Draft horses supplied the power for sowing and harvesting a wheat crop at Central Point's historic Hanley Farm.
The resulting flour empowered a community to explore its agricultural past and the feasibility of restoring those traditions in the future.
"I think it's going to be the start of something a whole lot bigger," says Bob Russell, co-owner of Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point.
One stop on the wheat's journey from field to foodstuff, Butte Creek Mill has converted about 1,500 pounds of the grain into whole-wheat flour. The 2-pound sacks of "Hanley Farm Horsepower Flour" are stocked at a half-dozen local retailers, just in time for holiday baking and gift-giving. Sales benefit Southern Oregon Historical Society.
"It is incredible flour," says Mary Shaw, culinary educator at Ashland Food Co-op. "It's so fresh."
The flour combines several entities' efforts over nearly a year. SOHS provided 2 acres of land at its 37-acre Hanley Farm. Members of Southern Oregon Draft and Harness Association volunteered their time and horses' labor in February, July and September to plow, plant and harvest the wheat — a hard, red variety called "Hank."
After Hanley Farm's public threshing demonstration using a circa-1930s, tractor-driven machine, the Grange Co-op donated its services to winnow the grain. Butte Creek Mill also volunteered its facility for milling and packaging. Retailers — in addition to Hanley Farm, the Grange and the Mill — are Ashland Food Co-op, Jacksonville Mercantile and Rogue Creamery. Prices range from $3.99 to $5.99, depending on the store.
"It's a beautiful Christmas gift," says Shaw, adding that she's wrapping up homemade preserves and biscuit recipes to accompany sacks of the flour for family and friends.
Although it isn't certified organic, the flour is labeled "naturally grown." Hanley Farm uses no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, a management decision the SOHS board of directors handed down several years ago, says Allison Weiss, the nonprofit organization's executive director.
Hanley Farm has grown fruits and vegetables and produced eggs to sell at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market over the past three years. This is the farm's first field crop in its history as a nonprofit operation.
"This turned out to be one that was very marketable," Weiss says. "It's been really well-received."
It's too soon to say whether Hanley Farm will repeat the effort next year, Weiss says, but the flour could be a model for future SOHS projects, which could include specialty foods. The flour is expected to raise at least $3,000 for the society.
More than a fundraiser, the flour represents an important piece of the local food system, says Maud Powell, agent for the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center's small farms program in Central Point. Southern Oregon has numerous and promising sources of vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products. But grain, a significant local crop a century or more ago, challenges farmers to produce it on a small scale, Powell says.
"We're looking at ways to bring it back," she says. "We see grain as kind of a missing link."
The Extension next year will hold eight classes in small-scale grain production, funded by a USDA grant. Two local farms will grow trial crops to help researchers determine which varieties would be most viable in Southern Oregon, Powell says. Most agricultural studies address climates in the Willamette Valley — wetter than Southern Oregon — and drier areas east of the Cascades, she adds.
At stake is the wheat's protein content, which coincides with gluten levels. Adequate gluten is vital to traditional methods of baking, particularly with yeast. Extension research indicates that Southern Oregon can produce wheat that meets the needs of artisan bakers, Powell says.
Sample biscuits containing Horsepower Flour Thursday, 4 to 6 p.m., at Ashland Food Co-op. The Co-op also will use the flour to bake holiday quick breads, available for sampling at the store from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 19. Or try the following recipes.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.