UW Ag College kicks off First-Grains Project | TSLN.com

UW Ag College kicks off First-Grains Project

Katie Shockley
for Tri-State Livestock News

Emmer wheat, photo by Thomas Foulke

While taking a group of students on a trip to France, Tom Foulke came across a cookbook, "Un Repas Historique Moyen Age." The cookbook shared details about some foods not commonly eaten by Americans. The book discussed old-time cereal grains, including spelt. It explained how spelt was used in the preparation of beer, that it is good for health and can cure depression and melancholy.

Foulke started asking around in the college to find out why no one was doing more research on ancient grains like spelt and emmer wheat. He started to think about putting together a project to further the research on these grains and if it is economical to grow them as an alternative to other grains.

"What if we get an economist to look at this, and then get an agronomist to grow it, and then find out if it's economic to grow, and if there is a market for it," Foulke said.

After looking into it some more, Foulke decided it was worth pursuing and started talking to others in the college to see if he could go ahead with the project. He said the university has been very supportive of the project.

"We are trying to cover the bases with the people we have here in the college," Foulke said. "We have a lot of smart people here and we are trying to draw them together to develop this industry."

When looking into the history of these ancient grains, Foulke found there was a lot of misinformation commonly shared. He realized that it would be important to come up with a new name that would help explain the science of these grains.

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"I woke up one morning and decided we should call these first-grains," Foulke said. "They were the first domesticated cereal crops."

He said there are many different "first-grains," such as emmer wheat, spelt and heritage varieties of barley. This year, the project only focused on growing emmer wheat and spelt.

Growing these grains and then making use for them would be a huge risk for the farmers in the state, so Foulke believes this is a good project for the university to try first. This way they can help establish and create an industry or if it turns out to not be economically they can walk away without significant financial losses.

"Our goal is to help diversify the Wyoming economy, help create jobs, and income," Foulke said.

Because these grains first started growing in Neolithic times, Foulke decided that was a fitting name for the brand. He is currently working to trademark the name "Neolithic," its symbol of the ancient sun, and the tagline: "One step away from wild."

This year they were able to produce 12 tons of spelt and 14 tons of emmer wheat. Now that they have the crop, the next phase of the project was to look into what the crop could be used for.

Foulke said the German word for spelt is "Dinkle," and in Germany they sell "Dinkle" beer. Spelt can be used as malt for beer or it can be used to make bread. It has more fiber than whole wheat and a higher content than zinc. Jill Keith is a nutritionist at the university who will be looking closer at the health benefits of the different first grains.

They are partnering with the Wyoming Malting Company in Pine Bluffs, Wyo., to malt the grain. Then they will take the malt to the craft breweries that are participating in the project.

Foulke explained that they are going to give some malt samples to the interested breweries to help build and establish the brand. They have created some marketing materials to go with the malt, such as coasters, magnets, and informational table tents.

"We want them to experiment with these grains, to see what works and what doesn't," Foulke said. "Maybe they will come up with something that's really new and innovative."

By next year, they hope to start charging for the malt to develop the industry. If all goes well they will be able to move it away from the university and create a business with it.

Foulke said they also plan to look into making flour with these grains. The big problem they are facing now is how they will de-hull the grain. In order to make flour, it needs de-hulled but there isn't a place in Wyoming that can do this.

They are looking into buying a de-huller, which would be the only non-organic de-huller in the state. Foulke believes that this equipment could also help the state.

"If we don't use it at capacity, we could actually use it to de-hull other grains for other people," Foulke said.

Another issue they have run into is finding milling capacity. They are looking into buying a mill as well that can be used for next year.

"We are a bigger scale than the farmers market scale, but we aren't big enough for the industrial scale," Foulke said.

Along with growing the grain and creating products, they are looking into the marketing aspect of the project. They hope to build a brand that they can sell if this project comes up successful.

"What we want to end up with is basically a turn-key operation," Foulke said. "So, we have the hulling capacity, the intellectual property with the brand names, maybe a group of farmers who can grow these crops and know how to grow them really well and a list of brew pubs and bakeries that go with it." F