The Farmer Across the Road
Note from Peter: I’ve been corresponding recently with a fascinating guy name Bruce Vetter, a retired motorcycle builder who is now a passionate whole grain bread baker. I asked him if he’d be willing to share some of his unique personal story with our viewers and he sent me this photo essay. I’m hoping he’ll keep sending us contributions like this — he represents a rare breed of good old fashioned non-conformists who make life interesting for everyone around them. Enjoy!
When I was 14 I began to lead my life with a process of continual learning. I’ve always had great passion for whatever I may be learning and being 68 now I have a lifetime of learning under my belt. These last 2-3 years I’ve turned my attention to learning to bake whole wheat bread, which is far more difficult than I expected. I have 6 grand children and I want them to understand that processed food is not normal. I want them to know there is a better way to eat.
My goal is to bake 100% whole wheat bread that would be the bread of choice of my entire family. Using store bought whole wheat flour was a convenient option but I wanted more control over the type of wheat used, the methods of farming and processing, and the length of storage before I get it.
Initially I started ordering winter hard white and red wheat berries from Idaho, shipped in on pallets. The wheat was packaged for the long term in 6 gallon buckets. I also needed to be able to grind my own grain in large volume while limiting the amount of heat imparted to the flour.
The above 2 grinding mills operate either independently, or, the top one delivers it’s coarse product through the maroon conduit to the lower mill for final milling. This limits and controls the amount of heat delivered to the final flour. Each mill will produce 6-8 lbs of flour per hour. (shown with belt guards removed)
The farmer across the road grows wheat and I asked him if I could purchase a full grain wagon. This amounted to 200 bushels (the product of 5 acres) weighing 14,000 lbs. The cost was $0.10/pound or $1,400. It was a lot of wheat and I was excited. I wanted to get my grain from as close to the grower as possible. The wheat from Idaho, by the way, cost $0.75/lb counting shipping.
I have several local friends that think like me, so we shared this wheat by packaging it in my shop purged with Nitrogen and sealed in Mylar bags with Oxygen absorbers all within 5-6 gallon plastic buckets. In total we packed 344 buckets of wheat .
To test if there is sufficient Nitrogen, we use a flame over the bag. If the flame goes out we have enough Nitrogen and the bag is sealed.
Counting everything but my labor, the cost of a bucket full of wheat is 8-9 dollars. This is 1/3 of what I kept, the rest being distributed among other local home bakers. Each bucket will take me 1-2 weeks to use up, from baking bread to rolling wheat for cereal and pancakes.
Until I read Peter’s book “Whole Grain Breads” every loaf I would bake was like a dense brick. Using his pre-fermenting process of soakers and bigas, now it looks the way proper bread should look: And the flavor and taste is my families favorite.
My grand children are being taught what’s required to bake the loaf of bread they eat for dinner. They grind the grain too and when they do I call them my “Grain Children”.
I bake bread in a wood burning oven during the winters and a gas oven when the weather is warm. I store about 13 cords of sawmill sawed deciduous wood, mostly oak measuring 6″ X 8″, stored in 40 large stackable wire metal baskets; each basket holds 800-1,000 lbs of wood with a volume of 1/3 cord. Each basket is color coded with a tag delineating the harvest date so I can better judge the seasoning. I have found that from when it is green until it is seasoned the wood will loose 17% of it’s mass through moisture loss. I like this method of storage because the wood continues to air dry, does not rot, and with a forklift I can “plug” a basket into a slot right next to my stove just like an audio cassette. I have limited handling, the biggest chore involving heating/cooking with wood. During the coldest weather a full basket will last 7-9 days.
During the winter months my wood oven is hot 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but is only big enough for a single loaf at a time. I’m planning to make an earthen/clay outdoor wood fired oven capable of baking 4 loaves of whole wheat bread at a time. I’m really excited.
All this work and effort just to create this? One may ask if it’s worth it and to that I can only respond with an emphatic old guy “YES”.
By the way, I buy corn from this same farmer too. In this case I just drive into his field and he fills me up. My family is also fond of cornbread but that’s another story. (This image is not staged or altered, Farmer Tom can really do this.)
Recent Articles by Bruce Vetter
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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.
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I found the above questions and answers really fascinating. It’s way beyond anything I’ve ever done yet totally absorbing. Thank you Bruce for bringing such passion to your work and thanks to all of you who wrote in comments and questions. I’m in awe!
I’m in manufacturing myself so have access to a small lathe; you’re right this should be no problem. I will likely get setup for the spring wheat harvest. Appreciate the info.
A few more of my notes to share-
I have found that the optimal qty is 4 loaves at a time, usually using a 4x recipe from Whole Grain breads. The normal kitchen aid mixer will handle 4x the Biga and 4x the soaker. (I am looking for a 30qt Hobart though) The next
Day I cut them both in half (by weight) for the final mix in 2 batches. Makes 2x 27oz loaves and 2x 42oz loaves. I Freeze 2 loaves, give one away to spread the bread love and eat the other, obviously. No problem fitting all 4 in a 36″ wood fired low vault tuscan pompeii oven. Usually make pizza the night before bread (think carb over-load, and I’m not fat…yet) and 24hrs later the oven is still at 400ish without firing.
One last question on milling/storage of wheat berries. How do you manage the moisture of the berries? Is there an optimal moisture? Do you dry them some how or just collaborate with the farmer to time the harvest right?
Why can’t they just be stored in a mini silo? Oxygen packets are expensive! (7$ for each 5gal bucket!!)
Maybe one more… Have you found an ideal non GMO’d strain of wheat for delayed fermentation? Experimented with sprouted wheat flour?