A good Action Step for building up your food storage is to find a good source of wheat and stock up. A reader in the past made the comment that buying wheat from feed stores was a bad idea because of pesticides. I (Lisa) wanted to check that out for myself, so first, I made a few calls to local feed stores. Surprisingly, only two carried “feed wheat”, and neither could say for sure that it was pesticide-free. One store went so far as to check with their supplier to see if I could get “organic” wheat, but it wasn’t available.
My next step was to talk with an actual wheat farmer in Idaho. I’ve purchased a couple hundred pounds of wheat directly from him and wanted to hear what he had to say about the use of pesticides and the storage of feed wheat. Turns out, he was quite talkative!
Not surprisingly, he said that farmers will only use pesticides when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s an additional cost that cuts into their profit margin. He told me about an incident a few years ago when grasshoppers invaded his farm, consuming 20 square feet of wheat every day for weeks. His only choice was to use a pesticide, which he limited to only the perimeter of his fields, hoping to kill any new grasshoppers intent on eating the ripening wheat. Ultimately, the insects consumed 40% of his crop.
He mentioned that some neighboring farmers chose to spray their entire fields with pesticides.
I asked about the use of fungicides, and again, this is an expense farmers want to avoid but often can’t. Apparently, there was a problem with wheat leaf frost last year that required many farmers to spray fungicide over their fields. However, typically a fungicide is sprayed early in the season, before the head of the wheat has had a chance to ripen. Once the wheat is ripe, any traces of the chemical is undetectable.
According to this farmer, the cost of cleaning wheat properly is very expensive. The equipment he owns cost more than $75,000. Not only is the equipment expensive, but the cleaning process takes a lot of time. Again, farmers have to be mindful of the costs involved with producing their wheat, so unless the wheat has to be thoroughly cleaned, it won’t be. Feed wheat, that is, wheat sold as animal feed, isn’t cleaned nearly as well as wheat intended for human consumption.
Actually, cleaning feed wheat can be counter-productive because there are things like chaff that are actually good for animals. Some cleaning is necessary, of course, because dirt, insects, and insect parts must be removed before the wheat is shipped and sold. Cleaning the wheat at any level, however, doesn’t remove herbicides or pesticides.
The question still remained, is it smart to buy feed wheat for food storage? This farmer stated, “People who do that are nuts!” Here’s his explanation.
Not only is feed wheat not cleaned nearly as well as wheat for human consumption, it is also likely to be a combination of wheats from many different farms. It’s possible that a grain silo might contain a hundred or more different varieties of wheat. When it comes to actually using the wheat for food, there’s no way to guarantee what the make-up will be or how much protein or gluten the “blended wheat” contains. This is his pet peeve. He said that at least half of the companies who sell wheat in buckets and bags sell “blended wheat” and to look for that phrase on their labels.
So? What is a prepper to do when it comes to buying feed wheat? One suggestion from this farmer is to talk with the feed store owners and find out as much as possible about where their wheat comes from, how it’s treated and how it’s cleaned. There will probably be no guarantee that it’s pesticide-free unless it’s from a certified organic farm. Azure Standard is one such source, and you’ll find others online with a simple Google search for “organic wheat”. You won’t be paying $15 for 50 pounds, however.
As with anything else we do, be guided by common sense and reliable information.
Wheat is a big thing in the prepper community, and rightly so. It stores well, is versatile, and the stuff you can make with it tastes good. As such, endless discussions have taken place about the merits of one variety over another. White or red? Hard or soft? Winter or Spring?
Each kind has its own characteristics that make it well-suited for one purpose or another. This is why in addition to white flour and whole wheat flour, one can also purchase cake flour, bread flour, and pastry flour at the super market. But I am not going to talk about the differences between the modern varieties of wheat.
Instead, let’s explore some of the older “heirloom” varieties of wheat for a moment. There exists a growing interest in – and availability of – heirloom wheat. I’ve had a couple of people ask me what’s so special about it, and whether they could stock up on spelt and emmer in lieu of hard white winter wheat. I’ve mostly found that modern wheat has been selectively bred and improved for some very good reasons, and that often you won’t get as good results with your baking with other varieties of wheat unless you are really familiar with what each kind of wheat is supposed to be for. Example: Hard wheat, being higher in gluten, is better for bread, whereas it is difficult to get a good rise out of lower-gluten soft wheat. That said, heirloom wheats have many good qualities that make them something to consider.
I’m using the term “heirloom” pretty loosely. I mostly mean any variety of wheat that’s not Triticum aestivum, the species of wheat most commonly grown in the United States. I say “mostly,” because White Sonora is an unimproved cultivar of T. aestivum, but is classified as an “heirloom” variety by Baker Creek seeds.
Wheat has a long and storied history, inextricably tied to the history of civilization. People have been growing wheat on purpose since around 5,000 BC, although the stuff that has been found in the pyramids is not the stuff that they use to make the bread you buy at the grocery store. Modern wheat, like all of our food crops and domestic livestock, has been selectively bred by humans to exhibit certain desired characteristics. In wheat this means more protein, greater drought tolerence, etc. In contrast, “heirloom” wheat varieties have come down through the ages largely unchanged. As an example, Emmer wheat cultivated today is virtually identical to examples of the grain that have been recovered from archaeological digs in the Middle East.
(T. turgidum) Also known as “Pharoah’s Wheat,” because it is known to have been cultivated in Ancient Egypt. Emmer is higher in fiber than modern wheat, and is known for its resistance to disease and its ability to grow well in nutrient-poor soil. It is used for making bread and beer, but it is reported to make very poor pasta. Some people report that food made from emmer wheat can be consumed by people with gluten sensitivities, although this is disputed. Seeds to grow your very own patch of emmer wheat in your garden can be found at Baker Creek Seeds.
(T. monococcum) Einkorn is not suitable for bread, as it lacks the needed characteristics for a good rise. As such, it’s mostly eaten as bulgur, or as whole-grain porridge. It is considered to be exceedingly nutritious, being higher in protein than modern red wheat. It is also a good source of potassium and phosphorous. Einkorn has slowly, but surely, become more readily available. Just take a look at all these Einkorn products on Amazon, alone!
(T. spelta) Spelt is not as high in gluten as other wheat varieties, but just enough to make it suitable for baking. It’s often cooked as farro and added to soups or salads. (The term “farro” refers more to the way a grain is cooked rather than the particular variety, although Emmer and Einkorn are often classified as types of farro.) Organic farmers tend to like growing spelt because it requires less fertilizer.
(T. aestivum) I will admit that I don’t have personal experience with this particular type of wheat, so I can’t personally vouch for it, although it’s something I definitely want to try. I include White Sonora on my list of heirloom wheat varieties because I’ve heard so many other people swoon over its heirloom-ness.
It has an interesting history: It was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers in the 1600s, making it the first kind of wheat to be grown in the western hemisphere. White Sonora makes a stretchy dough that is excellent for making flour tortillas. This is another variety available from Baker Creek, should you feel inclined to grow some in your backyard.
That is a good question. As I said before, speaking in general terms, humans improved wheat for a reason. Modern wheat is best suited for the kinds of foods we find most desirable. Whole wheat bread made from hard white wheat is much lighter and has a more tender crumb compared to bread made from red wheat, which is quite dense.
Wheat grown in the 19th century would grow to be about four feet tall, but thanks to what is termed “The Green Revolution,” modern wheat only grows about 18 inches high. This is an advantage because the energy the plant would have used to make the stalk instead goes into the seed head, causing an increase in yield. Another trait found in modern wheat but not in older varieties is a non-shattering rachis, meaning the grains stick to the seed head until threshed instead of falling out to be lost in the field prior to harvest. More on this subject can be found in An Edible History of Humanity, which makes a fascinating read.
If you haven’t already considered exploration of heirloom wheat varieties, I hope you will think about it. Why not try this tasty and educational recipe for Ancient Eyptian-style bread, which calls for emmer wheat? I tried it out with my kids, and though I didn’t have any emmer immediately at hand, it turned out just as well by using spelt.