by Sharon Johnson
As “keepers of the seed,” Shelley and Tony Spruit of Against The Grain Farms (www.againstthegrainfarms.ca) in Winchester are gathering non-modified heritage seeds from around the world. They are located just one hour south of Ottawa and are local pioneers working at the leading edge of heritage grain growing and seed restoration. The Spruits’ mission is to re-establish the grain economy by producing locally available grains.
The Spruits have dedicated the last five years to growing and testing seed that will thrive in our local weather and soil conditions because fertile heritage grain seeds have been virtually unobtainable. Shelley draws on 30 years of farming experience and marvels that “this new venture started with just 250 grams each of five different varieties.” With careful seed bulking, this spring’s planting includes four acres of Purple Ethiopian barley, two acres of Tibetan barley and four acres of Brazilian Lavras wheat.
Their highly nutritious grains like Purple Ethiopian barley, Red Spanish Flint corn, Purple Powered corn, and French Acadian buckwheat are as beautiful as they are tasty. This year, test growing will include einkorn, an ancient grain with low gluten content.
The Spruits’ seeds are grown without glyphosates (a suspected carcinogen), unnecessary chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Grains are grown, harvested and stored on the farm to keep them free from cross-contamination.
The seed stewardship of the Spruits enables the field-to-table principles of agroecology to be a workable alternative to the environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and social injustices of current global food systems. The Spruits’ focus is to create sustainable produce that can directly contribute to the health of the local communities in which they grow. And that means us!
Farmers know that climate change means that sustainable food supplies will depend on having crops able to adapt to local soil, weather and growing conditions. Additionally, Shelley Spruit counsels that, “true food security and sustainability will also vitally depend on building partnerships between local food suppliers, retailers and consumers.”
So what can we do as concerned citizens and consumers?
Fortunately for Glebe residents, one easy-action answer is located at our neighbourhood McKeen Metro. Against the Grain Farms’ products are now available in store along with some recipes created by Shelley Spruit. What’s more, in early autumn the store will be featuring sample tastings on one of its customer appreciation days (the first Saturday of every month).
McKeen Metro has “always been ahead of the curve in featuring local food producers and organic foods alongside the mainstream options,” affirms Rebecca McKeen, the newest generation director/owner. The “local source” signs throughout the store flag this commitment, making it easy for consumers to find the many “amazing local gems” now available.
With justifiable pride, McKeen notes that, “the store’s longstanding reputation as a launching point for many local producers means I don’t have to outsource anymore.” In fact, a highlight for her job comes, “in seeing the success of other small businesses because of bringing their products into the store.”
McKeen sums up the benefits of local agroecology partnerships like that of McKeen Metro and Against The Grain Farms: “Supporting local businesses supports our local economy so that our community is stronger and healthier, financially, socially and physically.”
However, as Shelley Spruit cautions, food security is not simply about having well-stocked grocery shelves. By buying and eating local foods, we consumers are important partners in ensuring that the food systems in our area remain vibrant.
It’s clear the three-way partnerships of local food suppliers, sellers and consumers are vital to the physical, social and environmental well-being of us all.
Sharon Johnson, fibre artist and writer, is a longstanding Glebe resident who shops as locally as possible.