Whole Grain: adjective; made with or containing unprocessed grain.
Also the stem of today’s gluten controversies and the forgotten piece of farm to table dining. But Mona Esposito is here to change that.
Mona considers herself a modern, urban Laura Ingalls Wilder, growing 25 peony plants at home and rows of heritage corn and wheat at her community garden. She sees something in grains that most of the world has forgotten. Born in Brooklyn to an Italian mother and a long line of Brooklyn Italians on her father’s side, Mona found her love of food very early. Her sole mission is to bring grains back into our diets, for good.
Brianna: Tell me about yourself.
Mona: I love that question because I find it difficult to talk about myself and in trying to define myself I become acutely aware of all the experiences and people in my life that have influenced the person I am today. I love to cook and have been a passionate baker for over 13 years. I am a photographer and artist. I homeschooled my now 18-year-old child, an experience that has kept my curiosity and love of learning alive. I am a bit of a Renaissance woman in that way.
Brianna: Tell me about The Grain Lady and its mission.
Mona: In 2016, I co-founded Noble Grain Alliance, a non-profit based in Boulder, to restore heritage grains to Colorado through supporting and recreating the network of farmers, millers and makers needed to make a regional grain economy thrive. In 2018, I launched The Grain Lady project to continue my work and to focus on education and outreach. I aim to get heritage grains, which are better for our health and the earth, back into the hearts, minds, and mouths of our community. The Grain Lady is a resource and a vehicle to engage with my community through baking, cooking and grain workshops and to share my knowledge and experience.
Brianna: Where did your passion for all things grain stem from?
Mona: I am Italian. I love to eat. I love pasta and bread so it was natural that I would stumble into the magic of baking bread. When I became a parent, I became very aware of where my food came from and began connecting with my farmers and developing relationships. I’ve had backyard chickens, a cow share—I thought I had done it all. It wasn’t until I started baking bread that I realized I had been completely ignoring the major ingredient: the wheat!
Brianna: Where do you hope to see The Grain Lady in the next five years?
Mona: There is a lot of work that needs to be done to restore a small scale local grain economy. Here in Boulder County, we have made incredible progress in just two years. With my work as The Grain Lady, I have my hands in many aspects of that work. I am hoping that the work that we have started with our community of farmers, bakers and chefs leads to a thriving local grain community. I would love to see a local Mill space, not just for getting grains to the community but as a place to come together and learn and taste.
Brianna: What message do you hope to portray to people learning about grains and farming, or to people who stumble upon your blog?
Mona: With the incredible power of the farm to table movement we have become very aware of where our vegetables come from and have forged relationships with our farmers. Grains have largely been left out of that equation. There is also a great deal of fear and misunderstanding around wheat and gluten. I hope to dispel some of those myths. Grains are alive and have complex flavors, and each have their own stories to tell. Whole, fresh milled wheat is filled with vitamins and minerals just waiting to be unlocked.
Brianna: You mention in your bio that you’ve also been called the ‘grain pimp,’ but that it’s a different story. Could you tell me? You have me curious!
Mona: Well now, I think I need to change that! Not exactly a ‘pimp’ because that has awful connotations–maybe more like a grain dealer. In the beginning, I felt like I was doing something very covert; meeting wheat growers in parking lots, loading bushels of wheat into my car, trying to move the seed around to farmers and bakers, chefs and friends. It was all very innocent of course.
Learn more about The Grain Lady at TheGrainLady.com.