Developing a Historical Community-Based Wheat Milling Cooperative

Final Report for LNC01-184

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $83,965.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Federal Funds: $50,603.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Edgar Hicks
Kansas Black Farmers Assoc.
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Project Information


An education and research project to develop a wheat mill cooperative for Kansas Black Farmers to pursue value added products and diversification of wheat production methods, appears to have succeeded in developing the cooperative’s value added Promised Land flour and pancake mix and growing a variety of white wheat. Although, no substantial income generated, the project garnered local and larger community recognition and continues to gain income from sales of flour and pancake mixes. This project led to a successful USDA 2501 grant to determine if teff (an Ethiopian grain low in gluten) will grow in Kansas.


Background of the Organization and Community

Initially, the project formed out of the organizing for the Kansas Black Farmers Association (KBFA) on March 27, 1999 in Nicodemus, Kansas around concerns for the litigation associated with the USDA class action lawsuit. From that original group of thirty farmers, a smaller group of wheat farmers was organized. The farmers involved in the program were interested in diversifying their wheat production methods, developing their cooperative, and creating income for themselves and their communities; the majority of this group were farmers from Nicodemus.

Nicodemus has a unique distinction of being one of the first places to be settled predominantly by blacks and one of the last to survive; it is the only remaining all African American resident community west of the Mississippi. The all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas has resisted the kind of extinction that happens to a place reduced from 200 residents to less than twenty-five residents. Each summer to celebrate its continued existence, each Homecoming Celebration, hundreds of descendants of the first settlers come back knowing that the place continues to manifest life. Nicodemus, Kansas shares the same name with a biblical character and the first slave in the U.S. to purchase his own freedom. Nicodemus represents that resiliency and hope. The philosophy of the initiative rests upon the principles of resiliency, hope and sustainable communities.

For the farmers and residents of Nicodemus, the hope lies with their offspring and others who continue to come home each year to celebrate their ancestors who struggled to keep the land. In 1877 people came to Nicodemus believing in themselves and their right to raise crops and build a community. In 1887, the wheat farmers made an effort to establish a wheat mill in Nicodemus however, the mill never materialized. Today there are four remaining wheat farming families from the original African American settlers. The Nicodemus wheat farmers continue to hold onto to the spirit of Nicodemus, their land, and their dreams of sustaining their own community. They came to Nicodemus to become self-sufficient.

Project Objectives:

1) Grow a variety of hard white wheat.
2) Develop a flour Mill for Nicodemus Flour Cooperative and establish suitable, legal Afronic standards and trademark with nutritional analysis.
3) Explore and develop direct marketing channels for products.
4) Develop and implement an educational program and use distance learning technology.
5) Develop farmers’ grain marketing knowledge and practices.
6) Open dialogue with USDA Commodity Credit Corporation(CCC) on the need for underserved producer cooperatives doing donation program business with sub-Saharan Africa.
7) Farmers diversity wheat production method


Materials and methods:

A group of farmers formed the Nicodemus Flour Cooperative and a subset of the farmers diversified their wheat product methods by growing a variety of white wheat. The Cooperative researched and purchased a flour mill to process and package the wheat they grew for value-added opportunities. The project included assistance from Langston University for outreach and marketing. Educational programs were created for farmers to gain knowledge and the general public to learn more about the history of Nicodemus. Also, dialogues were pursued with the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to discuss future distribution opportunities. The mill was purchased and stored and operated at the Bogue School. The school facility used was extensively sanitized to meet the standards to maintain such an operation of milling flour and packaging.

Research results and discussion:

1) Establish a Nicodemus Flour Mill Cooperative. Wheat Milling Cooperative was established. The activities included: Articles of Incorporation and bylaws are drawn up and Letters of Cooperation developed and signed. A LaMilpa Mill is purchased and office site near Park Service. Mill is in operation.

2) Establish suitable, legal Afronic standards and trademark with nutritional analysis. The desired outcome was the development of an Afronic label for Promise Land products.
Activities included: Researching the legal requirements relating to nutrition and labeling and deciding upon a label and trademark to be used on products. The Afronic label was developed and appears to be congruent with the community members’ values around farming and family.

3) Explore and develop direct marketing channels for products. The desired outcome was the development of a direct marketing approach. Activities included network with other community-based organizations regarding direct marketing approaches and researching direct marketing approaches. The Cooperative developed collaboration of direct marketing with the National Park Service and local entities. The Cooperative has developed relations with the Lehi Milling organization in Utah for direct marketing assistance. During the 2002 Homecoming Celebration, the Cooperative set up a booth and marketed the flour and pancake flour and a baked bread product from the one of the local community business owner and Cooperative member. The local press assisted in marketing the products by publishing stories about the mill and displaying the bags of flour and pancake mix milled by the Flour Cooperative.

4) Develop and implement an educational program and use distance learning technology including developing a website. The desired Outcome was the development of educational programs and materials for tourists. Development and connection of website was achieved. Consultant was hired to develop program materials. A bread recipe was developed and tested at the Homecoming Celebration. Recipes book were printed for distribution at the Homecoming Celebration. There were a number of tourists participating in educational program provided and a number of recipe books sold. Cinematographer Cynthia Vagnetti developed video of the community and of the Homecoming event to be used for educational programming. Examples of educational programs established include: The Nicodemus Homecoming Planning committee instituted the first political and educational forum as part of the Homecoming activities and Dr. Myers was the kick-off speaker.

5) Develop farmers’ grain marketing knowledge and practices. The desired outcome was
for five producers to develop grain marketing knowledge. The first year activity five farmers attended workshops in Kansas to gain marketing information. Farmers were surveyed regarding their knowledge and participation in workshops. Based on results of the survey, (see Survey, Appendix, Q9) 80% or four respondents indicated that they gained knowledge of marketing procedures.

6) Open dialogue with the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation on the need for underserved producer cooperatives to do business with sub-Saharan Africa. The desired outcome was to initiate activities to become qualified to perform USDA CCC business with sub-Sahara Africa. Mr. Hicks developed contacts with USDA Tech Center to begin plans for training opportunities for participating farmers and the Coop. In year one, the Project Coordinator began dialogues with USDA. Project director also attended meetings and had various telephone communications on behalf of the Cooperative.

7) Farmers diversify wheat production methods. The desired outcome was for five farmers to test grow a variety of white wheat in order to diversity wheat production. Three farmers did grow a variety of white wheat which was produced and milled into flour and pancake mixes. This section was evaluated in survey and participants responded regarding their decisions to produce wheat varieties.

A fifteen question survey was developed to evaluate the perspectives of five members of the Nicodemus Flour Cooperative related to project objectives. Survey forms were distributed by mail and email and returned by postal mail. The survey utilized a five point Likert scale ranging from (5) strongly agree to (2) strongly disagree, and also included don’t know (1). The survey also contained open-ended questions for the participants to make suggestions or elaborate on portions of the project. The Project Coordinator, Mr. Edgar Hicks, and Dr. Tom Tomas were also interviewed and provided information regarding the process of implementation of the wheat mill cooperative.

Survey Responses:
1. I have utilized the mill for wheat I have grown. (100% Agree)
2. If strongly disagree or disagree, why not? (100% Agree)
3. Do you anticipate utilizing the mill for your wheat in the future? (20% Agree, 20% SA, 20% Don’t know) (no responses for 40%)
4. The mill has increased the visibility of Nicodemus. (60% Agree, 40% Strongly agree)
5. The label appropriately represents the image of Nicodemus farmers. (40% Agree, 60% Strongly Agree)
6. The label is suitable for the products. (40% Agree, 60% Strongly Agree)
7. I was involved in the research for direct marketing approaches. (20% Strongly Disagree, 20% Agree, 60% Strongly Agree)
8. I was involved in collaborative agreements for direct marketing approaches. (40% Disagree, 20% Agree, 40% Strongly Agree)
9. I gained knowledge regarding alternative methods of grain marketing. (20% Disagree, 40%Agree, 40% Strongly Agree)
10. I diversified my wheat production methods. (40% Disagree, 60% Agree)
11. If strongly disagree or disagree, what were the barriers to diversifying wheat production?
a) Cost to diversity (immediate cost)
b) No incentive to change the way we are doing things.
12. I recognize that I need to diversify my wheat production methods. (20% Agree, 80% Strongly Agree)
13. I have utilized conservation practices during the last two years. (20% Agree, 80% Strongly Agree)
14. The project increased the community’s recognition of the importance of Nicodemus farmers? (20% Disagree, 20% Agree, 40% Strongly Agree, 20% Don’t know)

Open Ended Questions
15. How did the project benefit the Nicodemus community?
• Still in the working stage
• Showed a potential for a viable business in Nicodemus maybe a reason for descendants to move back.
• It gave us the knowledge that we can increase profits in the Nicodemus community
• Brought attention to existence

Research conclusions:

In 1887, the farmers of Nicodemus first discussed the idea of a wheat mill. Over one hundred years later the Nicodemus Flour Cooperative purchased a mill, thanks to SARE funding. These farmers have produced a label to package, market, and distribute their flour and pancake mix. The mill is an example the resiliency of a dream. Towns like Nicodemus are on the map because they rise out of the dust like a phoenix, epitomizing the spirit of those who refuse to die or give up on their dreams. The communal spirit of Nicodemus keeps it alive. The Homecoming Celebration embodies the spirit of community coming together to celebrate their common humanity and to share in the spirit of Nicodemus rising.

There exists a lack of access to available funding, resources, programs and services to meet the particular needs of farmers in Kansas. The impact of years of neglect from federal programs, none of the programs historically have effectively addressed their concerns.
The newly formed Kansas Black Farmers Association was an example of people coming together around a common interest. The fact that this project was able to proceed given the distractions of the formation of the KBFA around the litigation, was a feat in itself.

The Nicodemus mill provided an opportunity for the Historic site to produce a value added product with their unique label that represents the African American face in agriculture. For the first time, the farmers had a value-added product to display to the world the contributions that African American farmers make to the agricultural industry in the Midwest. The farmers were able to showcase their flour and pancake mixes to the visitors to the National Park Site and the community. Park Site visitors were given educational talks and interactive activities to learn about the Nicodemus farmers and the historic Site. Dr. Gail Myers, noted anthropologist in the field of African American farming history presented the opening talk at the Annual 2001 Homecoming Celebration. The bread recipe was developed and products were baked from the milled flour. Descendents from all over the country attended the Annual Homecoming Celebration on July 2001, and purchased the products. The research to identify a national distributor for the bread did not materialize in this grant cycle however there are plans to pursue for future activities.

With the assistance of the National Park Service and a marketing plan for the value added products, i.e. flour, pancake, bread, the trajectory looks promising that the Nicodemus farmers and residents can pursue a path of sustaining community for the next 100 years of their Homecoming Celebrations.

Economic Analysis

The total grant was $83,965; $40,165 the first year and $43,800 the 2nd year. The project spent $3900 for the LaMilpa Mill. Sales from flour and pancake mixes were approximately $3000. Over the past 4 years, donations from the pancake breakfasts in the community continue to trickle in. The existence of SARE funds gave birth to the KBFA believing that they could produce something that added value to their products. The real benefits from this mill, the creation of the Afronic label, and the products created may not be realized within the grant cycle.

Farmer Adoption

Based upon the measurement methods, the project achieved most of the goals and objectives set forth in the proposal. When asked how the project benefited them, the farmers responded that the project was “Still in the working stage,” another farmer indicated that the effort “Showed a potential for a viable business in Nicodemus [for which] maybe a reason for descendants to move back. Other farmers said that “It gave us the knowledge that we can increase profits in the Nicodemus community” and “Brought attention to existence [of Nicodemus]. Five farmers maintained the wheat cooperative by providing high quality wheat for the flour and pancake mix. The SARE grant provided the opportunity for the farmers to begin to break the threshold of dependence on brokers.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Several news articles published in local papers about the mill and the Nicodemus Flour Cooperative.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

However, there were areas within the implementation of the program that need improvement.

1) Mill needs a home. The arrangement was not permanent and no permanent home exists.
2) Rotation of meeting location could have been more central to maintenance initial members.
3) Hold regional meetings between all locations and monthly meetings for those near each other in the state.

More support might be leveraged to market and create more demand for the products so that there is greater visibility of the Nicodemus farmers and the legacy of the farming history they have sustained.

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.