Of the Earth: Farm Feast CSA distribution brings healthy grains to locals

  • Becky Ashenden and John Leni Marcy of Fabric of Life in Shelburne load up on oats at the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Share distribution recently. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt

  • Ben Lester, the founder of Farm Feast, prepares a pita made with freshly ground Einkorn wheat at the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Share distribution recently. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt


For the Recorder
Published: 2/5/2019 3:09:35 PM

As I was standing in line at the annual Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Share distribution, one of several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs organized by Farm Feast, I noticed John Leni Marcy and Becky Ashenden of Shelburne sliding scoop after scoop of oats into a bag.

On this single-digit Saturday in January, the shareholder line snaked out the open barn door at Brookside Farm in South Amherst, as Marcy and Ashenden finished up their oat collection at an impressive 25 pounds.

Were they feeding a horse?

“Granola for breakfast. We love it,” Ashenden explained. “It will last us, what, a month, John?

“If that,” Marcy replied.

The Farm Feast CSA distribution model is one of a kind. Its three programs are specialized and focused — as focused as the dozens of heritage grain shareholders appeared to be as they hovered over sacks and bins of 20-something fresh varieties of ancient grains and beans. Distributions happen just once a year in each of four locations — Amherst and Lincoln, Mass., Westchester, N.Y., and Simsbury, Conn.

For 2018, a full share cost $395, and entitled the shareholder to 90 to 100 pounds of a mix of 15 grains and beans along with seven stone-ground flours. Half shares are also available. The program sold out last year.

The group also runs a Rice Share CSA program based out of Vermont, and a Farmer’s Pantry, which includes a range of largely value-added goods such as preserves.

Ben Lester, who used to own the popular Wheatberry Bakery Café in Amherst, is the founder of Farm Feast. For years, he said, he belonged to more traditional CSAs, but always wanted to see the same model applied to the heirloom grains that were so important to his livelihood. So, he did it himself, first as a grower and then as an organizer.

“It really takes a community,” Lester said as he threw a fresh pita on the grill for a waiting shareholder. The pita, made from fresh Einkorn wheat flour, was then topped with yellow-eyed bean hummus.

Farm Feast has come to involve six farms including Stan White’s farm in Hardwick and Allan Zuchowski’s farm in Hadley. Zuchowski is the group’s lead farmer.

Many of Farm Feast’s shareholders seem to have far more than a passing affiliation with Farm Feast and with the particular vision that the CSA presents — healthy cooking, heritage ingredients, heritage skills and local self-reliance. Marcy, a photographer, and Ashenden, a weaver, are involved in running the Shelburne-based “Fabric of Life” program that offers workshops in a range of traditional skills, from music and fabric arts, to timber frame construction.

“Ben is really big on creating community,” said Anya Jacobs, who was helping staff the distribution.

In April, Lester is scheduled to publish “Harvesting Tradition,” a book including “200 pages of full-color photographs, recipes and stories about all of the people involved in bringing heirloom and ancient grains and beans to you in the Heritage Grain CSA.”

Here is just one of those recipes. Others are available on the Farm Feast website at localgrain.org.

Pita Breads Greek Style

According to Lester, pure fresh-ground Einkorn wheat makes a golden yellow flour that is fine and soft. While the dough is a little more tender and sticky than a modern wheat dough, making it a bit harder to handle, its incredible flavor and soft tender texture is well worth the extra effort.

The most important consideration when baking pitas is not to over-bake or under-bake them. They should be just set at an internal temperature of 195 to 200 degrees.


1 lb. 5 oz. Einkorn flour (or other wheat flour)

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. instant yeast

2 cups water

Mix the flour with the salt and yeast. Then mix the water in with the dry ingredients using a spoon.

Allow the dough mixture to rise at least 30 percent in volume before using. After the initial rise, limit further rising by keeping the dough under refrigeration. This mixture will be good to use for up to one week if refrigerated.

Scoop half a cup to one cup of dough, depending on the desired size and thickness of the pita. Roll it out to 5 to 8 inches wide and ¼- to 1/8-inch thick. Thicker pitas can be patted into shape with the palm of your hand, or for thinner pitas, a rolling pin works best.

Use plenty of flour when patting or rolling your dough so it doesn’t get stuck. You can always brush off the excess flour after baking.

Bake the pitas for one to two minutes per side on a hot griddle, in an oven at 300 to 500 degrees or over some charcoal on the grill.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.

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