BRATTLEBORO—At Eli Rogosa’s farm in Colrain, Mass., einkorn is king.
Rogosa grows the ancient grain, mills it, and bakes bread from it. Her goal is to save the endangered wheat by getting people to eat it, before it disappears forever.
“At least 22 species of wheat are on the brink of extinction. Modern farming obliterated many of them,” says Rogosa.
The intersection of climate change and modern farming could kill off modern wheat, but Rogosa believes einkorn, a traditional, indigenous wheat, will survive.
“Modern wheat is bred to be a high performer for optimal conditions, but with climate change, we need something stronger. Einkorn is stronger. It has a higher yield in organic — not controlled — systems,” she says.
“I want to show that local farms can create sustainable grain systems that are adaptable to climate, but we’re up against midwest grain,” which is cheaper, Rogosa notes.
“Everyone can grow einkorn. You don’t need a farm. You can grow it anywhere,” she says, mentioning schools and small home gardens as two examples.
Even Vermont’s rocky, mountainous soil is no foe for einkorn, says Rogosa, because “einkorn will grow where nothing else will grow. It has a strong root system,” she notes.
As proof, she mentions a farming trial she conducted on World Learning’s land about five years ago: “I got a rocky, low-fertility field, and during the first year, everything failed except einkorn and emmer,” an heirloom wheat.
Rogosa also notes einkorn’s nutritional value is higher than that of modern wheat. “I’m allergic to wheat, but I can eat einkorn,” she says, noting, “It doesn’t make you sick. It doesn’t spike your insulin.”
“Einkorn is twice as nutritious as wheat, and it’s the most digestible form of wheat,” Rogosa says, adding the grain has “24 grams of protein per serving. It’s very high in trace minerals. Modern wheat is fed by fertilizer, which is petro-chemicals. Einkorn, with its larger leaf structure, pulls in its nutrients from the sun."
“The proof” of einkorn, Rogosa says, “is in the flavor.” Bread made from einkorn is rich and nutty, with much more flavor than modern wheat, making it a good platform for sourdough.
The Israel native learned about einkorn by accident, when she was hiking in the Galilee in the northern part of the country. She says, “I saw a beautiful plant growing in the field, shimmering in the light. Nobody could identify it.” It turned out to be a local, wild wheat.
“At the time, I was looking for local wheat — I’m a baker — but I couldn’t find any. I contacted the head of Israel’s gene bank to see about local wheat, and learned the native varieties were on the verge of extinction. Ninety-five percent of wheat in Israel and Palestine is imported” even though the plant originated there, she says.
This inspired her, in the late 1990s, to write a proposal seeking European Union funding for the “Restoring Ancient Wheat” project. It involved cooperation between nations where civility is not often exchanged: Israel, Jordan, and Palestine.
“I got my seeds from befriending farmers in villages,” she says, adding, “all the gene banks gave me plants, and we exchanged data between the different farms."
From this research, she discovered einkorn, its value, and its history. She began collecting seeds from a variety of countries, planted them, and bred the most successful seeds on her Colrain farm.
“Einkorn comes from the ancient goddess grain culture,” Rogosa says, adding, “seeds in traditional cultures were important. Women were important. We were the seed-savers. I learned plant breeding from grandmas."
“Einkorn was planted 12,000-20,000 years ago by the hunter-gatherer people of Goumlbekli Tepe, the Turkish sanctuary” unearthed in an archaeological dig beginning in the mid-1990s, Rogosa says, adding, “it’s the only wheat-type plant eaten in ancient Sumeria."
Rogosa shares a story about matzoh, and the five grains the Torah dictates can be used to make the unleavened bread. “Einkorn is one,” she says, noting “it’s the holy grain of Israel. When the Romans came, they dispersed the Jews, and einkorn was lost."
A few years ago, Rogosa brought some einkorn flour to the Hasidic matzoh-bakers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The result? “They said the flour made ‘superb matzoh,’” she reports.
Rogosa invites the public to come visit her farm, and to contact her for seeds, seed-exchange, and baking demos. From her years of research and collecting, she says, “I have a room full of seeds."
Although Rogosa has spent many years as a researcher and a farmer, she describes herself as a baker, albeit one without a bakery. She bakes at her farm, but currently has no brick-and-mortar shop where she can interact with and educate customers, but that is a goal of hers.
“I just want to feed people,” she says.
Rogosa sells einkorn bread online at growseed.org/einkorn, but, she says, “I’d like to sell directly to people, across the counter. I am looking for a bakery partner. I want to talk to people, not just be represented by a plastic bag on a store shelf.”
This is why, while she sells her einkorn flour at the Brattleboro Food Co-op and Green Fields Market in Greenfield, Mass., she does not sell her bread there.
“You can visit my farm and buy my bread by pre-appointment,” she says.