Wildfarmed: The Food System Of The Future
It’s a funny thing to think about but where you get your grain from is incredibly important. Wildfarmed is a nutritious stone-milled grain that’s grown through regenerative farming. Grown in a way that respects the natural systems that all plants and animals (including us) need to survive, Wilfarmed brings the concept of rewilding to farming. I’m a huge admirer of what Wildfarmed is doing and how they’re really shaking up the scene one rustic loaf at a time.
From bakeries like Big Jo to pasta restaurants like Burro E Salvio, a number of respected outlets are now shouting about their use of Wildfarmed grain. Not only is it packed full of essential nutrients but it’s got a distinct nutty flavour that almost tastes… alive. It’s the first hypebeast grain that I know of (their branding, for one, is super on point) and the fact that it’s better for farmers, food lovers and the planet is just the cherry on top.
I spoke to Andy Cato – farmer, co-founder of Wildfarmed – about how he’s gone about shaping the food system of the future.
When did the idea for Wildfarmed first come about?
Wildfarmed was born out of a desire to change our food system – a system which most of us know is making us and the planet sick. I’d spent my life as a musician until I got into farming 15 years ago having read an article on the dire state of the industrial food system. One line stuck: “If you don’t like the system, don’t depend on it”.
That’s when I decided to try my hand at growing food. The first time I walked down to the greenhouse and saw the seeds that had sprouted, it was a revelation. When this became food on the table for my family, it changed my life.
What started out on my veggie patch and selling my produce at the local market, soon became a mission to replace monoculture cereal/grain production with thriving farm eco-systems. I made the rather crazy decision to buy a 100Ha farm in the South of France (which meant selling the rights to my music) and join the small but growing ranks of farmers showing there’s a better way to produce food and steward the land.
There was much joy and despair in the years that followed as I tried to restore heavily depleted agricultural soils to a vibrant, diverse ecosystem. I got there eventually and the changes on the farm were nothing short of transformative.
My good friends, George Lamb and Edd Lees, had been following my progress closely, and helped me set up a mill and bakery on the farm, and find a route to sell flour to restaurants and bakeries in the UK. We soon realised, however, that in order to make a meaningful impact, we needed more farmers producing better quality wheat that restores nature this way, and in order to do so they’d need to be rewarded fairly for it. That’s really when Wildfarmed was born.
Why is regenerative farming so important?
If we’re going to change the status quo, we have to start farming with nature, not against it. That starts with the soil. The few inches of topsoil under our feet hold the answer to many of the complex problems we face today from extreme weather events, species loss, food security, and the public health crisis.
By adopting farming practices that nurture soil biology - such as never ploughing (or tilling) the soil or leaving it bare, not using chemicals, and by planting cover crops and grazing animals - we can help prevent flooding and droughts, put more life-giving nutrients in our food, and increase biodiversity. Nature has been doing this for millions of years.
Take wheat as an example. Wheat is one of the most consumed ingredients in the western diet and also one of the most intensively farmed crops, damaging our soils at an alarming rate. Approximately 772 million metric tonnes of wheat was produced globally last year, enough to fill Wembley Stadium 200,000 times over. If we carry on at this rate without action, 90% of the world’s soil will be significantly degraded by 2050. Sounds pretty doom and gloom, but we can turn things around by farming in sync with nature.
How does it actually work?
Wildfarmed is a form of regenerative agriculture which moves away from chemicals, glyphosates and harmful machinery, and focuses on growing crops directly into fields of pasture so different plants grow side-by-side and nutrients are recycled by bringing animals (cows or sheep) onto graze, which in turn increases insect and wildlife on the land.
We’re essentially restoring nature (some call it rewilding) and producing nutritious food in the one field, and doing so at scale. The best part is that it creates the most tasty, nutritious, game-changing grains you can get your hands on while leaving the land rich for future harvests. A win for our health and a win for the planet.
It is easy to get caught up in new labels like “regenerative farming” which is fast becoming a buzzword. But we can’t forget that many nature-based farming practices existed pre-industrial revolution. To us, it’s quite simply about setting the conditions to let nature farm best.
What difference does stone milling your grain make?
We use an eighth-generation family-run mill in the Cotswolds to stone-mill our wheat which is then directly distributed to our network of bakeries, restaurants and schools. Stone milling keeps the germ intact, retaining all the good stuff like B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
Roller milling – the most common industrial milling process – scrapes the outer bran layer off the grain and discards the flavourful, nutrient-rich germ, leaving only ultra-processed refined flour that contains no nutritional value except for carbohydrate.
Does freshly milled flour work differently from regular flour when it comes to making pasta or baking?
When I started making bread on the farm, I had a small mill and the flour was always fresh – less than 12 hours old. I only used 3 ingredients; flour, water and sea salt, how it should be. The more I researched and tested, the more it became clear that using fresh flour is very important.
Most bakeries today, even artisanal ones, have no idea where their flour comes from, and certainly no idea how it was grown, the soil it was grown in, or how old the flour is. And yet the moment wheat is milled, the essential oils begin to oxidise meaning that nutrition and flavour are lost. In 24 hours after milling, half of the essential oils are gone. Think of coffee grains and how, for a tasty cupful, we now expect those to be freshly ground. It’s the same with flour. The fresher the flour, the more flavour and nutrition we can expect in our bread, pasta, or pizza doughs and pastries.
It’s a bit of a clichéd question but: can you taste the difference?
We think so. Wildfarmed flour has a slight nuttiness to it. The stone-milling process definitely helps retain the flavour and the more nutritious the wheat, the more natural flavour. We also only use highly digestible wheat varieties that are naturally lower in gluten.
Chefs and bakers certainly have no problem convincing customers to come back for more, so we take that as a resounding yes.
How does Wildfarmed help reverse climate change?
By 2030, we estimate that our Wildfarmed system will be taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as a 100-year-old rainforest the size of Greater London.
When you think about it – there is no bare earth in nature. Instead of growing crops in bare soil, we grow crops in permanent pasture (different varieties of grass) all year round, which helps draw down CO2 from the atmosphere and maintain the planet’s natural carbon cycles.
The healthier our soil, the more water it can hold, this makes us more resilient against climate change events such as droughts and flooding which are fast becoming a threat to our food security.
Just how fast we can turn things around depends on how many people vote for the planet by buying our flour. Maybe it’s too late to reverse climate change, but we can certainly try to slow things down and put back as much back in, as we’re taking out.
Do you approach restaurants and bakeries with your product or do they tend to come to you?
In order for us to truly make a difference at scale, we need people on board who know how to work with our flour and make delicious food people will love. That’s where we need as many talented bakers and chefs on board as possible.
David and Jeremie from Big Jo and Jolene were the first to get behind our mission back in 2018. Their enthusiasm for our product and our story has been instrumental in establishing a following of chefs and bakers. Mostly through word of mouth, we’ve acquired more than 100 customers this year from Michelin star restaurants to corner shop bakeries, pizza joints, noodle shops, traditional pasta restaurants, even gin distillers. The word about Wildfarmed is spreading.
But it’s early days. We’re working with the genius bakers, Cindy Zurias and Wayne Caddy, to host regular workshops so bakers and chefs can learn how to get the best out of our ingredients. We always welcome enquiries, and as more growers join us our supply will increase YOY, meaning more gains for the planet.
What’s the long term goal of Wildfarmed?
Our hope is that we can work together with enough farmers, bakers, retailers and chefs to get to a point where a significant amount of the millions of loaves and pizzas consumed in the UK every day are produced using wheat from flourishing, diverse ecosystems.
This kind of food needs to be available to everyone, not just the privileged few. It has to be what the majority of our daily loaves, pizza doughs, pies and pasta are made from -- climate-friendly flour. We’re rewarding farmers for growing in this way, so the price is a little higher, but that will come down as revenues from the environmental benefits of farming this way are introduced.
For consumers feeling disconnected from the food supply and worried about the state of the planet, this is an opportunity for activism – every time they eat is an opportunity to change our future. If you want to know you’re eating pizza that saves the planet then ask your favourite pizza joint to use Wildfarmed!
This is the flour with the power to save the world.