Red Fife wheat is a heritage wheat that just may be the saving grace for people who are gluten intolerant. Since it is billed as gluten for the gluten-free, it seems only fitting for this article to follow last week’s column on the joys of baking with yeast. The story of Red Fife is a story of taking back control of what we eat and making healthy choices.
I like stories that, like fairy tales, end with happily ever after. This is such a story. Red Fife wheat is helping to breathe new life into Greenfield Mills of Howe, Indiana. It was just a year ago that I wrote an article on this flour mill that has been in the Rinkel family for over 100 years and is sustained by generating its own hydro-electric power. At that time it was on the verge of closing its doors as it was succumbing to modern technology.
Happily, today there is a whole new scenario. Dave Rinkel, the fourth generation of his family to head the mill, has taken a leap of faith and partnered with Heritage Grains LLC of Ossian, Indiana. Instead of the “For Sale” sign in front of the mill, there will be a construction sign as Dave is planning a $3.4 million new mill. This partnership is committed to promoting Red Fife wheat, which is also the basic reason for the new mill.
There has been a revolution, so to speak, in wheat consumption. The number of people who cannot eat wheat without major health issues is increasing by the day. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat. It helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together and causes the dough to rise. The real culprit that is making people sick is gliadin, which is one of two types of protein that make up the components of gluten in wheat.
Jim Martindale, general manager of Heritage Grains, explains, “Gliadin was not present in heritage or older wheat varieties. Over the past 50 years, hybridization of the wheat grain has taken place to increase crop yield and lengthen shelf life. To achieve this, gliadin was added to the grain. The higher concentration of this protein has made wheat less digestible, which is what is referred to as gluten-intolerant.”
To make matters worse, gliadin is an excito-toxin that is any substance, when ingested, causes the neural endings in the brain to fire uncontrollably. In other words, it makes people feel hungry all the time, and they keep eating when they are not even hungry. Dave adds, “Our food sources are mineral depleted and not nutrient-dense. People aren’t getting nourished well so they eat and eat and hunger has nothing to do with it.”
This is where Red Fife wheat enters the picture. Technically, it is not gluten-free, but it does have a lower gluten content than other wheat varieties. It contains a form of gluten that most people can digest easily, even those who are gluten-intolerant.
Red Fife originated in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, in 1842. Ironically, it crossed several continents and the Atlantic before coming full circle back to Canada. It gained a foothold in the land of David Fife, hence its name. Many modern varieties can be traced back to this heritage grain. It is also versatile as it can be planted as a spring or winter wheat and can be red or white depending on the genetic interactions with environmental conditions.
Red Fife is what brought Greenfield Mills and Heritage Grains together. “To make a quality flour you need quality wheat and a quality milling facility. I have the mill and Jim can provide the Red Fife,” Dave explains. “We have it all in a neat bundle from start to finish.”
Heritage Grains is an Indiana-based group of farmers who banded together to produce a good quality crop locally. They are a core group who are all shareholders and collectively decide what the group’s protocol should be to maintain a certain level of standards and quality. Jim is emphatic. “We are always looking for new farmers to join us but they have to strictly adhere to our rules and regulations," he says. "That is the only way we can guarantee a quality crop.”
One of the strict rules is that the acreage the Red Fife is grown on has to be free of the glyphosate chemical, more commonly known as Roundup, both directly and for a set number of years prior to planting the wheat. It is estimated that 80 percent of this chemical remains in the upper plant and goes into our food supply. In recent years the level of permissible glyphosates has increased by 300 percent!
Jim’s role is to help the farmers maintain these standards and offer assistance when problems arise. Although these are strict standards to adhere to, it pays off in the end because Red Fife commands a higher price per bushel than other wheat. Thus, farmers can make the same profit off less acreage.
This collaboration was born about a year and a half ago when Jim contacted Dave about milling the Red Fife that Heritage Grains was producing. Dave says, “I believe that when people realize Red Fife is the best of both the worlds of taste and nutrition that the market for its flour is going to explode. I want to be ready and be a part of that.”
Dave hopes to have the new mill up and running within a year. It will be able to produce three semi loads, or 60 tons, of Red Fife flour daily and will be processing four semi loads of wheat daily.
Jim and Dave both agree that their biggest challenge is getting people to try the Red Fife. As with anything new, people are sometimes reluctant. Dave emphasizes, “This is a flour that tastes good, is good for you and can be used anywhere 'traditional' flour is used. Once people get educated they will create the demand.”
They are looking to expand on both ends of the spectrum. Anyone interested in growing Red Fife can contact Jim at 260-415-7374. The flour is available at the mill, and any bakeries involved in gluten-free production and would like to incorporate Red Fife into their products may contact Dave at 260-367-2394.
Maybe it’s time to do something good for ourselves, and that starts at the core of eating healthier. Give Red Fife flour a try and get the best of both worlds, good taste and good nutrition.