Once considered the region’s breadbasket, New York State saw its grain farms and mills vanish when Midwest agribusiness started churning out cheap commodity wheat. The Greenmarket, which for nearly 40 years has operated farmers markets throughout the city, recently set out to do for grain what it’s already done for vegetable farms, orchards, dairies and even wineries.
“Our Greenmarket Regional Grain Initiative works with regional
farmers to devote more acreage to growing grains,” said Marcel Van Ooyen,
executive director of GrowNYC, which runs the Greenmarket. “Creating
partnerships to get their harvest into the hands of bakers, pasta makers,
distillers—and now brewers—helps their businesses scale up.” As demand
grows, farmers can afford grain cleaners, driers and threshers, rather than
make do with old tools found in the backs of barns.
Greenmarket Wheat was born of Governor Cuomo’s 2012 Farm Brewery
License legislation, which aims to get more craft breweries using local
ingredients, lets locavore beer be sold at farmers markets, and was modeled
on the 1976 “Farm Winery Act,” which spurred the growth of New York
wines. After the law passed last summer, Greenmarket’s June Russell teamed
up with Brooklyn Brewery on an all-local beer. “We have been brewing for
25 years now,” said Steve Hindy, co-founder and president of Brooklyn
Brewery, “and one of the most exciting new developments is the availability
of wheat, barley and hops grown by farmers in the region.”
Those local grains ferment with upstate wildflower honey as well as
another local ingredient that only recently became available: malt. Until
2010, this essential brewing ingredient had to be imported from Canada
or Europe. But as more local farmers have replanted grain and interest
from home brewers and microbreweries has grown, one woman decided
our region needed its own maltster. Andrea Stanley opened Valley Malt
in Hadley, Massachusetts, and now supplies locavore barley and other
malting grains for an array of brewers.
She says the raw materials make her work easy. “There is a quality to
the grains coming from New York that you will not get anywhere else.
This culture of farmland stewardship and attention to healthy soil…creates
complex flavors in the grain that come all the way through into our
malts and into the beer. You just do not get that from commodity malt.”
New York Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine said, “With
Greenmarket Wheat, we see the direct results of this legislation firsthand,
and they are outstanding. A new, New York craft beer has been born.”
Greenmarket Wheat is poured at Riverpark and sold on Wednesdays and
Saturdays at Union Square, $10 per 750ml bottle.