Our Little Red Hen story: the quest for local bread has begun.

The wheat is in the ground.

Our Little Red Hen story: the quest for local bread has begun.
Dr. Robin Fazio and Erik Zilen, Baylor School garden, Chattanooga, Tennessee

East Tennessee Wheat.

That's what Erik Zilen, co-owner of Niedlov's Bakery & Cafe, is calling it.

A few Sundays ago, we wrote about a vision to grow loaves of local bread using locally grown, milled and cleaned wheat prepared by local bakery hands.

It's a long assembly line of steps and relationships. Currently, Zilen trucks in pallets of organic wheat from Idaho and Utah. What if, instead, some of it came from the Tennessee valley?

Jemichael Wright, lead baker, Niedlov's, Main St., Chattanooga, Tennessee

The first step? To get wheat in the ground.

Last week, it happened.

"It's starting to germinate," said Dr. Robin Fazio, Spanish teacher and farmer at Baylor School.

Appalachian White, Baylor School garden, Chattanooga, Tennessee

One week ago, Fazio and Baylor students planted a dozen trial rows of Appalachian White, a hard winter wheat variety. Will this grow well here? Will its baking characteristics work for Zilen and Niedlov's?

"This will allow us to see," said Fazio.

Fazio is a sixth-generation farmer; at Baylor School, he created the school's first organic gardening club (and mechanics club, too.) My farming partner, he's immeasurably wise, loyal and true, a man as comfortable writing novels as he is fixing tractors. Robin forgets by breakfast more than I will learn in a lifetime of farming.

For years, he grew wheat at his family farm in south Georgia, trucked it back to Chattanooga, milled it in a portable mill, stored it in local freezer facility, bagged it, then sold it to local places like Lupi's, Niedlov's and Pruett's; odds are good you've eaten some of the wheat he grew.

"I love growing wheat," he said.

Tuesday at the Baylor garden, we all gathered – along with Emily O'Neil, Niedlov's longtime baker – to continue discussions and planning. Zilen and O'Neil are baking experts who are also considering a mill. Fazio, the farmer with experience. Me? I'm along for the ride.

Dr. Robin Fazio, Erik Zilen, Emily O'Neil (and me), Baylor School garden, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Here's what we need:

A mill and miller.

Access to a grain cleaner.

Access to storage, particularly a freezer.

And a farmer.

"The perfect situation?" Fazio began. "An experienced wheat grower with an open mind who wants to try something different."

Zilen estimates needing 260 bushels.

"And that's conservative," he said.

"You don't even need 10 acres to grow that much," Fazio responded.

As we talked, Baylor students continued to plant in rows covered in leaf mulch. For years, Fazio has offered this gardening club as a gift: a way to help students, in such oversaturated and chaotic times, remember their relationship with living things.

Hundreds of students have participated, growing gorgeous three-season produce. They learn compost, chickens, tools, pruning, earthworms and pH. It is a perfect education model: transformative and experiential, not theoretical. And they love it.

"Everything about it," said Mazie Mitchem, a senior boarder from Alabama.

Broadcasting grain, Mazie Mitchem, Baylor School garden, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Fazio's Baylor trials are enough for a loaf or two, so real production – with local bakeries and breweries – will require more.

Sort of like the Little Red Hen, we're asking:

Who wants to help?

In this town, we fully believe – (unlike the Little Red Hen) – we'll form a strong can-do community.

An investor that wants to partner.

A miller.

A consortium of brewers and bakers interested in forming a co-op.

"We roast all sorts of local coffee," said Fazio. "Why can't we have a local mill? A small local mill that will deal with farmers."

"And breweries would be interested," added Emily.

Countless Chattanoogans would love this. Imagine the proud, delicious delight of wheat beer or wheat loaf grown, milled and prepared from nearby grains.

"It's a field of dreams-thing," Zilen said. "Do you build it and they come?"

Locally, winter wheat is planted near the first frost date. So, we have roughly a year to get things into place. If we could have wheat planted by next fall ...

"That would feel like a success," said Zilen.

The Grain Squad: Cook, Fazio, Zilen, Baylor School garden, Chattanooga, Tennessee

This Sunday, we are thrilled to bring you a profile of some very special Ft. Payne cattle farmers.

Odds are good – really, really good – you already know one of them.

Anybody recognize the man on the right?

These two men are responsible for revolutionizing Southern cattle farming. In Tennessee, beef cattle production is frequently in the state's top three agricultural commodities. In Alabama, it's in the top two.

Including these types of cattle.

South Poll, Bent Tree Farm, Ft. Payne, Alabama

Finally, next week's Thanksgiving Main Street Market will be held on Tuesday. Food as a Verb community: what if we all tried to include at least one locally-grown meal on our Thanksgiving table?

See everyone Sunday.

All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit SarahCatherinePhoto.com

Story ideas? Interested in sponsorship opportunities + supporting our work? Feedback or questions? Email David Cook at david@foodasaverb.com. This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

Regional Farmers Markets

  • Main St. Farmers Market, Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

  • Brainerd Farmers Market, Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave,

Saturday, 10am - noon

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Sunday, 11am - 4pm

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Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

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Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

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Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

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