North Bay chefs and growers have long been at the forefront of the movement to eat local, championing the return to the table of heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef.
Nowadays, the farmers are starting to grow grains like rye, farro and wheat as well, providing chefs with whole-grain, freshly milled flours for their breads and pasta.
"Grains are the logical next step," said Debra Walton of Canvas Ranch in Two Rock. "We're really moving totally local, from vegetables and meat to grain and breads and beer."
Walton fell in love with farro — an ancient grain believed to be one of the original strains of cultivated wheat — while attending Slow Food's 2009 Terra Madre conference in Italy.
Back at home, Walton did research and discovered that the grain had been commonly grown in the Two Rock region back in the 1800s.
"Mostly they were growing it for livestock, but also for the San Francisco market," she said. "As the railroads came West, cheaper grains from places like Nebraska made it so it didn't make much sense to grow it here."
A few years ago, Walton started growing farro, which she sells to local chefs like Austin Perkins of Nick's Cove in Marshall and Bruce Riezenman of Park 121 Cafe in Sonoma.
"The fun thing is to put it into a minestrone soup, and that's what I eat all winter," Walton said. "We grow heirloom beans as well, so between the grain and the legumes, it makes a complete diet."
Canvas Ranch also grows rye for bread baking and golden flax seed, which is high in nutrition and Omega-3 fatty acids.
"The golden flax sold out immediately," she said. "People are really into that."
Beyond the health benefits and the fresh flavor, farmers are attracted to the sheer beauty of the golden waves of grain.
"I have an emotional attachment to a field of grain," said Peter Buckley, who owns Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg with his wife, Mimi. "But it's also a very flexible crop. It can feed people or animals, and it keeps well."
With the goal of creating a diversified farm, Buckley bought the 110-acre ranch three years ago, pulling out 55 acres of vineyards on the valley floor.
While researching wheat, he came across a website created by Bob Klein, owner of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland. Klein founded Community Grains in 2007 with the goal of creating a local grain economy and producing flours with flavor.
With Klein's help, Buckley planted a couple of varieties of wheat for seed use only, including Senatore Cappelli, a heritage variety that was recently reintroduced.
In 2011, Front Porch Farm planted its first crop of wheat on 10 acres. Like other grain growers on the North Coast, Buckley enlisted the help of Doug Mosel of Ukiah to help harvest it.
"Bob had already started to revive wheat growing, so he had a harvester and a seed cleaner," Buckley said.
Mosel is one of three farmers growing grain at the Nelson Family Vineyard near Ukiah as part of the Mendocino Grain Project. He also organized The North Coast Grain Growers, a support group that now boasts about 100 members, from growers to bakers.
"It's really a remarkable story, when I think about what happened in just four years," Mosel said. "I can only image what we might see in five years hence."