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 at least one webinar a month 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 Webinars 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/
- Video Channel: Throughout the year, 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 will continue through the remaining grant period. The video channel buckets the videos into different formats including:
- Stories from the Field
- Member Conversations
- Investing in Soil Health Practices
- Grain Farmer Educational Webinars
- Resource Guide: We have begun a comprehensive resource list for farmers that will be available for anyone on our website. We are currently crowdsourcing available resources and will then create additional resources based on the gaps identified.
- 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 partners to expand the network of attendees beyond our current members and collaborators.
Educational & Outreach Activities
- Consultations indicate informal discussions and meetings with Grain Farmers and those interested in learning more about grain Farming.
- Online training includes all videos prepared to date. These videos have been viewed 1,276 times with the number continuing to grow.
- Webinars, talks and presentations: We have conducted 3 webinars to date with three more scheduled for the next month and additional to follow.
- Virtual Tasting Event: This was designed to connect farmers and end-users to understand grain evaluation processes.
Our Webinars and Tasting Events have reached over 200 attendees and have included a distribution of our target audiences. Those numbers include:
Experienced Feed & Seed Farmers
Experienced Row Crop Farmers
Other Experienced Farmers