Going with the grain at Upinngil

  • Harvesting grain at Upinngil. Upinngil

  • Fields of grain at Upinngil in Gill. Upinngill

  • Clifford Hatch harvests wheat with his combine, Upinngil

  • Upingill—

  • Upingill—

  • Toasted sesame whole grain sourdough bread from Upinngil in Gill. Upingill

  • Upingill—

  • A bakery table in the Upinngil Farm Store offers cookies, scones, breads and granola made with the farm’s local flour. Upingill

For the Recorder
Published: 1/29/2020 8:54:11 AM

There aren’t many farmers who grow and mill their own grain in Western Massachusetts. But Clifford Hatch and his family, the farmers behind Upinngil farm in Gill, aren’t your average grower.

“He’s always been an experimental farmer,” said Sorrel Hatch, Clifford Hatch’s daughter. “He’s never satisfied just growing the things that he’s used to growing. He’s always going to grow something new every year.”

Sorrel Hatch was 4 years old when her family began homesteading in Gill. In those early days, her father focused on raising sheep and bees. But Upinngil has shifted countless times over the years. When she graduated from college and returned home to help her father manage the farm, pick-your-own strawberries were the focal point of the business.

Over a decade later, Upinngil now has a full farm store featuring a wide lineup of products from the farm including raw milk, cheese, fruit, vegetables, flowers and baked goods.

With so much going on at the Main Road farm, Hatch is the first to admit that growing grain isn’t exactly the financial backbone of the business.

“It’s not a particularly profitable crop, to be honest,” she said. But Hatch manages the farm’s bakery, Little Red Hen Bakery, and says she has enjoyed watching the popularity of the farm’s bread grow over the years.

“I can’t make enough of it in my little kitchen to meet demand,” she said. “And I really take a lot of pride in the fact that it’s made with usually at least 30 percent of our own whole-grain flour.”

The team at Upinngil grows three types of grains: wheat, rye and buckwheat. They primarily think of buckwheat, Hatch explained, as a cover crop. “Some years, that cover crop does successfully make it to maturity and we get a crop of grain to sell. It’s sort of just an extra little perk if it works out.”

It didn’t work out in 2019.

“The grain has to be standing at full maturity and dry when it’s harvested,” Hatch said. In drier climates, as in the Midwest, that’s typically not a problem. But ‘lodging,’ what farmers call it when a crop gets bent over by weather conditions, is a chronic issue in the unpredictable New England weather. Last summer, heavy rains around the time of the buckwheat harvest knocked the crop down. The lodging was so severe that the harvest was lost and Upinngil couldn’t make buckwheat flour.

Fortunately, wheat grows on a different time line than buckwheat, and Upinngil’s 2019 wheat harvest fared much better than the buckwheat. Upinngil grows primarily winter wheat varieties, which are planted in the fall.

“They overwinter in the ground. So in the fall they come up and look like grass, like a very sparse lawn,” Hatch explained. That winter coverage plays an important role in the farm’s soil health. When the rains come in the spring and the soil defrosts, “you can have a lot of erosion if you didn’t plant a cover crop,” she continued.

Having already established itself the previous fall, the wheat takes off quickly in the spring. “It looks like a beautiful field of green grass,” Hatch said.

In June, the plant flowers. It’s essential that the weather remains dry during this growth stage. Wet conditions can allow a fungus called Fusarium graminearum to flourish in the developing grain. This fungus produces a mycotoxin known as vomitoxin, which can make humans sick. Upinngil has its grain tested by a lab at the University of Vermont each year to make sure it is safe for consumption before they mill it and put it on the shelves for sale.

Last July, Upinngil took advantage of a well-timed dry spell and pulled in a great wheat harvest. Since the summer, Sorrel and the team has been milling the grain into flour. They sell the whole grain flour in the farm store and use it in their baked goods.

Cold January mornings make for a great time to bake a warm treat. So, search out some locally grown flour at a local farm store (such as the store at Upinngil) and try out a recipe from the Upinngil kitchen: whole grain maple walnut scones.

Noah Baustin is the communications coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).

How to connect

Upinngil’​​​​​​s products can be purchased at the farm’s store at 411 Main Road in Gill, which is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the year. The store accepts cash, personal checks, credit cards, SNAP and HIP. Upinggil's bakery, Little Red Hen Bakery, makes bread daily showcasing the farm's grain.

According to a flier about the bread schedule, Upinngil bakes sunflower seed sourdough, turmeric and herb sourdough, garlic sage and maple oat breads on Mondays; toasted sesame sourdough and cranberry walnut sourdough breads on Tuesdays; pumpernickel rye sourdough, sunflower seed sourdough and multi-grain sourdough breads on Wednesdays; toasted sesame sourdough and five-grain breads on Thursdays; wheat and rye sourdough, cinnamon raisin and brioche on Fridays; and toasted sesame sourdough breads on Saturdays. Sourdough breads are out of the oven by 11 a.m.; other breads are out by 2 p.m.

Notably, Hatch will be on vacation from Feb. 11 to Feb. 26. Bread will not be available during this period, according to the flier, which was updated Jan. 24. For more information, visit Upinngil’s website, upinngil.com.

Whole grain maple walnut scones

Makes 16 medium-small scones​​​​​​​. Recipe by Sorrel Hatch.

2 cups whole grain wheat flour, 1½ cups white all-purpose flour

1½ tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup (4 oz.) cold butter

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

¾ cup fresh milk

½ cup pure maple syrup

1 egg​​​​​​​

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With pastry cutter or stand mixer with paddle attachment, work in the butter until it’s in coarse crumbs and no bigger than pea-size chunks.

Stir in walnuts.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup and egg until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or grease lightly.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead briefly (about 10 times) with well-floured hands. Divide in half. Form each into round discs 6” across. Spritz or brush lightly with water, sprinkle on dry maple sugar or coarse turbinado sugar. Cut into 8 wedges. Freeze up to a month if desired.

Preheat oven to 350F. Divide rounds and space wedges out on baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


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