(Lingle, Wyo.) – Researchers at the University of Wyoming are in the first stages of studying the viability of “first grains” as a crop and market in Wyoming. Specifically, they are growing spelt and emmer wheat, two of the first crops that were ever domesticated and cultivated by humans as they transitioned from roaming hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers some 12,000 years ago.
Tom Foulke, a research scientist at the UW Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, is leading the charge on this project. At a recent open-house event at UW’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in Lingle, he conducted a tour of the growing field and answered questions about the project.
There is evidence of breadmaking with wild grains as far back as 14,000 years ago, he said. That’s 11,000 years before the building of the pyramids in Egypt. Spelt and emmer wheat have been continuously cultivated in parts of Europe and the Middle East since ancient times. They fell out of favor at the turn of the century because the grains did not lend themselves well to the newer, mechanized agricultural techniques. So, although these grains contributed significantly to the development of agriculture in America, the current generation is mostly unfamiliar with them.
In addition to a unique flavor, the grains may offer a different nutritional profile than modern crops, with additional protein. That’s another part of the project’s goals: to determine the exact nutritional value of these grains.
Today, consumers are increasingly health conscious and increasingly interested in the origin stories of the products they buy, Foulke said. It’s that consciousness and curiosity he is hoping will create a value-added market for these unique “first grains” in Wyoming.