By Laura Neff, Education Coordinator
At Native Seeds/SEARCH we are always excited to hear stories involving the arid-adapted crop seeds that were obtained either by sale, or through one of our many seed access programs. In September, Mike Warner, a teacher from Tempe High School in Tempe, Arizona came to us with a story about an ongoing school garden project. Some of the seeds for the project, the White Sonoran Wheat in particular, were purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
(Above: Students from Tempe High School baking bread from White Sonora Wheat harvest)
White Sonora Wheat is a true seed saving success story. Wheat was first introduced to our region via early Spanish expeditions in the 16th century and became the predominant crop among the Pima by the late 1700’s. But as the wheat industry evolved over the last century, Sonora’s pale soft kernel - easy to grind and used as a staple for unleavened tortillas and cakes - fell out of use and was replaced with harder red wheat flours. From just a small amount of seed, NS/S was able to grow out and then provide foundation seed to local growers such as BKW Farms in Marana, San Xavier Food Coop in Tucson, and Avalon Gardens in Tubac. This led to millers, bakers, and chefs having access to this new (old) tasty grain, and together we learned of the health and environmental benefits that come with using heritage grains. We continue to support these enterprises by providing a market for their food products. For example, we offer several heritage wheat products from Ramona Farms in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Gila River Indian Community reservation. Ramona Button and her family are growing wheat, along with Pima varieties of tepary beans and corn, in the same soils where her community has farmed for hundreds of years.
The wheat traveled full circle when Mike and his colleague Jennifer Laurence were able to grow it and teach students how to sow, tend, and harvest it.
“We have four 4ft x 8ft raised beds, two 4ft x 4ft in-ground beds, one 2ft x 8ft in-ground bed that were used last year, with a few more expected to be added this school year. Last year we also grew peas, radishes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, cantaloupe, and watermelon.”
(Above: student kneading/shaping dough)
Once harvested, the wheat was donated to the Great Harvest Bread Company in Tempe and they invited the students to participate in the process of turning wheat into bread. “They got to see how the flour is made from wheat kernels, kneaded the dough, formed the bread, waited for the yeast to do its thing, and then saw the bread dough transform from ‘play dough’ to bread...It was a great experience for the kids.”
(Above: THS student examining and experiencing the freshly baked bread)
Have you grown an NS/S variety this past season? We would love to hear your stories. Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!