In February 2016, Greenhorns hosted a group of innovators in small-scale grains projects at Paicines Ranch, California for a first-of-its-kind convening.
We brought together these 40 farmers, millers, bakers and food activists for the purpose of discerning the trends and needs of the local grain movement. Our aim was to support relationship-building and networking amongst these pioneers. We also hoped to draw some conclusions about the next infrastructural developments and investments needed by this emerging regional grains economy.
The group represented a broad cross section of this burgeoning sector, all of whom participate in develop- ing the supply chain for a regional grain marketplace. Meanwhile, the majority of US produced, mainstream grains and beans are grown for anonymous commodity markets. Farms are often 2000 acres and larger because the crops are high-volume but low value that privilege vast acreages and expensive large scale machinery. These barriers are part of the reason staple crops are late to lo- cal markets. Another reason is that they require intermediate processing facilities such as mills and malt houses, which disappeared as farming and food handling consolidated during the early part of the 20th century.
History of grain production in the US
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, agricultural technology, from seeds to machinery, advanced and grain farming consolidated in grain belts around the country (like Idaho/ Washington, California, North Dakota, Kansas). By the 1950s and 1960s, the only milling happening at a local and small scale was for animal feed. Consolidation of grain processing has resulted in near monopoly control by Cargill etc.. who operate plants across the country. Everything from seed to market is preset for this dominant system.
Rebuilding regional, and regionally owned, grain production means creating new infrastructure, like community and on-farm mills, on-farm and regional storage and distribution channels, and developing seeds suited to locales, as well as local agricultural knowledge. Beyond these basics, professional bakers and brewers need training. These professionals are used to the uniformity of commodity products. They also need education on how to handle the variations that occur when growing and processing on a small scale. Simple logistics of getting regional staples to regional users are challenging, as storage and shipping facilities need reinvention, too. It takes quite a multi-dimensional team to steward these crops seed to loaf and ground to glass.
The people gathered at the ranch are at the forefront of a growing interest in traceable, sustainably produced staple crops. The report is a summary of the characteristics of these farm and food projects and the discussions that occurred at the meeting. It is a record of the challenges and opportunities that exist in the emerging regional grains market.
View the full report here: Greenhorns Small Grains Report