Grain, bread, community

750-pound mobile stone mill in convention's Exhibit Hall turns ancient grains into flour for communion bread

By Sharon Tillman
Posted Jul 10, 2018

The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff, president and chair of Honoré Farm and Mill, is recruiting new Growers Guild members to expand the network of farmers, millers, bakers and churches who grow, produce and ultimately benefit from heirloom grains. The flour produced from the grain is stone-ground into flour and used to bake communion breads and wafers. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The reasons why bread baked from ancient grains are so much better for the body, and the Body of Christ, are simply that “these are the same grains that Jesus ate,” said the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff, an agricultural chaplain with the Episcopal Church and founder of Honoré Farm and Mill. “This bread is life-giving.”

These are the grains attendees of the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas, are receiving at Eucharist each day. The honey and whole wheat communion bread is baked fresh daily at Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden, a 10-minute walk from the convention center. The wheat was grown on local Texas farms and stone-milled into flour at Barton Springs Mill in Dripping Springs, Texas, about 20 miles west of Austin.

Grains farmed by Honoré Farm and Mill Growers Guild members is baked early every morning into communion bread for the 79th General Convention. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

This is the second General Convention that has offered Honoré Farm and Mill Growers Guild grain breads.

DeRuff has created a nonprofit national network called the Growers Guild based in Marin County, California, that she sees as “farming our spiritual values” by “reknitting communities and bringing the church back into a relationship with farmers, millers, and bakers.” The Growers Guild is at the heart of DeRuff’s vision for bringing the ancient grains she and others grow to the communities that Episcopal churches serve.

There is an educational component to DeRuff’s work as well. Honoré Farm and Mill is hosting its inaugural Growers Guild Conference in May 2019. They are inviting “champions” for ancient grains from across the church to learn how to build their own farming, milling, baking and church community. Each champion will take back what they’ve learned and plant the seeds of the guild in their community.

Children also benefit from DeRuff’s teaching. On Tuesday, July 10, children at convention got a hands-on lesson in heirloom grains and milling at the Honoré booth in the Exhibit Hall. A 750-pound mobile stone mill, custom-built for Honoré Farm, is on the Exhibit Hall floor. It can grind about 50 pounds of flour an hour. The children learned about the growing, milling and baking processes; the advantages to eating ancient grains; and the benefits to the earth and environment, according to DeRuff.

Intrigued by heirloom grains, DeRuff started growing ancient varieties in 2011. As an agricultural chaplain, she explores the intersection of food, land and faith, and conducts research, writes, teaches, preaches and consults with congregations around the country. Early on, DeRuff started a program called “Wheat Wednesdays,” an educational program at Bayside MLK Academy in Marin City, California. The after-school program taught the children about farming, sustainability, and nutrition.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

Building community is a large part of the Honoré mission. The first community planting was at the Bishop’s Ranch, a 63-acre retreat center owned by the Diocese of California in Sonoma County, in 2014. Volunteers plant and later harvest the wheat that is used to source the flour. The Honoré Growers Guild has since expanded to include farmers, millers, bakers and churches in Texas, Kentucky and Western Michigan. Increasing the guild’s numbers is DeRuff’s mission at convention. Guild members produce the flour and other merchandise Honoré sells to support its mission.

A map on the side of the trailer that makes up half of the Honoré booth space is covered in sticky notes with names of churches, farms, and others interested in becoming part of, or learning more about, the guild and the products they produce. The plan, DeRuff said, “is to GPS the locations” to help document the growth of the guild.

Churches become guild members by purchasing flour shares. When a church joins the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), “freshly stone milled flour will be delivered four times a year directly to your church. Heirloom, stone-milled flour is very digestible, so people with gluten sensitivity (but not celiac disease) find they can once again enjoy bread. This flour is like nothing you’ve tasted: it’s slightly sweet, nutty and truly a superior flour to commercial flour,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

Bread and communion wafers made from these ancient grains offer nutritional and environmental benefits. Because the heirloom, 100-percent whole grain flour is organically grown and stone-milled, it retains the nutritional value of all its parts: the germ, endosperm and bran. Grain milled by stone has a low glycemic index and contains healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, gut-healthy bran microbes, and B vitamins, according to DeRuff. Industrial roller milling strips the grain into its three components, and the resulting white flour consists only of the endosperm, where the starch and gluten are found.

The current structure of industrial farming, has “decimated the grain market,” said DeRuff, adding that growers use modern, proprietary seeds owned by large agricultural corporations that strip the soil of nutrients and require the use of pesticides. Ancient grains, however, are open-source seeds that promote “seed sovereignty,” have deeper roots that enrich the soil in which they grow and require less water to flourish.

DeRuff has a 750-pound mobile stone mill on the floor of the Exhibit Hall. She is using it to demonstrate the process of turning the ancient grains the Growers Guild farm into flour. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

The practice of farming, stone-milling, baking and offering goods made from these ancient grains, including the Sonora and Turkey Red grains used in the General Convention communion bread, nourishes the body, the soul, and the earth by providing better-for-you food, building community, and sequestering carbon in the soil, which enhances sustainability.

Honoré Farm and Mill is a nonprofit national network of farmers, millers, bakers and churches. It is named for Honoratus of Amiens or St. Honoré, who is the patron saint of boulangers/bread bakers, communion bread bakers, and flour merchants. He lived in sixth-century France and was known as a humble and generous man, always pictured with a baker’s peel.

– Sharon Tillman is a freelance writer for Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (6)

  1. Jewels Wolf says:

    The concept is commendable and efforts put forth by this organization laudable. The problem I see is the cost of these natural products prices people who need them the most out of the market. Is the being addressed? There is no doubt in my mind that ancient whole grains are the ideal, but until the economy of our nation changes drastically these will not be foods that the average worker, let alone the poor can afford.

  2. Kim Watson says:

    I buy flour for church and home from Honoré and it’s expensive. As more and more people buy healthy wheat, more farmers will convert their crops and prices will fall. Some churches with land grow this crop and bake bread for the community. Ten years ago, organic produce was only for the wealthy; now you can buy it in Costco. We can be at the front of change.

  3. Eleanor Connors says:

    There may be much about this produce that is good, but I have no desire to spend a large amount of money on something because “it’s better for the Body of Christ” because it’s what Jesus ate. I’m not even going to get into whether or not Jesus actually ate the same grains they are selling, but to say it’s better for the sacrament, rather misses the point of Eucharist, in my very humble opinion.

    1. I completely agree, the sacraments are a mystery. Unfortunately, how modern wheat is farmed, patented, and processed is also a mystery which prevents consumers from seeing the damage modern wheat is causing. When we peel back the layers of industrialized flour it is destructive to Creation (soil and water degradation and the emission of green house gases to name just a few), exploits our farmers financially because replanting seeds from one’s harvest is illegal, and the processing system stripes the grain of its inherent nutrients. While we do sell flour for churches that are looking for an alternative to industrially produced communion bread, we are more interested in opening up a conversation around the meaning of the Eucharist, how that relates to how our communion bread is made, and what it means to us as individuals and as a Church. We also recognize that the flour we sell is expensive, and that because of that it is not within reach for some congregations. Unfortunately, that price is determined by the high costs that go into producing grain more ethically—costs that are usually externalized to farmers and the land. As a non-profit, we are committed to making our flour affordable to as many congregations as possible, though the work to lower prices may take quite some time.

  4. Brian Smith says:

    It would be interesting to study this communion bread on people with gluten intolerance. In the movie “What’s With Wheat,” some people with gluten intolerance claim that they have no problems when ancient grains are used.

    1. We don’t have scientific proof, and the results are obviously individualized, but many people with gluten issues have been eating products made from this wheat without any trouble for the past seven years. The variety of wheat matters as does the stone milling and organic farming practices.

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