Sustainable Food: Rhode Island Rye

Rhode Island, the littlest state with a highly agrarian populace, is making a new case for sustainable food: Rye flour. Rye is a typical cover crop for not only the numerous small and mid- size farms, homesteads and community gardens of Li'l Rhody, but it is also an impressively tasty grain.

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service states, "Cover crops could be considered the backbone of any annual cropping system that seeks to be sustainable." Cover crops perform a number of benefits including:

  • using the soil for a viable crop over winter
  • fixing nitrogen into the soil (which has been taken up from the previous years' crops
  • conserving water
  • protecting the soil from erosion
  • and offering an early start to beneficial insect activity (bees, butterflies or ladybugs)

Much of Rhode Island falls in hardiness zone 6 which provides humid, hot summers and dry, bitter cold and often very windy winters (-10F low). Using a cover crop is a mainstay activity of even the smallest community plot. The cover crop is either harvested, composted or turned into the soil as "green manure" in the spring, depending on what it is. In any case, it extends the season to an almost year-round system.

The EcoRI newsletter announced that Schartner Farms of Exeter, Rhode Island is now harvesting their winter rye and milling it for flour.  This simple act provides more local grains to bakeries; one of the most popular bakeries in the state, Seven Stars, is now using the rye in their extremely popular rye bread, tying local foods even closer to home.

Shartner will soon start producing wheat to be milled as well, allowing Rhode Islanders to access two incredibly important home-grown grains into their pantries. Currently, the grains are milled at Kenyon’s Grist Mill in the hamlet of Usquepaug which is well- known for its local, historical and traditional Johnny Cake mixes.

Kenyon's Grist Mill says, "We are the oldest operating manufacturing business in Rhode Island.  Although our current building dates back to 1886, we've been grinding meals & flours on site since 1696.  Our single pass grinding process is between two, very large Westerly, Rhode Island granite millstones.  This method of grinding continues to withstand the test of time to be the health conscious choice."

Schartner Farms is no slouch when it comes to historical significance in the area: Founded in 1902, Schartner Farms is a 150 acre farm which offers a full produce department with fresh and farm- grown produce as well as  deli and cheese departments, fresh baked goods, our own line of jams and gourmet items, a gift shop, nursery and greenhouse. Now they can add flour to their list of accomplishments as well as include themselves in the sustainable food movement.

Photo credit: Schartner Farms Webiste