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Anarchy Acres' Heritage Wheat Goes Against the Grain

Aug. 1, 2017
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Charlie Tennessen of Anarchy Acres

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, from 1840 to 1880, one-sixth of the wheat grown in the United States came from Wisconsin. As today’s good food pendulum continues to shift and people rediscover Old World artisan baking, farmers like Charlie Tennessen of Anarchy Acres stand ready to supply them with true heritage wheat.

Tennessen’s interest in Wisconsin’s heritage wheat came from a baking hobby. “When you bake, you go through a lot of cookbooks, and I eventually came across a book that advised you to grind your own wheat,” he recalled. “I started grinding back in the 1990s with a grinder from a Lehman’s catalogue.”

He experimented with heritage grains on his homestead in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and in 2008, his grew his first grain crop, Turkey Red. Staying true to Old World methods, Tennessen cut and threshed the wheat by hand and then cleaned it and ground it in his machine. He’s been upping the ante since then. Today he grows Turkey Red, Red Fife and Marquis wheat on rented acreage and offers those varieties for purchase. He also experiments with other types of grains on his four-acre homestead, on which he farms with donkeys and manual farming equipment.

Being a Wisconsinite, Tennessen was interested in wheat historically grown here. He focuses on red wheat and gets samples of seeds through seed banks, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Small Grains Collection and the Australian Winter Cereals Collection.

“I was very interested in Marquis because it was a dominant wheat back in the 1920s,” he said. “Over two-thirds of wheat grown in Wisconsin was Marquis. I was able to find commercial quantities from a farmer in Canada, so I bought a couple bushels. Last year at this time, we were harvesting what I’m pretty sure was the first harvest of Marquis wheat in Wisconsin since the 1950s.”

Seeds from the seed bank can take four to five years to grow out and produce enough wheat to sell. Tennessen uses organic growing methods, including crop rotation and composting. He grinds flour as it is ordered, using a stone ground mill that he built himself.

A large portion of his customer base is the home baker. He also sells wheat berries (or kernels) for people to grind themselves, plant or use in recipes such as tabbouleh salad. All the wheat grown on Anarchy Acres works well as all-purpose flours and can be used in breads, pizza crust, cookies and pasta.

Heritage wheat retains more fiber and nutrition, since commercial milling practices focus on extracting just the starch and throw out healthy vitamins and trace minerals. By law, those producers have to put the vitamins back in; hence the term “enriched” that appears on many supermarket flour bags. Tennessen noted that those with gluten allergies or intolerances may also do better with heritage wheat, since the ratio of glutenin to gliadin, the two main protein groups of gluten, is different in heritage wheat than in modern wheat.

One of Tennessen’s recent experiments on his test lot is Red May, an English wheat that dates back to1690. “Everyone deserves good-tasting food that’s local and grown responsibly. It’s a different flavor, and I’m hoping that I’m bringing it back to the marketplace.”

Anarchy Acres flour is available at Outpost Natural Foods, Piggly Wiggly in Racine, Molbeck’s Health & Spice Shop in Racine, or online and at the farm.

For more information, visit anarchyacres.com.

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