Final Report for CNE10-071

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,883.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Ben Lester
Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains
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Project Information

Summary:

The Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Project has worked to address the re-establishment of community-based grain, bean, and seed production through a direct collaboration between Pioneer Valley farmers and the Pioneer Valley community. By linking farmers in need of new markets with a community eager to buy local staple foods, we have created the synergistic underpinnings of a new and profound market. Our Grain and Bean CSA is the only one in the Northeast (and only the second in the country). It is a model we hope to help other farms embrace and adopt.

CSAs are an alternative consumer-producer relationship that revitalizes local economies, preserves farmland, nourishes whole-being health, and sustains local food systems. Through the creation of a grain, dried bean, and seed CSA, we increased the income and financial security for farmers, while re-introducing nearly a dozen staple food crops (wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, emmer, dent corn, dried beans, flax, sunflowers, etc) that for the past hundred years have seen little or no activity in the Pioneer Valley, in the field or on the plate. This is especially important in Massachusetts, which imports about 85% of its food consumption (Sanneh, 2000). For the average American, who consumes over 125 pounds of flour a year, wheat is a product with an influential market. In our first year, we worked with seven farmers, helping to source seeds; providing production, processing, and harvesting assistance in conjunction with the New England Small Farm Institute and the MAIC/MDAR grant (“Pioneer Valley Grain Growers Business Development Project”); organized marketing, sign-ups, and distribution of PVHG CSA shares and local bread shares.

Our plan for 2010 was to expand on 2009’s success, by increasing production for our CSA from 30 acres to 50 acres, and doubling our membership from 125 families to 250 families. We continued to assist other Pioneer Valley farms, by helping to source seed, providing education on production techniques, and assisting with harvesting, cleaning, and marketing. In 2009, two farms produced grains and beans for the CSA; in 2010, we planned to increase that to four farms, and we did. Some of these farmers we contacted about growing for us, and some of them contacted us, and word of our project spread through the farming community.

Project Objectives:

Increasing production for our CSA from 30 acres to 50 acres: We exceeded our goal and the farms growing for the CSA increased the acreage of grains grown to approximately 75 acres. In 2010 we sold 5,000 lbs of locally grown grain and in 2011, we sold 9,000 lbs of grains grown in the Pioneer Valley. We hoped to increase local bean production – in 2009 our bean crops had failed, but in 2010 we successfully produced one acre of beans, yielding 300 pounds of heirloom beans.

Doubling our CSA membership from 125 families to 250 families: We were only able to increase to about 160 families, due in part to not accepting members until July. In 2011, we worked to remedy this by starting to sell shares at the hugely popular winter farmers markets, and also by accepting payment by credit card. We also began tabling at local CSA distributions, to meet potential members.

Impacting local carbon usage and health were both incredibly important to this project – we were able in 2010 and 2011 to bring more nutrient-dense, nutritious whole grain meals over 150 families who previously had no access to these crops (they weren’t previously grown in the Valley, and were being produced on large, lower-quality megafarms). Health benefits of eating whole grains instead of highly processed grains (such as white flour) include better digestion, reduced likelihood of developing grain allergies, better availability of nutrients within the grains, and increased lasting energy from the grains consumed. We estimate we reduced our members carbon footprints by 5% (using available research data on food carbon prints); bringing them food produced within 20 miles of their homes instead of 1500 miles away, and produced on farms using farming practices that reduce carbon.

In 2009, two farms produced grains and beans for the CSA; in 2010, we planned to increase that to four farms and we successfully did so. In the greater Pioneer Valley, we provided consultation and support to 14 potential grain farmers, ranging from commercial growers looking to add new crops to their rotation, to gardeners with extra land, and to new vegetable CSAs who wanted to offer a more complete range of products to their members. We also consulted with at least 6 land owners who were interested in seeing their land put into grain production.

Ben Lester will present a workshop “Returning Diversified Grain Production to New England” at the NOFA/MASS Annual Winter Conference – this did happen, with so many participants they were standing outside in the hall (between 50-75 attendants). Ben also presented at the NE Animal Powere Field Days Conference in August 2011, a workshop titled “Animal Powered Community Grains,” with 25 attendants.

Spring Field Tour and Workshop – this turned into a summer field tour at Lazy Acres Farm in Hadley, with a fantastic educational talk by farm Alan Zuchowski, which was videotaped and is posted for viewing at localgrain.org. Fifteen people attended this event. The link to this video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4LIK41IRjI&feature=player_embedded
The video of Alan’s 2011 spelt crop being combined is up for viewing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXIqgQZB-pM&feature=channel_video_title

Second Annual Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Field Day – this was held in September 2010 at Wheatberry Farm in Shutesbury. We had over 100 attendees, far exceeding our hopes, and were able to demonstrate bean threshing by hand, draft power in our Three Sisters field (heirloom beans, corn, and winter squash), using a hand crank mill, samples of whole grain recipes, and we talked with many community members and farmers.

Our goal is to clean and bag earlier than in 2009. We were quite successful in this, and finished our distributions in November 2010 (2009 distributions weren’t until January).

We weren’t able to renew our partnership with White Oak Farm, but developed wonderful new relationships with Cliff Hatch at Uppingill Farm and farmer Giles Dewitt of Granby, MA. We furthered our relationship with Alan Zuchowski of Lazy Acres Farm, and were able to provide members with a bountiful share in good time.

We also shared recipes with many members and also people across the country and globe through our blog, Fields and Fire. Our blog received an average of 121 visits per day in 2010, with total of 43,991 views. You can view the recipe section at http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire/category/whole-grain-weekends/
Adrie Lester also did a video interview and tour of our farm, which is available for viewing here: http://vimeo.com/20631886

Introduction:

No longer do we have the regional food sheds that, throughout the course of history, have been our primary means for sustenance and security. Consolidated industrial food systems have undermined this long-standing agricultural heritage, and it is now time for a shift back to a more localized and regional food supply. As world-wide grain reserves have continued to fall, populations and demand have continued to grow(7 billion humans now on Earth), and the water supplies our current worldwide production depends on is threatened by sharp decreases caused by climate change and the over pumping of underground aquifers. There could be no more critical a moment to address this by re-establishing community-based staple food production (grains and dried beans and oil seeds). In addition, as peak oil threatens to change the availability and cost of energy, which in turn threatens to change the availability and cost of food supplies we must address this by creating food systems that prosper with alternative and reduced energy availability.

Not only is this a critical moment but a time of tremendous opportunity. With the tripling of grain prices (caused in 2007 by high demand and agricultural shortfalls) and the increased consumer awareness of the downfalls of industrialized agriculture, paired with the awareness and benefits of local foods, the time is right to tackle this challenging and complex re-establishment.

Through the creation of a grain, dried bean, and seed CSA, we have increased the income and financial security for farmers, while re-introducing nearly a dozen staple food crops (wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, emmer, dent corn, dried beans, flax, sunflowers, etc) that for the past hundred years have seen little or no activity in the Pioneer Valley, in the field or on the plate. This is especially important in Massachusetts, which “imports about 85% of its food consumption” (Sanneh, 2000). For the average American, who consumes over 125 pounds of flour a year, wheat is a product with an influential market. In our first year, we worked with seven farmers, helping to source seeds; providing production, processing, and harvesting assistance in conjunction with the New England Small Farm Institute and the MAIC/MDAR grant (“Pioneer Valley Grain Growers Business Development Project”); organized marketing, sign-ups, and distribution of PVHG CSA shares and local bread shares. PVHG CSA shares reached over 100 families in 2010, and 2,000 loaves of bread made with 100% locally grown wheat were sold this year from Wheatberry Bakery.

Here in the Pioneer Valley, many farmers who have relied on tobacco, tomatoes, and potatoes are looking for new markets and more region-appropriate crops, particularly after the crop devastations of 2009 (early blight, late blight, and other diseases caused by unusually cool wet weather). We have worked with, and will continue to work with, farmers transitioning from these crops to a diversified grain and bean rotation. We were very heartened that even in the terrible weather conditions of 2009, not only did our oats and rye produce well, but the “riskiest” crop, wheat, did exceptionally well and is producing beautiful bread.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. John Gerber
  • Michael Gove
  • Adrie Lester
  • Seth Seeger
  • Alan Zuchowski

Research

Research results and discussion:

The farmers were worked with are thrilled to be growing these exciting staple crops which are still quite unusual in our area. This gives them a niche to fill, brings them a good price, and, in the case of Uppingill Farm, gives them a much-needed outlet for their product.

Through our blogs, we are able to reach farmers and non-farmers all over the country (and beyond!) who tell us they are inspired and amazed by our work. Many of them are seeking out locally grown grains within their own communities, or beginning to grow grain on their farms. In fall 2010, we started a cooking meme on our blog called “Whole Grain Weekends” where we post whole grain recipes and other bloggers and readers are invited to post theirs as well. We expect this to grow and grow, and the response has been very enthusiastic. By exposing the public to the concept of local grains, and how easy those grains are to prepare (and delicious!) we can have far-reaching effects.

During the course of this project, we increased our (email) mailing list from 750 readers to over 1,000 readers.

We have also started learning to take videos and upload them to both Youtube and www.localgrain.org. This allows our members (and potential members) to meet the farmers, see the crops being harvested, etc. It also allows people from all over the world to see what small-scale sustainable grain growing looks like.

Any piece of this project could easily be replicated on another farm or in another community. The CSA model is one we proudly promote, and we answer many emails and phone calls from interested farms. Grains grow in diverse climates, and most communities are now familiar with both the concept of CSAs and the concept of eating locally. Our world seems more ready than ever to keep money within the community instead of shipping it out, and to build local stability and security by producing food as close to home as possible. Maintaining the communication tools of our mailing list and our blog are quite simple to learn, free, and have been very successful for us.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

See outcomes and impacts, and Objectives/Performance Targets.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

For future farmers, we highly recommend the CSA model as the most successful relationship for connecting farmers to markets. To sell an unusual product like local grains, it’s critical to engage the consumer in an exciting, engaging, and educational way. For us, creating a thriving presence on the web, where we share photos, recipes, videos, and updates has been absolutely critical. This also allows us to reach beyond our immediate region – to customers as far as Martha’s Vineyard and New York City. We highly recommend creating a blog that is easy to use, and working hard to build a substantial readership and mailing list for anyone who is starting or trying to increase their local grain sales.

Another very useful element was having multiple farms come together to provide a more diverse, and more stable offering. This has greatly contributed to our success.

Getting coverage in the press was helpful in increasing sales – we were covered by the Boston Globe, a local radio show, the National Wildlife Federation, and our two major local newspapers. We recommend working to promote through major press as well as your own site.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.