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Reaping benefits from heritage wheat

Mike Pinard, our tenant farmer at Lodge Farm on the Harewoods Estate, has demonstrated that moving forwards sometimes means looking back. His heritage wheats are proving popular with those suffering from gluten intolerance.

Mike Pinard has been farming at Lodge Farm on the Harewoods Estate on the Surrey Hills for 35 years. He’s passionate about the farm and the creatures living on it and below it. 

On 300 acres of land, he grows heritage wheats – old varieties that have been farmed in the south east since the 1700s. Distinctive for their height – measuring up to 5ft tall, they are fast becoming something of a superfood and gaining in popularity amongst artisan bakers and millers throughout the country. With a different ratio of glutenin to gliadin (gluten proteins) than more modern varieties of wheat, people suffering with gluten intolerance find these wheats much easier to digest. 

We visited Mike on his farm at one of his busiest times of year – harvest time. As his combine rumbled over the field, he explained the different varieties of wheat that he grows; “Red Lammas is one of the first crops that we harvest on the farm each year. It’s also the oldest variety that we grow – there’s documentary evidence of it dating back to 1650”. We also grow a modern mix of old varieties that’s known as Miller’s Choice; Kent Old Hoary was first documented in the late 1700s and Kent Old Red is a localised version of Red Lammas – it grows particularly well here on the heavy Wealden clay”.

The long straws of older varieties of wheat were an essential by-product of the crop. They produced bedding and feed for animals and thatch for houses. Often straw would be taken to large towns where animals were kept. Without modern refrigeration, it was important for meat or milk to be produced as close to the consumers as possible. The straw would be returned to the farm in the form of manure – a virtuous circle benefitting land and man.

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Mike doesn’t farm organically, but uses a technique called No Till. By not ploughing the soil, and opening up only small holes to plant seed in, the soil, its nutrients as well as the plants and invertebrates living in it can thrive. The ground cover of plants feed predators, rather than predators eating into the growing wheat shoots. 

This crop and style of conservation farming mean that wildlife is thriving at Lodge Farm – from resident nesting barn owls, to worms turning the thick dark soil. And it’s not just the land that’s benefitting – those who enjoy Mike’s heritage crops benefit too with improved digestion and a range of new flavours of wheat to enjoy.