Progress report for LS20-327
Grains and legumes are largely absent from the Mid-Atlantic’s otherwise strong local food system, notwithstanding the fact that historically, states like Virginia had a strong food grain economy. The Common Grain Alliance (CGA) is a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding a localized food grain economy. Founded by thirteen members in 2018, CGA has recruited over fifty members, many of whom come from long family lines of grain growers and millers. Motivated by the absence of grain on the local food table, CGA members are dedicated to working with growers to help them realize the market opportunities in food grain and thereby strengthen the local grain value chain.
Most food grain currently grown in the region is sold on the commodity market despite a nearly nine-fold price premium on the small but growing local market. Existing food grain growers lack the connections, marketing strategies, and often the sustainable growing practices needed to access higher prices, while beginning growers face cost barriers, lack of know-how, and market uncertainty. The purpose of this project is to develop and implement a modular educational curriculum to train and recruit food grain growers for the local market in the Mid-Atlantic. The project will directly address the educational barriers to growing grain for the local market through partnerships with experts at Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and the Natural Resources & Conservation Service (NRCS), who will help develop, distribute, and conduct the curriculum and its associated resources. The core feature of the project is a set of eight 60-90 minute classes that will travel to where farmers gather throughout the region and that can be customized to the intended audience.
This project will meet the following objectives:
- Provide grain farmers and people considering farming grain in the Mid-Atlantic with the flexible educational resources they need to start farming food grain for the local market.
- Continue to establish Common Grain Alliance as the key advocate for food grain producers in the Mid-Atlantic.
The first objective will increase the number of grain farmers, acres in food grain, enterprise diversity, and the quality of food grain while creating a farmer network that will facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing. The second objective will solidify CGA as a key organizational partner for other like-minded organizations, ensure that the project builds on existing programming, and establish institutional relationships that will help CGA fulfill its mission. This project is a critical first step to returning grain to the Mid-Atlantic local food table.
- Provide grain farmers and people considering farming grain in the Mid-Atlantic with the flexible educational resources they need to start farming food grain for the local market. This educational program will increase the number of food grain farmers, the number of acres in food grain, the enterprise diversity of existing farms, and the quality of food grain in this region. It will also create a network of grain farmers that will facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing on key issues like soil regeneration, variety selection, sustainable management of disease and pests, and marketing.
- Continue to establish Common Grain Alliance as the key advocate for food grain producers in the Mid-Atlantic. This objective will help establish CGA as a key partner to other organizations involved in rural economic advancement, soil regeneration, and regional value-chain development. It will also help CGA connect with professionals and academics in the cooperative extension and research university network. These connections will be critical to ensuring that this project builds on existing research and policy and complements existing programming. The institutional relationships will also lay the groundwork for future collaborative research and educational programming, both of which are core elements of CGA’s mission and strategic plan (CGA 2019a).
Our original program was designed to involve a series of in-person educational events focused on topics critical to four grain farming target audiences. To adapt this plan to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team created a new series of educational opportunities that allowed for virtual learning. This strategy included:
- Online Webinars: We have adapted our initial curriculum for a virtual online webinar format. We are currently conducting semi-regular webinars and working in partnership with peer organizations such as Virginia Association for Biological Farmers and Future Harvest CASA to reach new audiences. Webinars to date have included:
- Best Practices in Post-Harvest Storage and Processing
- Grains to Glass: Exploring the Farmer, Maltser, and Brewer Partnership
- Protecting Your Crops Series - A 3-part series covering disease, insect, and weed management.
Upcoming Webinar topics include:
- Growing Small Grains Organically
- How to Incorporate a Small Grain Crop into Your Existing Operation
- Getting Started with Summer Annual Pseudo-grains and Less Commonly Grown Grains
- Soil Testing For Small Grains
Webinar Recordings and Upcoming Registration can be found on our website at https://commongrainalliance.org/webinars/
2. Video Channel: Throughout the grant period, our Program Administrator has been collecting and recording videos with CGA members to document best practices and operational set-up. Development of the video channel has slowed in the winter months of this past year but will pick up in the coming season. The video channel buckets the videos into different formats including:
- Stories from the Field (5 videos)
- Member Conversations (3 videos)
- Investing in Soil Health Practices (4 videos)
- Grain Farmer Educational Webinars (4 videos)
In addition, in 2022, we will create 10-12 short videos documenting two vegetable farmers who are growing small plots of grain on their farms. One farmer is focusing on Afro-centric summer annual grains, while the other is focused on wheat. These videos will provide first-hand footage of grain being grown on a small scale and will document the farmer’s experience through the first season.
3. Growing Grain Blog: Starting in January 2022, we have produced weekly blog posts (that are advertised on Instagram, and in our monthly newsletter), covering topics relating to educating farmers about growing grain. Each post contains links to additional resources that will then be transferred to print and digital resource guides (see below). This blog addresses both project objectives by allowing our team to increase the accessibility and awareness of our educational resources before the project is finalized. To date, the posts have generated 424 likes, 70 shares, and 30 comments on social media. https://www.commongrainalliance.org/growing-grain
4. Conferences and Presentations: Since our previous annual report, the project lead attended four farm conferences and presented project resources at two of them. The presentations are available in the media files. In two of the three presentations we were able to assess effectiveness; 15 out of 22 respondents said they were more likely to try growing grain after attending the session.
- November 2021: VSU (socially disadvantaged farmers) Small Farm Outreach conference–attended
- January 2022: Future Harvest (small diversified farmers) Farm Conference–Intro to Growing Grain presentation
- January 2022: VA Biological Farmers (small diversified farmers) Farm Conference–Intro to Growing Grain presentation and half-day Workshop
- February 2022: Virginia Grain Producers Association (large commodity grain growers) Farm Conference–attended and tabled
5. Resource Guide: The Resource Guide is actively under development with the help of a graphic designer. We have established a template for each modular element, which is being built on the Growing Grain Blog posts and presentations (see above). Each document (containing approximately 30 minutes of material, plus additional resources) will be available in print and digitally on our website.
6. Field Days: We are in the early phases of planning field days for this upcoming year which will be designed to facilitate in-person learning while also maintaining social distancing requirements. These field days will be conducted in collaboration with Future Harvest CASA, expanding upon our two previously successful field days from the 2021 growing season, which were:
- July 26, 2021: Soil Health and Storage at Cutfresh Organics
- August 10, 2021: Small Grain Processing For Direct Local Markets
This will continue to expand the network of attendees beyond our current members and collaborators. Anticipated dates include:
- May 14, 2022: Grains & Soil Health, Nelson County, Virginia
- September 2022: Pest Control & Cover Crops, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland
Educational & Outreach Activities
- Consultations indicate informal discussions and meetings with Grain Farmers and those interested in learning more about grain Farming.
- On-farm demonstrations occurred at two in-person member meetings
- Curricula, factsheets, or educational tools include factsheets, and worksheets developed thus far as part of our curriculum
- Online training includes all videos prepared to-date. These videos have been viewed 2181 times.
- Published press articles and newsletters includes our Growing Grain blog posts to date
- Webinars, talks and presentations: We have conducted 4 webinars to-date and 2 conference presentations
- Workshop / Field days Includes field days and half-day conference workshop.
- Virtual Tasting Event: This was designed to connect farmers and end-users to understand grain evaluation processes.
Our 2021 events have allowed us to continue to expand our reach. In addition to our web-based viewership, through our direct events and presentations, we have now reached 344 individuals. and have included a distribution of our target audiences. While tracking our target audiences perfectly has been difficult, we estimate the following distribution among those individuals:
Experienced Feed & Seed Farmers
Experienced Row Crop Farmers
Other Experienced Farmers
- Intro to Growing Grain (Conference/Presentation Material)
- Digging Deep into Growing Grain Workshop (Conference/Presentation Material)
- Direct Market Grain Buyer Handout (Fact Sheet)
- Equipment Handout for Grain Growers (Fact Sheet)
- Planning Guides for Choosing Grain Crops and Deciding on Market and Scale (Decision-making Tool)