The Sheffield Wheat Experiment
Last Sheaf

The Sheffield Wheat Experiment involves 200 micro-growers collectively planting heritage wheat in their gardens, allotments or in pots. Whilst the wheat grows they will re-imagine, explore and learn how Sheffield can produce its own flour and bake its own bread. Initially most of the grain will be kept for sowing the following year in order to support our long term aim of creating a Sheffield landrace of wheat. In August 2021 we came together to hand process our wheat by flailing, shredding, winnowing and cleaning.

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The experiment was born out of lockdown when the flour disappeared from the supermarket shelves. Wheat is the largest crop on the planet. How we choose to farm it directly affects the biodiversity, soil health, and carbon that is stored in the soil. 95% of wheat now grown in the UK is fully dependent on chemical inputs.  These chemicals enter our food (⅔ of wholemeal bread sampled in the UK contains glyphosate).

Supermarkets dominate our supply chains; 6 retailers sell 80% of the UK’s food and their offer schemes contribute to food waste (44% of UK  bread is thrown away). Our current industrialised process of wheat farming and the global food system it sits within allows for little transparency in how it's grown or the journey it goes on. We have lost our connection to our food, with the people who grow & process it.

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The Landrace

One of the hopes is to produce a Sheffield landrace of wheat, most poetically described by Martin Wolfe, a pioneer of diversity in farming as 'A seed of people and place'.

Each year the majority of our wheat, which is made up of two 'populations' that contain many varieties, will be resown back into the ground. Yearon year the varieties most suited to our soil in Sheffield will survive, and those not suited will die. Eventually a population 'born out' of Sheffield soil and climate will emerge.

Seed diversity is important when it comes to resilience and resilience is important when it comes to uncertain weather patterns and diseases that climate change brings. The majority of ‘monoculture’ wheat currently grown in America and Europe does not sufficiently prepare us for climatic uncertainty and variability. Yet highly diverse populations offer the possibility of improving crop performance and reliability in highly unpredictable environments.

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The Learning

The experiment is exploring issues around food sovereignty and asks if we can create a Sheffield landrace of wheat? Bake an affordable Sheffield heritage loaf? Grow cereals that are much more nutritious? Become more resilient to the changing climate? Have a food system based on food sovereignty not profit? Reimagine Sheffield as somewhere with its own local grain economy?

To support this a programme of films, talks, zoom meetings and invitations happen throughout the year, alongside the practical task of growing and processing the wheat. We've learnt about soil health, soil evolution and how it relates to climate change. Historical key moments in our farming history including the green revolution, and films concerning environmental and economic issues around wheat farming in the 1930s. We discovered those innovative people already doing wonderful cereal and bread related things around the UK. We took a very brief attempt to look at what’s wrong with our current food system and introduce alternatives. We invited the growers to get together, chat, draw, document and simply watch their wheat.

Sheffield Wheat Project Black Line Drawing By @artbythegate Emma Paragreen 2021
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The Making

Where possible we look to the skills and talents of the micro-growers for knowledge to share, we also draw on each other to design, create and make objects and artworks that are needed or will help our learning and collective efforts in some way. Not surprisingly we found a pool of talents which allowed the experiment to have its own hand made flails for threshing, flour scoops, corn dolly making, art work, pyrography & signs. Not forgetting the array of baked bread, biscuits and cakes.

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Threshing Day
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The Local Grain Economy

Outside of our micro-growers and programme of learning sits a wider more slow burning journey to explore more directly the possiblilities and interests around a local grain economy for Sheffield. We have a number of commerical market garden growers producing veg boxes growing our wheat, most have never grown cereals before. We're working with a number of independent bakers in Sheffield, giving them our flour to trial. We have a local independent brewery brewing The Sheffield Wheat Experiment beer from our first years grain. We're offering the opportunities for micro-growers to scale up from 100g to 1kg if they have access to space.


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