AMAGANSETT—Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow are making waves again. The young farmers who started the Amber Waves farm in Amagansett last year are getting ready to harvest their first wheat crop—a feat they first attempted last year and one which most East End farmers have shied from over the last half century due to bacteria that is prone to attack wheat grown in this area.
“There hasn’t been wheat here for many years,” said Scott Chaskey, director of Quail Hill Farm and member of the board of trustees for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, which donated a resistant strain of wheat seed to Amber Waves. “This is really a wonderful thing and NOFA is happy to be on board.”
On June 30, Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Merrow hosted the event “Wheat Three Ways: Bread, Beer and Berries,” a celebration of the new crop and an exploration of its potential. The event featured home brewers Joe Sullivan and Vaughan Cutillo, who along with their friend Eric Moss, brewed a batch of strawberry-wheat beer using strawberries from Amber Waves and a Belgium-style wheat; whole wheat baguettes by Eli Zabar; and Steve Eaton and friends for Bliss Foods, which served up wheatgrass shots, a wheatberry drink that resembled lemonade, and wheatberry salads.
“We’re all just waiting for their wheat to be ready,” said Jennifer Frasher, a volunteer at Quail Hill and Amber Waves, who was grinding wheatgrass at Mr. Eaton’s table. “It’s really exciting to see all the young farmers come together, and today we’re here just to see what we can do with the wheat.”
Ms. Baldwin said she and Ms. Merrow planted a crop of wheat last spring, but a combination of factors left that crop unusable. For one thing, she said, the land had not been cultivated for years, and she admitted that she and Ms. Merrow had no real plan for harvesting it. Unfortunately, she explained to a crowd of about 40 at the farm on Wednesday, that crop was overrun by weeds before it could be harvested.
Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Merrow planted two crops of wheat last fall and have been working closely with Mr. Chaskey and members of NOFA to monitor the crops for harvest. They’ve been advised by NOFA member Elizabeth Dyck, who was at the farm on Wednesday and who taught them that the crop would be ready to harvest when they couldn’t bite through the seed of the wheat stalk.
“So we’ve been religiously biting seeds,” Ms. Merrow said, inviting her guests to bite down on a piece of wheat themselves.
Ms. Baldwin said Ms. Dyck told them they then had seven days to harvest and store the wheat, but this time they’re prepared. Ms. Baldwin said they’ve borrowed a combine from Balsam Farms to harvest the crop rather than do it by hand, which they tried last year, and that despite previously lamenting the dry month of June, they were now praying for one more week of clear skies.
“’Tis the life of a farmer,” she said. “When it’s ready, you have to move.”
Ms. Merrow said they expect to make about 700 pounds of flour from this year’s crop, and Ms. Baldwin said they will set up shop weekly at the Montauk Farmer’s Market with a mill so customers can mill their own flour at the table, a process she described as similar to the a shopper buying coffee beans and grinding fresh coffee.
“So that’s how we’re going to immediately get our grain into your kitchen,” Ms. Baldwin said, standing in the middle of a wheat field. “Is anyone interested in that?”
The crowd responded with a resounding “Yes!”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Ms. Baldwin replied.
Ms. Baldwin said they hope to start growing more grains soon, including corn for polenta, on a 7-acre piece of property on the corner of Buckskill and Green Hollow Road in East Hampton that will double the size of their current space behind the Amagansett Farmers Market.
Ms. Baldwin said they are also fund-raising to buy a mobile pizza oven with plans to make whole wheat pizza crusts and use vegetables from the farm as toppings—a ploy to spark children’s interest in the farm and local produce.
Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Merrow said they planned to start harvesting the wheat this week and it should be available at the Montauk Farmers Market as early as Thursday.