Don’t get Noah Kellerman wrong: He loves vegetables. But when it comes to hunger—the kind that’s churned up from a hard day’s work—sometimes veggies just don’t cut it. It’s something he learned when he started farming as a “really hungry teenager” at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, where he would find himself eating a whole loaf of bread at the end of a long day.
“Salads are great and all. Vegetables are awesome. But they don’t fill you up,” Kellerman says. So when it was time for him to start his business on Alprilla Farm in Essex in 2011, he knew he wanted to “grow some calories” along with the kale and collards. “It seemed like a missing link in our local food economy,” he says.
Many farmers plant wheat and other grains as soil-repairing cover crops. But wheat is a relatively low-value crop that requires specialized equipment, so it’s actually more cost-effective for farmers to simply mow it. But Kellerman was intent on filling that missing local food link, and instead of mowing his cover crop, he harvested it, thus becoming the region’s only grain producer and allowing people to buy flour made with locally grown wheat.
That first growing season, with its experimental wheat plot, had its ups and downs—Kellerman says he made the “comical” mistake of hand-threshing his harvest, for instance. He had a terrible yield. But what he learned was priceless.
“I think the learning experience was definitely the most successful part of it,” says Kellerman, who studied sustainable agriculture at Hampshire College. “You can read about growing a crop until the cows come home, but until you actually see the plant through its growth cycle, you don’t have a sense for it. It’s sort of like trying to learn a language from a book without ever hearing it spoken.”
Although Kellerman says vegetables and the CSA make up Alprilla Farm’s heart and soul, its stone-milled whole wheat flour has gained a steady and loyal following. People already know that fresh, local tomatoes and strawberries are flavor revelations compared to their supermarket counterparts, and they’re learning that the same is true for locally grown grain, too. “It hasn’t really crossed people’s minds that the same difference is possible in grain,” Kellerman says.
Foodies can buy Alprilla Farm flour at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market and at the Appleton Farms Dairy & Farm Store in Ipswich. They can also sample it in baked goods at A & J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, which has always sourced its ingredients as locally as possible.
“When we found out what Noah was doing, we knew we had to source some of the wheat locally because local grain economies are so rare,” says the bakery’s co-owner, Andy King.
The bakery regularly incorporates Alprilla Farm flour in many of its baked goods, including honey buttermilk oat bread and whole wheat honey buns. They even use the flour to make whole wheat shortbread that’s filled with home-made fruit jam.
“What people don’t realize is when you use fresh-ground whole wheat, it doesn’t just make it healthier,” King says. “It gives it a depth of flavor, which is really almost indescribable.”
He likens the difference between store-bought and fresh-ground whole wheat to the difference between canned and freshly ground coffee.
“The quality is so much better and adds a really deep dimension to our doughs,” King says.
Kellerman agrees, saying that when he’s milling his farm’s wheat, “there’s this beautiful, grassy smell.” That freshness is something that consumers can’t get anywhere else on the North Shore.
Even with the farm’s success, though, Kellerman says he’s content to keep its wheat production on the small side.
“The mantra right now is better,” he says, “not more.” alprillafarm.com