We started working with Whole Grain Milling down in Welcome, MN back in 2011 because they offered organic grains in small quantities. Doug Hilgendorf, or his son Jeff, would personally drop off a few bags of oats, rye and barley at our house in Minneapolis. We would chat for a few minutes, throw the grains in the station wagon, and drive it over to our commercial kitchen to make muesli for the farmer's market. Fast forward a few years, and we have outgrown their oat supply, but we are growing to love their buckwheat. And as I would learn on this trip, they love growing buckwheat as much as we love buying it.
After hearing from Doug's wife Lin that the buckwheat fields were in full bloom in early August, I headed south to see it for myself. Upon arrival, Lin and Doug invited me right in to kitchen for coffee. They wanted to know all about how Seven Sundays is doing and genuinely care about our success. On this particular day, Doug had just passed a surprise FDA inspection with flying colors, but he was struggling with the Keurig coffee machine. Lin, with her calm, consistent demeanor, eventually got us two cups of coffee. So that is how you keep an organic farm going strong for 30+ years...teamwork!
We started using buckwheat as a replacement to rye and barley because we loved the flavor. I left Hilgendorf farms a HUGE buckwheat believer! Here are 5 reasons to fall in love with buckwheat.
1. Buckwheat is NOT a grain. It is actually a member of the rhubarb family! The "groat" which is near the flower is the seed that is harvested and eventually makes its way to our muesli.
2. Bees LOVE Buckwheat. These pollinators were happily buzzing between their hives and the nectar-laden buckwheat flowers. The honey is harvested by a bee keeper in nearby Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, and I am currently trying to get my hands on some. How cool would it be to sweeten our muesli with bees that pollinate the buckwheat? Talk about full circle!
3. Farmers LOVE Buckwheat. Buckwheat is a naturally fast growing crop and not because of fertilizer. It also thrives without the use of herbicides or insecticides. Another reason the bees love it!
4. Soils LOVE Buckwheat. The perfect rotational crop, buckwheat helps suppress weeds, and can improve soil health by adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil. Doug likes to plant buckwheat after corn (the popcorn or high lysine variety), followed by an oat or legume.
5. Buckwheat is Beautiful. As humans, we love buckwheat because it is packed with fiber, protein and essential minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium. It also doesn't hurt that it tastes amazing when paired with blueberries and organic wildflower honey in our muesli!
When I asked Doug how he has survived for 30 years as a small organic farmer in a sea of industrial corn and soybean growers, he took a round-a-bout approach to answering the question. "I would rather shut down the farm than resort to chemical inputs. When people ask me if they should start an organic farm, the first thing I ask them is, do you believe chemicals are inherently bad for humans and the environment? If they can't answer that question definitively, they should not do it. They should not get into it for the money." His demeanor was stern, but he always seems on the verge of breaking into a smile or chuckle, and he still has a twinkle in his eye. I got the point. The passion and work ethic is still very strong on Hilgendorf Farms.
I left feeling even more connected with our buckwheat but also with the Hilgendorfs. Both of our families have chosen a path that above all takes passion, hard work, resourcefulness and determination to survive. It helps to be shouldering the load side-by-side with your family.
Co-Founder + Self-Appointed Chief Sustainability Officer