|Toki Oshima drawing
By Eric Rector
I began baking bread for the Belfast Farmers’ Market in 2008. At that time Maine-grown grain was a novelty, and I could regularly source Maine-grown whole-wheat flour from only one vendor: Aurora Mills in Linneus (near Houlton in Aroostook County). My sourdough recipe calls for half organic white bread flour (for “loft”) and half organic whole-wheat flour (for flavor). Locally grown and ground organic white flour was not and still is not available because the specific milling equipment for that doesn’t exist in Maine yet. (Some Maine processors will sometimes send Maine grain to a roller-mill in another state, but the organic white flour produced is not normally sold to third parties.)
In 2008 I paid $0.75 per pound for the commodity (world-sourced) organic white bread flour and $1.25 per pound for the local organic whole-wheat flour. I could have paid close to $0.75 per pound at the time for organic whole-wheat flour if I had bought it as a commodity product. I had no problem paying extra for the local flour because it tasted so good, and my customers who paid extra for my bread agreed that it was worth the extra price.
Since 2008 the commodity market in grains has gone through an upheaval due to many factors, the major one being climate change in important grain growing regions. Prices have risen considerably. However, during this same time the local grain market – which has never “plugged-in” to the commodity market – has expanded considerably, and now multiple sources sell Maine-grown and -ground grains. In September 2014 I was paying $1.59 per pound or more for my commodity organic white bread flour, and $0.69 per pound for my local organic whole-wheat flour.
Yes, I have had to raise my bread prices since 2008 – not because the local flour is so expensive, but because the commodity white flour has become more expensive!
Eric Rector is president of the Maine Cheese Guild and owner of/cheese-maker at Monroe Cheese Studio in Monroe, Maine. He is a past president of MOFGA.