Red Fife wheat

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Red Fife was the baking and milling industries standard of 'wheat' in Canada from 1860 to 1900. The origin is a mystery. Sent to Peterborough Ontario farmer Fife in 1840, it took its name from the seed color and Fife's name. Seed was to have been obtained from a ship sitting in Glasgow port. It is possible Mennonite farmers in the Vistula delta of Poland grew the wheat that was shipped out of the port of Danzig. Red Fife is one of many 'heritage' varieties being grown globally by people interested in variety identified food products. many modern varieties of wheat lists heritage varieties of wheats brought to Canada or developed and named in Canada. There are no native wheats in Canada. All wheat has come to Canada from other parts of the world.

Origin and history[edit]

Red Fife Wheat's origin is a mystery. Perhaps it originated in the Vistula delta of what is now Poland, then shipped from Danzig to Glasgow, where a friend of David Fife sent a sample to Canada. Fife then grew the variety in Ontario and shared it with other farmers, calling the wheat Red Fife after its distinctive color on his land. Red Fife wheat kernels are not always red in color. The Red Fife seed adapted to a great diversity of growing conditions across Canada and became the baking and milling industry standard for forty years, from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century.

Marquis wheat was developed from crossing Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta. Marquis took over Red Fife's place in the early 1900s and then Thatcher in the 1930s.[1][clarification needed]

For most of the twentieth century, Red Fife was grown in very small quantities in plant breeders’ seed collections. Interest in growing heritage wheat started with Sharon Rempel in the mid 1980s, when she planted a "Living Museum of Wheat" at a living history site in Keremeos B.C. Canada. She was given a pound of plant breeder seed of varieties Red Fife, Ladoga, Bishop, Preston, Stanley, Hard Red Calcutta, Marquis and Stanley. She bulked up seed and shared it with others. The seeds and wheat field, heritage gardens and landscapes can be considered 'living artifacts'. (Sharon Rempel source)

Jennifer Scott and organic farmers in the Maritimes began to grow heritage wheats in the mid 1990s. In 1999, Onoway, Alberta farmer Kerry Smith began growing Red Fife and other historic varieties. In 2000, 2001 and 2002, the Alberta Organic Association’s Walter Walchuk and Sharon co-hosted organic heritage wheat field trials throughout Alberta.[citation needed]

Red Fife was nominated to the Slow Food Ark of Taste in 2003 by Mara Jernigan and Sinclair Phillip of Slow Food Canada. This was the first heritage wheat put on the Ark. This is confirmed by Sharon Rempel, the godmother of Red Fife wheat's revival in Canada.


Red Fife wheat is a landrace so its genetics change year to year, same seed in the same field. Using Canada's variety identification using visual characteristics, Red Fife has only three small awns at the top of the head.[2] The straws can grow up to a height of 3–5 feet, depending on the nutrients available in the soil. Red Fife wheat is red or white in color. On Canada's west coast, Red Fife wheat is whiter in colour, due to genetic interaction with mild environmental conditions. Red Fife grows as a spring wheat on the Prairies and can be grown both as a spring and winter wheat on the temperate west and east coasts and in Ontario.

Red Fife is an unregistered wheat and is regulated under Canadian legislation.[3] Only registered varieties are to be sold.

Diversity within the variety[edit]

Each seed shows a distinct protein banding pattern.[clarification needed] This preliminary research work[clarification needed] shows that the 'terroir' of genetics and the environment immediately affect the quality of the seed.[clarification needed] Called "folk seeds" or farmers' varieties, landraces have been feeding people since plant domestication started about 10,000 years ago. Landraces provide excellent insurance for subsistence farming populations; there is always something in the field at the end of the season.

Farmers stopped using Red Fife and Marquis as new and improved varieties came onto the market. Landraces have horizontal resistance, as opposed to hybrids that have vertical resistance. By the 1960s, the Green Revolution introduced varieties of crops that were dependent on high inputs of fertilizer to produce high yields.

Plant breeders have used the genetics of old varieties like Red Fife to develop new varieties. Many of the bread wheats developed in Canada and the world owe part of their genetic lineage to Red Fife Wheat.[citation needed] A wheat's name could easily change when the seed was sent to another farmer.

USDA wheat handbooks list many synonyms. One year's handbook is a pdf on this website

Red Fife in the media[edit]

Folk musician Phil Vernon wrote a song entitled 'Red Fife Wheat'[4] for Canada's first "Bread and Wheat" festival, held in Victoria, British Columbia in 2008.[citation needed] Information confirmed by Sharon Rempel, godmother of the Red Fife wheat revival and creator of the Bread and Wheat Festival.

Products containing Red Fife Wheat[edit]

In June 2010, Canadian Real Canadian Superstores began selling an 1882 Red Fife loaf, recognising their family heritage as bakers and the 1880s when Weston may have been using Red Fife in his breads. This is the first use of variety-preserved wheat in a food product in Canada. Organic farmers Holly and Ray Peterson in Tompkins Saskatchewan grow the Red Fife used in the Weston loaf. The loaf is no longer sold in the store. Thanks go to Weston family member Mrs. Gretchen Bauta who's support of Sharon Rempel's field trials of heritage wheat in Canada, from 1998 to mid 2000s, for her support of Red Fife's use by the family (confirmed by Sharon Rempel).

Gananoque, Gananoque Brewing in Ontario produced the first Red Fife beer in 2012.[5]


  1. ^ Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, From a single seed—Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine. Modified June 8, 2007. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Grassroot Solutions, Heritage wheat varieties. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Variety Registration—Plants. Modified March 8, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  4. ^ Phil Vernon, Kitale Road. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  5. ^ Canadian Beer News, Gananoque Brewing Continues “Terroir” Series With Red Fife Wheat Ale. Published May 29, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  • HARLAN Jack R., Crops and man, American Society of Agronomy, Madison 1975
  • REMPEL, Sharon. Demeter's Wheats. Growing Local Food and Community with traditional wisdom and heritage wheat. 2008. Grassroot Solutions, Victoria. B.C.
  • SCOTT, Jennifer. New Respect for Old Wheat. Reclaiming heritage varieties requires culinary as well as agricultural expertise. Rural Delivery, October, 2004.
  • SYMKO, Stephan. Research Branch. Agriculture Canada. 1999. From a single seed, tracing the history of Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine.
  • WITCOMBE J. R.; JOSHI A; JOSHI K. D.; STHAPIT B. R. Farmer participatory crop improvement. I. Varietal selection and breeding methods and their impact on biodiversity. Experimental Agriculture (Exp. Agric.) 1996, vol. 32, no4, pp. 445–460 (19 ref.)

Sharon Rempel, godmother of Red Fife wheat revival in Canada and founder of Seedy Saturday seed exchange movement (1990) in Canada.