By Hannah Pioske – [email protected]

Amy Halloran, St. John’s McCarthy Center Scholar-in-Residence, began her journey toward regional grain with a cookie.

In her book “The New Bread Basket,” Halloran writes that her husband once brought her a cookie­—a cookie made with locally milled heritage wheat—that was so good that she had to learn more about how it was made. In the process of learning more about this one cookie, she discovered the burgeoning regional grains movement.

This week, she brought that expertise to St. John’s as the McCarthy Center’s Scholar-in-Residence. Over the course of the past week, Halloran has headlined a plethora of talks and luncheons at the McCarthy Center, from a TedTalk Tuesday about feeding the world to a workshop on how to make sourdough breads.

Running through the events was Halloran’s passion for local grain—the farmers who grow it, the millers who process it and the bakers and brewers who make our bread and beer with it.

Many people don’t think about the flour they put into their breads, cookies and cakes. Even at farmer’s markets, the majority of baked goods are made with conventionally grown and milled flours. Halloran—along with students at CSB/SJU—want people to change the way they think about grain.

CSB seniors Alison Hall and Lauren Stille have been researching emmer, a type of heritage wheat, for the past two years, and think that diversifying the grains in our bread basket has the potential to be hugely beneficial.

“The regional grain movement is bringing more attention to small wheat farmers and encourages consumers to think differently about where they source their wheat,” Hall said via e-mail. “It offers consumers a gateway to food that is cultivated in a more direct and honest manner than other mass-produced conventional wheat.”

[Emmer] may actually be better for us—[it] contains extra fiber, vitamin A, zinc and many heritage grains have less gluten than conventional wheat.

All of this begs the question: how can college students, with their limited time and resources, support local farmers and millers?

“I don’t like the idea of ‘voting with your fork’ because it basically suggests that you can shop your way to a better universe,” Halloran said. “That’s not really accurate—we need to fund our way to a better universe.”

Unlike local and organic produce, grains need to be processed before they can be made into flour, baked goods or beer. Local flour requires local mills, and mills can be very expensive to open and maintain. Halloran emphasized the importance of finding ways to support local mills like Freeport’s Swany White Flour Mill or the Twin Cities’ Sunrise Flour Mill.

“Student power is tremendous,” Halloran said, suggesting that students should identify a point of entry and focus their efforts there.

“Maybe you convince the dining hall to make muffins with local flour for Earth Day or maybe you start a baking club with regionally grown and milled flour and donate what you make to a local food shelf,” Halloran said.

Either way, she encourages interested students to get involved with the regional grain movement—and reap the benefits.