Apples and Ancient Grains

Apples and Ancient Grains

Jun 19 , 2020

A while ago I finally got a chance to read one of the Heifer International magazines in my pile of mags. On this little reading spree I saw reference to a book called A Precautionary Tale, about how a small town in the South Tirol region of Italy, very near where Italy, Switzerland and Austria all meet, banded together and banned pesticides. The action resulted from the encroachment of what author Paul Ackerman-Leist calls Big Apple in the book- commercial apple orchard operations spreading throughout the Vinschgau Valley.

Without giving away the whole plot of this book (I would recommend a read), I decided to use our blog post this week to highlight some fascinating history the author recounts. In the chapter Frozen, he tells the story of how scientists have been able to nail down where that character many of us learned as The Iceman, or Otzi, by analyzing the contents of his gut. This story leads up to the chapter Seeds, in which a South Tirolean couple become seed savers, and in which the author discusses traditional grains of the region from an historical bread baking perspective.

I learned a lot. In fact, Ackerman-Leist suggests: "It might be worth reading twice: Until the latter half of the 20th century, South Tirolean farmers traditionally baked bread only two or three times a year. Maybe four." The reason? The stuff was so hard, it could break your teeth if not dipped in liquid first. Most common grains in the Upper Vinschgau valley were rye and spelt, with the addition of barley, buckwheat, emmer, einkorn, millet, oats, and some wheat. I will save the best part of the story- how the bread was cut- to you to read, but this part of the book really made me think about grains- and how wheat, much like the apples in book, has become so ubiquitous in places it doesn't grow. Ah, modern times!

So what does this book have to do with my job, or with Gem City Fine Foods? I have been thinking a lot while reading, about how our diets have changed, how our treatment of food has changed. Is organic better? How does non-GMO compare, in terms of quality and safety, as well as affordability? Why are foods that are better for us more expensive? Why are family farms and small organic operations, which care for people and the land, relegated to barely scraping by while large operations that clear the land, grow monocultures that challenge ecosystems, and use herbicides and pesticides that harm people and animals, "make bank" as we say? What will happen to the traditional seeds being saved?

These are not questions that are new to me, but within the context of my work, are floating around again. We make desserts. Is it better that we make them without gluten or nuts? With non-GMO, cage-free and hormone-free ingredients? Are we doing enough for our earth by turning off the lights in the various bakery spaces when not using them, using our own water bottles rather than bringing in bottled water to drink during the work day, packing online orders in recyclable materials? 

It's Friday afternoon, and it's been a long week. Maybe next week I'll catch you all up on both our SQF and our GFCO audits, one of which happened this week, one scheduled for next. Right now it's time to turn off the chatter, maybe open up  A Precautionary Tale where I left off in the middle of the night, and continue to be inspired. 

Have a great weekend, and please drop in for our Facebook Live stream as we tour the bakery next Wednesday, June 24, at 12:15pm Mountain Time. Hope to see you there! 


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books grains history news non-GMO sustainability

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