difficult to find mills willing to handle such small volumes of grain, so he’s purchased a stone mill, which he’ll install in his warehouse, capable of grinding up to 100 pounds of seed per hour. He may eventually add a roller mill with a capacity of roughly 400 pounds per hour to process his unbleached all-purpose flour.

Koyle has also started selling home counter-top mills, urging residential buyers to purchase grain to mill at home, thereby extending its shelf life and preventing nutrients from degrading.

“I am a firm believer in ancient whole grains,” said Koyle’s wife, Julie. “I am looking at it from a perspective of feeding my family healthy food, and I think there are a lot of other women like me who are busy, but health is very important to them.”

Koyle said organic wheat is currently selling at a roughly $6-per-bushel premium to commodity wheat, and customers seeking specific heirloom varieties are willing to pay $3 to $4 above the organic premium.

Koyle is in frequent contact with organic buyers seeking specific heirloom grains and since 2014 has helped connect them with area growers willing to raise them. Koyle said there’s demand from buyers to support at least 700 additional acres of organic heirloom grain in his area for planting in the fall of 2018.

While there were more than 25,000 U.S. flour mills about a century ago, today there are roughly 200, controlled by a small group of owners, said Stephen Jones, with the Washington State University Bread Lab in Burlington, Wash.

Lately, however, Jones said there have been “regional mills popping up all over the country,” allowing producers, and even small bakeries, to add value to grain in the same communities it’s raised. Jones said his lab has been working with 20 to 30 groups throughout the country interested in milling grain. In his lab, Jones breeds wheat varieties and evaluates lines from other areas with yield and disease resistance in mind, but he also pays attention to flavor and nutritional value — attributes largely ignored by the commodity system.

“The commodity market demands that wheat looks a certain way and acts a certain way,” Jones said. “If you’re out of that system, it can look however it wants and act however it wants.”

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