Thirteen years ago Ralph and Jo Waters made the move to Bingara from their idyllic Sydney beachside home in the Royal National Park at a little hamlet called Bundeena. “We were living the dream where I could walk to the beach or the bush. We regularly swam or snorkelled or bush walked. There was always whale watching and boating too,” says Ralph.
The couple had built a spacious house near the beach and because Jo loved gardening, she turned the backyard into a vegetable garden. Gradually the garden grew to encompass the whole block. Then came the animals.
“I had never been an animal person but somehow I came to appreciate poultry like chooks and ducks. I saw the sheer beauty of how they cackle and scratch. I would watch them for hours,” adds Ralph.
Then came the hankering for more land and a space to grow real food. This desire was also spurred by Ralph’s food allergies as he was simply unable to eat a great deal of shop bought foods. He certainly couldn’t eat shop bread. They thought maybe it was the preservatives and the additives.
So the move to Bingara was decided and part of that was purchasing Bethel Farm. Their intention was to develop a self sufficient lifestyle. They had achieved that goal to a large degree. They milk their own Jersey cows, have a few sheep for the table, farm their own bees, and have both citrus and stonefruit orchards. And lots of table grapes.
Ralph and Jo say theirs green change was easier than expected. They love the river and the big blue sky, the friendliness and closeness of the community and the very social aspects of the relaxed lifestyle.
The issue of wheat sensitivity became a challenge and a problem which drew them into a journey that would ultimately lead them into making their own food manufacturing facility and the establishment of their own mill.
Ralph and Jo’s sojourn into ancient and heritage wheat varieties began by accident. They purchased some wheat from Barraba for their chooks. The farmer apologised that it was an old wheat variety. And then the revelation. The wheat turned out to be incredibly flavoursome and lo and behold , Ralph could eat it without any adverse effects. It was a winner.
From this moment Jo and Ralph began a process of exploring the flavour and nutritional aspects of heritage and ancient grains. It appears that these type of grains are rich in lutein (which prevent cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration). The ancient varieties also have much lower levels of protein and therefore lower gluten. The gluten is much easier to digest and this is especially so when coupled with slow fermentation methods of bread making. They say the best thing is that ancient and heritage grains have such a rich full flavour.
They are also developing their own range of certified organic flours and have begun an association with the Sydney University’s research facility at Narrabri looking, not only at ancient grains and legumes, but also indigenous grass species such as Mitchell grass.
“Our passion is to create food that is both nutritious and tasty. As we thought this through carefully we came to realise that the milling process is just as important as the growing. Modern milling means that the grain is exposed to high temperatures and extreme pressures. The wheat germ is discarded with most of the bran.
However stoneground flour retains all the nutrition of the flour and protects the flavour. None of the wheatgerm is discarded and these means for vastly increased nutritional and flavour components.
From an initial interest in ancient and heritage grains, Ralph and Jo graduated to an investigation of the health benefits of legumes. “It is incredible that these foods are often regarded in our society as second rate foods whereas in fact they are really superfoods. Our legume flour contains 45% more protein than meat, is very high in fibre and is low in carbohydrates. In addition it has a very low glycemic index – perfect for people with diabetes and for people who are trying to reduce weight. Legumes are a real breakthrough as they provide high levels of nourishment and flavour to people who are gluten sensitive. And pretty much everyone loves our food anyway,” adds Ralph.
Their quest to begin their own milling operation took them to India India and China in their search for stone milling and packaging equipment. “We spent three days in the North of India at a place called Ajmer. We were able to see how traditional stone milling is undertaken. The stone milling it is very sophisticated. Computers regulate the pressure between the stones, and controls the flour output and the grinding temperature” says Jo.
The couple have developed a whole range of recipes for gluten free dry mix foods including falafel, hummus and veggie burger mixes. They also have three cake mixes made from legumes. Ralph says, “Our cakes have more protein than in a steak so they are much better for you!”
Gluten free protein pancake mixes and protein bread mixes are next on the menu.
In their Bethel Farm Mill on line store, you can also buy a complete range of organically certified ancient grain flours, spices and herbs and spice blends.