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Local | Fall Quarterly 2018

Mendocino Complex Fire Threatens Local Grain Economy

Rebekah Staub, Marketing Communications Specialist

Since 2012, Beck’s Bakery has supplied the Co-op, local farmers markets and surrounding restaurants with baked goods made with locally grown whole grains. The owner, Rhonda Wiedenbeck, also features locally-grown wheats and flours in our Bulk Department bins, including Stone Milled Whole Grain Rye, Soft White Wheat (also known as pastry flour), and Hard Red Wheat. 

Recently, however, Rhonda and her business were in jeopardy as the largest wildfire in California’s history, the Mendocino Complex Fire, reached more than 400,000 acres in Colusa, Glenn, Lake and Mendocino counties. John LaBoyteaux, one of the farmers who supplies her with rye grain, had to evacuate his farm in Upper Lake, California, leaving his crops, equipment, home and livelihood behind. Below is Rhonda’s story, as told through her social media post on August 15 and reprinted here with her permission.

It has been a nail biter of a harvest season. Farmer John was evacuated from his Upper Lake, California home due to fires. He had just finished harvesting the Gazelle rye and was about to proceed with the Hollis wheat. A couple days into the evacuation he got word that one of his ready-to-harvest fields was plowed under—ripe wheat is fuel for fire. He couldn't get answers about which field. He thought it might be the Khorasan and other test plots of ancient grains. We hoped it wasn't the Hollis. Hollis is a hard-red wheat, we use it to make our whole grain crackers, sourdough whole wheat and our honey whole wheat (aka 100% Local Whole Wheat) breads. It is a big part of our baking program here at Beck's Bakery. Meanwhile, the Hindley’s in the Mattole were getting ready to harvest. Their Hollis was looking gorgeous! No yellow bellies—an indication of low protein common on the coast due to wet spring planting seasons. 

We were down to our last 400 pounds of wheat. Laurence Hindley had to help set up for the Humboldt County Fair. He also works seven days a week at his tractor repair shop. Fingers crossed that he could harvest and clean grain before we ran out. Our ace in the hole was Alchemy Distillery. Amy and Steve usually have a back stock of grain. If we are desperate, they have grain from Adam's. It is organic and grown in the Central Valley of California. 

John got the all clear to go back home on August 8th. All his fields were still standing! Even the ancient grains. He started to harvest immediately. 
Laurence got his fields harvested, too! I'm texting with Lisa Hindley about timing of the delivery (Laurence doesn't do cell phones). We are expecting the first of the season wheat on Saturday. We will be making bread with it next week. 

This is what a local grain economy looks like! Please help me to thank all the players in this wonderful network of hardworking people that have worked tirelessly to get this amazing product to your table and glass. It takes a village to create this! 

According to Cal Fire, the cause of the Mendocino Complex Fire, which started July 27, is still under investigation. The devastating blaze killed one firefighter and injured three others. It also destroyed 280 structures, 157 of them residences. Family members of one of Rhonda’s bakery staff were among those who lost their home to the fire.

Despite the delay and uncertainty of this harvest season, the resilience of local farmers is already evident. The Co-op in Arcata received wheat berries and wheat flour from 2018 Hollis (hard red wheat variety) grown by Hindley Ranch in the Mattole Valley the first week in September. In addition, the Hollis (hard red wheat) that was almost destroyed by the fire in Upper Lake will soon be available in both Co-op’s Bulk Departments after it is milled at Beck’s Bakery. Rhonda said it is possible the Lake County Hollis grain will have a smoky aroma and a nutty, smoky flavor, not only emitting essences unique to the area, but proving to us just how different local products can taste. 

“You’d never expect the fire to reach us,” she said. “But this has hit us. We can't take our fledgling local grain for granted.”

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