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El Cerrito's Wheat Farmlet Doubles Acreage ... Or Footage

Did you know El Cerrito has a wheat farmer? For many years, resident Tom Panas has been growing a small crop, a very small crop, but he's doubling it this winter and hopes to exceed his usual annual yield of about a cup of flour.

If you don't blink when passing Tom Panas' house on Fairmount Avenue, you may notice something out-of-the-ordinary growing in his front yard.

And if you know your grains, you'll recognize what may be the only ongoing wheat-growing operation in the city of El Cerrito.

"I just think the plant is beautiful," said Panas, who's perhaps best known to the community for historical preservation efforts with the El Cerrito Historical Society and work on the campaign to build a new El Cerrito library.

Panas said he'd been growing a mini-crop of soft red wheat from kernels bought at the El Cerrito Natural Grocery in his backyard for many years, and that for this year's winter crop he's upping the acreage and the varieties, growing also hard red wheat, soft white Sonoran wheat and durham wheat. (He also has a little barley on the side.)

He's also moved the farming operation to the front yard, where the new winter crop should be ready for harvesting in April or May.

"In the past, I've usually grown three or four square feet," he said. "This year I've probably doubled that."

"We're not talking about a huge amount here," he added. "I might end up with a cup or two of flour." He grinds the whole-kernel wheat in an electric flour mill about half the size of a shoe box. The brownish soft red wheat flour, combined with an equal proportion of commercial flour, makes for good biscuits, he said.

Panas said he was delighted to find that he could obtain Sonoran wheat from the Common Ground Community Garden.

"I almost dropped through the floor," he said, explaining that Sonoran wheat was grown in El Cerrito three centuries ago. The Spanish brought it from Mexico and planted it in the area that later became El Cerrito to furnish grain for the Spanish settlement that began in 1776 in San Francisco.

"It was a growing area for Mission Dolores," he said.

And while Panas the historian enjoys bringing back the same wheat that grew in El Cerrito long before the city existed, he seems more enthralled by the aesthetics of the plant.

"It looks so good," he said. "You can't appreciate how beautiful I think the wheat is."

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Deb December 01, 2012 at 05:46 PM
This is so cool!
Local Mom December 01, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Awesome!
Dorothy Coakley December 16, 2012 at 05:22 AM
So my question to Tom-the-historian is, how and where was the EC wheat shipped to Mission Dolores? (I'm assuming it was sent by boat as BART was 250 years into the future.)

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