Our Way of Life / The an­cient craft of stone milling grain and bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture

Latitude Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & IM­AGES Claire Ink­son

On Mil­more Downs Farm in the Scargill Val­ley, the Hen­der­son fam­ily are ex­perts in the an­cient

craft of stone milling grain and bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture.

The Hen­der­son fam­ily have been on their North Canterbury prop­erty for three gen­er­a­tions, with Matt and Alice, who have three chil­dren, now run­ning the day-to­day farm­ing op­er­a­tion, while Matt’s fa­ther Ian and his wife Eva han­dle the mar­ket­ing, ad­min­is­tra­tive and compliance side of the busi­ness. Due to the ever-in­creas­ing work­load, the Hen­der­sons em­ploy a miller, Sam Whe­lan, to man­age the milling op­er­a­tion.

The farm to­day is a very dif­fer­ent one to when Ian’s par­ents Mac and Ngaire bought the prop­erty back in 1960 when Ian was at primary school. Mac, who had been a banker in Christchur­ch, bought the split 360-hectare prop­erty and trans­formed it from a tree­less farm with only two fences to a productive busi­ness with the ad­di­tion of an ir­ri­ga­tion pond in 1973. The pond, which har­vests win­ter flow from a small stream run­ning past the prop­erty and stores the wa­ter for the dryer months, opened the door for crop­ping on the flat typ­i­cally dry 160-hectare home block, a sta­ple of the Hen­der­son’s cur­rent in­come.

Mac’s for­ward-thinking laid the path for the fu­ture of Mil­more Downs. ‘My grand­fa­ther was a mag­nif­i­cent man,’ says Matt. ‘He was a great guy.’ Mac and Ngaire have since passed away, but their legacy can be seen, not only in the foun­da­tions they laid in the early devel­op­ment of Mil­more Downs, but also for the com­mu­nity as a whole, as Mac was heav­ily in­volved in get­ting both the Scargill Golf Club and the Greta Val­ley Tav­ern op­er­a­tional in their early stages. The Scargill Golf Club has since suf­fered dam­age in the 2016 Scargill earth­quake, and the com­mu­nity hall was dec­i­mated.

The Hen­der­sons were lucky to come away rel­a­tively un­scathed, although Matt and Alice’s daugh­ter Emily, only 12 months at the time, nar­rowly es­caped get­ting hit by a falling book­case. Some neigh­bours lost their homes, or had sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, but the small set­tle­ment pulled to­gether, help­ing clean up and ral­ly­ing around those in need. ‘The whole com­mu­nity came to­gether to sup­port each other,’ says Alice.

In 1978, Ian and his first wife Gita re­turned from a stint in Europe in­spired by the bio­dy­namic farm­ing tech­niques and philoso­phies be­ing prac­tised there, and were keen to im­ple­ment those prac­tices on Mil­more Downs, tak­ing the prop­erty from a con­ven­tional farm to a cer­ti­fied or­ganic op­er­a­tion. Mac was gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of his son’s vi­sion, giv­ing Ian a five-year win­dow to make the or­ganic farm a suc­cess, af­ter which the farm would re­turn to more stan­dard farm­ing meth­ods if the or­ganic ex­per­i­ment was a fail­ure. Ian and Gita worked hard developing the crop­ping side of the busi­ness, and gained BioGro cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, be­ing only the

19th prop­erty to be cer­ti­fied in New Zealand, and one of the few early cer­ti­fi­ca­tions still op­er­at­ing to­day.

Hard work has paid off, with the or­ganic farm both an en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic suc­cess. ‘Hav­ing the or­ganic grain and the mills makes 300 hectares able to sup­port two fam­i­lies,’ says Matt. ‘If we were just sheep and beef, it would be harder to stay vi­able.’

The farm is not only BioGro cer­ti­fied (a nec­es­sary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for the ex­port mar­ket), but also Deme­ter Cer­ti­fied. Deme­ter is a world­wide cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem with its roots in Ger­many, founded on the philoso­phies and

be­liefs of Ru­dolf Steiner, a philoso­pher whose in­ter­ests lay in the syn­ergy be­tween sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­ity. The sys­tem al­lows farm­ers to use var­i­ous min­er­als and her­bal sprays but pro­hibits the use of ar­ti­fi­cial sprays and fer­tilis­ers.

‘We can’t use fungi­cides, her­bi­cides and in­sec­ti­cides, or syn­thetic fer­tiliser,’ Matt ex­plains. Named for Deme­ter, the Greek god­dess of grain and fertility, and with around 4500 mem­bers world­wide, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quires farms to fol­low ecosys­tem preser­va­tion, soil hus­bandry, live­stock in­te­gra­tion, and pro­hibits the use of GMOS, whilst view­ing the farm as a holis­tic or­gan­ism in it­self. ‘It’s nice to know we are look­ing af­ter the land for our chil­dren,’ Alice says.

While a small com­po­nent of the farm­ing op­er­a­tion is sheep and beef based, with Mil­more car­ry­ing 70 head of cat­tle and com­pos­ite sheep (850 mixed age and 250 hoggets), the fo­cus is very much on the grain: pre­dom­i­nantly spelt (oth­er­wise known as dinkel), wheat, bar­ley and rye. ‘There have been lots more: it’s been a case of trial and error,’ Matt says. ‘The four grains we grow are the sta­ple grains when it comes to flour. Your whole­meal wheat flour for your wheat flour breads, your rye corn is pre­dom­i­nantly for sour­doughs, or to be mixed with wheat to make sour­dough, and the spelt – Dad started grow­ing that 25 years ago; he had to get ma­chin­ery in from Ger­many to process it.’

Spelt is an an­cient grain which can be tol­er­ated by some who have an al­lergy to wheat. All grain is milled on­site, with two dif­fer­ent meth­ods op­er­at­ing on the farm. A wooden mill im­ported from Austria pro­duces stone­ground flour. ‘It can pro­duce whole­meal stone­ground flour, but it also has a sieve box at­tached which can sep­a­rate a por­tion of the bran to leave a semi-white flour,’ ex­plains Matt. Mil­more also has six Zen­tro­fan mills used for whole­meal flour, which in­stead of be­ing stone on stone, uses an airstream to carry the grain against the stone, which is cut from a sin­gle piece of basalt.

‘It cre­ates a much finer whole­meal than stone on stone,’ Matt says. Zen­tro­fan mills are rare in New Zealand, and this gives Mil­more a point of dif­fer­ence. ‘The only lim­it­ing fac­tor is vol­ume,’ Matt says. ‘Be­cause it’s a slow process, that’s why we have six of them, to keep up with the de­mand for flour.’

Mil­more bar­ley goes to Canterbury Seed, an or­gan­i­cally cer­ti­fied plant in Ash­bur­ton, to be pearled. ‘All of our crops are au­tumn-sown, apart from bar­ley – that’s a spring-sown crop,’ Matt says. ‘The wheat and the rye and the spelt are all au­tumn­sown, and har­vested the fol­low­ing sum­mer. Once it’s har­vested, it can ba­si­cally go straight into the mill. It comes out of the silo, through a screen and into the mills. We are not grow­ing any wheat cur­rently; we are buy­ing in from other grow­ers, be­cause we can’t grow enough to keep up with de­mand. This year we grew spelt, bar­ley and rye corn. Every­thing we bring in is fully cer­ti­fied, there are no grey ar­eas.’

Mil­more sells flour on­line na­tion­wide through their web­site, as well as to health food stores across the coun­try, and around 15 ar­ti­san bak­eries. ‘The flour is milled to order,’ says Alice, ‘so it’s all fresh.’ Jeremy MacCor­mack from

Bell­bird Baked Goods in Christchur­ch is a loyal cus­tomer of Mil­more. The tra­di­tional milling process is a nat­u­ral fit for Bell­bird, whose sour­doughs are nat­u­rally leav­ened, mean­ing the fer­men­ta­tion process causes the bread to rise with­out the ad­di­tion of pack­aged yeast, and makes the gluten in the bread eas­ier to digest, and more nu­tri­tion­ally ben­e­fi­cial due to the overnight fer­men­ta­tion process. ‘Tra­di­tional milling lets us make bread the way they made it thou­sands of years ago,’ says Jeremy. ‘For me, it’s not just be­cause it’s or­ganic, or lo­cal. It’s a unique busi­ness that al­lows us to make a unique prod­uct. It’s char­ac­ter­is­tic of Canterbury. It’s au­then­tic.’

All grain is milled on­site, with two dif­fer­ent meth­ods op­er­at­ing on the farm. A wooden mill im­ported from Austria pro­duces stone­ground flour.

ABOVE & RIGHT / Bell­bird Baked Goods Sour­doughs, made from Mil­more Flour. BE­LOW / Spelt Flour, freshly milled at Mil­more Downs. OP­PO­SITE RIGHT / Matt with his wooden mill im­ported from Austria.

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