Whole grains of the spelt.
The spelt is here. I have been waiting for this day since the summer of 2009. Back then I drove to my Amish friends in Chesterhill, Ohio to get some late season asparagus and stawberries. As I popped over the roller-coaster road that was being slowly strangled by undergrowth, I came to Joe Hirshberger’s sprawling farm.
The hilly panorama around Chesterhill is like a Grant Wood painting. Undulating hills and steep ravines bottom out into small farm ponds used by horses, cows and sheep. Joe’s farm is always worked the old fashioned way; with huge hairy-hoofed horses, carriages, buggies, peach trees, drying timber, sheep, chickens, dogs and steel-wheeled contraptions to capture the oats, wheat, spelt and corn. Barefoot kids in straw hats come and go past my window. Off to my right I see the fields where farmers grow, cut and stack all the corn and grains for the season. Closer in, near the road, some Amish women and kids kneel mosque-style (bad analogy.) They look like big black boulders slowly making thier way along the earthen potato rows.
Brandon in the foreground and Joe in the distance, guiding draft horses as they cut the spelt.
Then I see the Hirshberger house over the next hill, and there’s Joe, guiding four huge draft horses as they pull a cutting device through his field. He’s being followed by a dark haired guy stacking up the bundles that joe has cut.
“That job sucks.” I thought, and got out of my air-conditioned comfort to greet them. Joe halted the horses and flies buzzed around in a moving cloud of chaos. I now regretted getting out of my car, as the air felt like a sauna. A horsefly bit my neck.
“Hi, my name is Brandon,” the dark haired guy said. His shirt was covered in sweat and field debris. “Who are you?’ he asked.
“I’m John, from Avalanche Pizza. Just stopped by to say hi to Joe.” I said, pointing at Joe. I wondered if Brandon was a migant worker. Then realized that I had seen him in the paper. He was that back-to0nature, seed-and-wheat guy who the paper said was bringing back the old-world style connection between local markets and local farmers.
Brandon gathering the spelt after Joe cuts it.
“How do you know Joe?” Brandon asked, just as Joe walked up and shook my hand. Joe’s white collared shirt was soaked but still pulled tight around his neck. His black felt jacket, black pants, and beard were coated with beige wheat debris. Joe had no shoes on, and as he walked around (he never stands still), I cringed at the thought of those sharp 3-inch stalks stabbing my feet like punji sticks.
“Hello John,” Joe said, stroking his long beard.
“I buy some stuff from Joe every so often,” I explained to Brandon.”It’s a hot one, huh?” I said to both, and realized instantly how stupid a question that was.
“Are you interested in this spelt for your pizzas?” Brandon said.
“What’s spelt?” I asked. Both Brandon and Joe looked at each other quizzically then they both laughed. I thought they were gonna fall down in shared hysterics then realized I was standing in a field of spelt.
Well, that’s how this all started.
Spelt “on the vine” from Joe’s farm in Chesterhill, Ohio.
From then on, it’s been a great partnership. Joe Hirshberger still puts up with my ignorance about his religion, plants, vegetables, culture, and farm animals. He has taken a big chance on me and has planted part of his valuable acreage for my handshake promise to use his spelt and corn flour.
Brandon and Michelle Ajamian (His partner in Shagbark Seed and Milling) have come though in spades with their new mill and plans for the future. They have ground this hard-shelled grain fine enough for me to work into a crazy-good nutty pizza dough.
Moist local spelt on the right and the stone ground whole wheat from Con Agra that we had previously used.
This truly local flour has been incorporated into Avalanche Pizza’s menu-mix for a week now. We’ve sold over 100 pounds of spelt pizza crust and breads in seven days!
Thank you Brandon, Michelle and Joe.