Progress report for WPDP21-016
Farmers, bakers, brewers, chefs, and cooks are all looking towards heritage and ancient grains to diversify their fields and kitchens. Informed by 5 years of farmer-led grain trials, Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance has identified 20 varieties of heritage and ancient grains with market potential and adaptability throughout the West. Specific data on field performance, nutritional values, and baking qualities are scarce on these varieties and we often receive requests from farmers and agricultural professionals for more information on these unique crops. To fill this need, we would like to offer hands-on and virtual educational opportunities, along with valuable agricultural data, to producers through partnerships with agricultural professionals in the Intermountain West. Economic analyses of the viable scale for market production of heritage and ancient grains will also be conducted and shared. Farmer Field Days will include grain field tours, presentations of the research, mechanical and manual planting, harvesting, and cleaning demonstrations, and peer-to-peer education. We will enlist local bakers and chefs to prepare lunch with heritage and ancient grains to increase participant understanding and awareness of the various uses of these crops. Farmer Field Days will be offered at Research Centers in Colorado and New Mexico, at a partner organization on the Navajo Nation, and at farms in Idaho and Colorado that are currently participating in a research project we are conducting with the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Based on our recent online course, Seed School for Farmers, an online Grain School will also be offered to agricultural professionals and interested farmers, with recordings available for those who aren’t able to join the live programming. Data, descriptions, and other growing specifications will be made freely available through a Heritage Grain Handbook to enable farmers and growers to make informed decisions on growing and transitioning to heritage and ancient grains.
We will accomplish the following objectives with this project:
- Increase awareness and knowledge among agricultural professionals and farmers about heritage and ancient grains as a viable crop for regenerative farm practices and farm profitability.
- Compile and increase data on the economic benefits and implications of adding heritage and ancient grains to farm operations and enterprises.
- Increase marketing outlets and opportunities for heritage and ancient grains in rural communities in the Intermountain West.
- Provide support and consultation to the research and trial sites throughout the West.
- Offer administrative and technical support for grain trialists and farmers interested in incorporating heritage and ancient grains into their enterprise.
- Help connect farmers and growers to local chefs, cooks, bakers, and brewers interested in incorporating heritage and ancient grains into the local food economy.
- Conduct lab analyses and compile comparative data on 20 varieties of ancient and heritage grains.
Quantitative lab testing will enhance our knowledge of heritage grains by informing side-by-side comparisons of varieties and it will allow for comparisons to conventional varieties that have extensive performance data. In order to compare varieties and to compare grain quality to conventional varieties we would like to test grain for moisture, test weight, 100 seed count, falling number, protein, stalk nitrogen, and wet gluten and gluten index.
- Develop and deliver curriculum for online Grain School course; August 2021-December 2021: Based on RMSA's current online Seed School for Farmers, we will offer a ten-week live virtual Grain School that will be recorded for ongoing viewing. Although RMSA specializes in in-person weeklong courses with field days, COVID has required us to shift our format to virtual courses. We have an effective model from our current course to replicate. True to our popular course format, we will incorporate hands-on activities and feature guest presenters who are experts in the field and topic of study. RMSA Executive Director Bill McDorman will be the lead instructor, and Project PI and Grain Trials Program Director Lee-Ann Hill will facilitate. RMSA’s Social Media Coordinator, Operations Manager, and Diversity Coordinator will all assist to ensure the course is well promoted, runs smoothly, and is inclusive. Staff time is incorporated into the budget accordingly.
- Develop and offer Heritage Grain Field Days; August-October 2021, July 2022: RMSA will work with collaborating research centers and heritage grain trial sites, and draw upon the virtual Grain School curriculum, to create and offer heritage grain field days for agricultural professionals and farmers interested in learning more about heritage and ancient grains. Local bakers and chefs who have also been involved in the Heritage Grain Trials program will participate by offering lunch and snacks made with heritage and ancient grains provided by RMSA. Costs for lunches are incorporated into the budget. Professional videos of the field days will be produced by an independent videographer (see contract section in budget) that can be shared with collaborators and made freely available online. Sub-contract costs include research assistance for the research center trials. Budget includes travel for PI and instructors to attend field days.
- Develop and Publish the Heritage Grains Handbook; November 2021-August 2022. Data and results from the economic analyses, grain sampling, and nutritional analyses of 20 heritage and ancient grain varieties, along with ongoing data gathered from trialists in RMSA’s Heritage Grain Trials program, will be published in a Heritage Grains Handbook and made freely available to course participants, agricultural professionals, and farmers throughout the Intermountain West, where the data collection has been focused. The Heritage Grains Handbook will also be freely available on the RMSA website and other partners’ websites to help growers and farmers work with these special crops. Budget includes design and publishing costs for the Heritage Grains Handbook.
The educational component for the project involves four field days at a participating research trial site (completed), one forthcoming field day at a grain trial site on the Navajo Nation in 2022, a virtual Grain School (completed), hands-on participatory trials (completed), and formal research (currently being analyzed) at four growing sites using a replicated block design format (completed and explained below). The pedagogy involved experiential, collaborative, integrative, reflective, and inquiry-based learning opportunities.
In 2021, field days were held at each of the four research sites. Field days offered field tours of the grains near harvest time to expose participants to the different traits and habits of the grain varieties. Field days also included hands-on learning opportunities in grain harvesting and cleaning, guest presenters, group discussion, and grain tastings. In 2021, 110 people participated in the grain field day events. One more field day is planned in 2022 at a participating grain trials site at Work in Beauty Eco Regenerative Learning Center in Ramah, New Mexico.
Virtual Grain School
In fall of 2021, we held an eight-week, virtual grain school that involved presentations and break-out sessions with experts, peer-to-peer learning, grain literacy activities, an online learning portal with hands-on activities to do at home, and an invitation to students to deeply study a grain of choice. We had 58 student participants and 20 guest presenters for this dynamic, knowledge-sharing experience.
Participatory Grain Trials
Participatory grassroots research is a meaningful way to include and educate growers, which in turn educates others who can learn from the growers' experiences with the grains. During the SARE project, we continued our grassroots growing trials through the Heritage Grain Trials Project (grain.trials.manual) with farmers who self-selected varieties and reported data (see Crop Assessment SheetGrowing_print version) based on their greatest interests. These trials were ongoing since the inception of the Heritage Grain Trials Project at the beginning of 2016, and concluded at the close of 2021. We had 196 participants total in the project.
We also offered participatory kitchen trials with five varieties of wheat that we were able to acquire as flour and whole grain including Einkorn, Emmer, Sonoran White Wheat, Red Fife, and Khorasan. We had 44 participants, including 40 home bakers and four commercial bakers. In the kitchen trials, we collected data (Recipe_LoafAssesmentSheet) on crumb, crust, volume, flavor, and overall performance. Attached is a sample of the report Heritage Grains Kitchen Trials Report.
Research methods and experimental design were co-developed with farmer collaborators who cultivated forty plots, all 32ft x 4ft in size with 1ft between-plot buffers. Total area of the study at each site was approximately 0.15 acres. The experimental design is an augmented design with replicated blocks consisting of three rows each, distributed across the field allowing five cultivars to be grown in replicates for estimation of variance. The remaining 15 plots were assigned an unreplicated cultivar. Varieties were planted at 4 inch in-line spacing and 12 inch between-line spacing for ease of cultivation and because generous spacing is recommended for older cereals (Rogosa, 2016).
Analysis of both yield and plant height at harvest supported equal variance among the cultivars. This design was recommended because it simplifies the experiment compared to a completely replicated design, while working within a reasonable assumption of equal variation across all cultivars within each site. The purpose of the design was to test hypotheses comparing yield and plant height among all 20 cultivars. The design and field map with coding for randomizing cultivars to plots was created by a research collaborator.
Plant height data was collected in the form of pictures taken with a yardstick and recorded onto a data sheet. Yield data was collected after harvest and the cleaning of the grains. Qualitative assessments of weed suppression, lodging, vigor, pest, and disease tolerance was also requested of trialists.
Additional bioregional, quantitative lab testing was conducted to assess grain quality from each variety per site for moisture content, test weight, 1,000 seed count, falling number, and protein content. Wet gluten and gluten index data was collected on each wheat sample and a pup loaf analysis was done on each variety. Stalk nitrogen testing was conducted on samples from the participating research farm and the Colorado State University – Southwestern Colorado Research Center (SWCRC) in Yellow Jacket, CO. SWCRC also conducted a seeding rate trial that will help address the question of best seeding rates for these unique grain varieties.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Educate 50 agricultural professionals and farmers through our online Grain School Course
Grain School online was an 8-week course that featured guest instructors each week who shared their expertise on growing, harvesting, and marketing heritage and ancient grains. Students received online assignments and resources, and were encouraged to "Adopt a Grain" to go deeper in study of the particular characteristics and field requirements for grains of interest. An additional milling and baking full-day course was offered as the "grande finale" to the course. Opportunities for break-out sessions with students and instructors were offered along with an online forum for continued discussion within the course.
The learning outcomes are significant and exponential. Fifty-eight students enrolled in the live online course, and 20 presenters shared their knowledge in addition to RMSA staff of four who ran and facilitated the program. To continue sharing this knowledge, we also packaged the program for an ongoing online offering on our website. Following are the weekly objectives and topics that were covered:
Week 1: Getting acquainted with grains, and ancient and heritage grains (grain overview). Inspiration to learn more.
Week 2: Learn about growing heritage grains in your farms and gardens.
Week 3: Adopt-A-Crop; find your grain and get deep with it! Discover the story and become part of the story. Where to find grains; dispelling the myths of grain growing.
Week 4: Grain research and research development.
Week 5: Finding grains suited for your region; heritage grain trials
Week 6: Alternative grains
Week 7: The Grain economy and revitalizing a regional market
Week 8: Nutrition, milling and baking with heritage and ancient grains
We received supportive feedback from the course, and we are packaging it to make it available to more people via our website. We also packaged the one-day milling and baking workshop.
You have amazing resources. I bought two books and a grain mill during class which were all part of your resource lists. I visited many of the web sites you listed and learned a lot. I think your team did a top notch job getting great speakers and gathering resources. The class was worth every penny and more.
Educate 200 agricultural professions and farmers through 5 Heritage Grain Field Days
Offer field tours of research trials and provide hands-on learning opportunities with ancient and heritage grains with guest presenters with expertise in growing, marketing, and integrating heritage grains into local products. Participants received handouts of the Top 20 grains (Top 20 HGTP Grains), and the plot maps of the grains for the field tours.
To date we have offered 4 Heritage Grain Field Days and educated 110 people through field day activities. We anticipated higher numbers at the field sites, though due to COVID health and safety concerns, numbers have been slightly lower as requested by some field day sponsors, and also with less registrations during this uncertain time. Following are the field days that have been offered. We have one remaining field day on the calendar for July of 2022 in Ramah, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation.
July 27, 2021: CSU Southwest Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket, Colorado; 26 participants and 4 guest presenters at the field trial site. Included a field tour of the research trials with the lead researcher and grant collaborator, discussion on the business of growing heritage and ancient grains with a local spelt farmer, enterprise budgeting by a CSU agronomist, and an edible presentation on a local grain economy with a regional commercial baker. Demonstrations with the equipment used, and how to hand clean grains were also offered.
August 4, 2021: Zephyros Farm in Paonia, Colorado; 42 participants and 6 presenters attended for a field tour of the research trials with research farmer, Don Lareau, and his farm manager, a presentation from local grain growers both large scale and garden scale, bakers from a regional bakery, and a locally-sourced lunch with a local chef who integrates heritage and ancient grains into her offerings. Harvesting and cleaning demonstrations provided hands-on opportunities with the grains.
What was the highlight of the Grain Day for you?
The tour of the grains, discussion/learning about ancient grains and the information about the circle of a grain community.
August 12, 2021: Laughing Wolf Farm in Mancos, Colorado; 12 participants and 3 presenters attended a field tour of research trials and a day of hand-on learning with ancient and heritage grains including harvesting and cleaning, seed head dissection, seed adaptation discovery tour, and an edible sampling of various grains in lunch and snacks. Seeds were shared with participants so they can experience growing grains in their own fields and gardens.
What was the highlight of the Grain Day for you?
Threshing wheat and tasting it in bread, plus tortillas hand made from scratch with Bill was a eye opening experience plus the amazing taste and real connection to a sacred food.
September 9, 2021: King's Crown Farm in Glenns Ferry, Idaho; 17 participants attended a field tour of the research trials and participated in a discussion of a heritage and ancient grain economy with local farmers, millers, and a local food advocacy group. Various considerations of a local food economy with specialty grains was discussed. A manual grain cleaning demonstration was offered.
What was the highlight of the Grain Day for you?
Gathering with people in the field and tasting the raw grain kernels - such unique flavors!
Delicious meal! Fun time! Hope to see more RMSA events happen in Idaho. And as a speaker, it was very thoughtful to provide a stipend - thank you!
Conduct comparative quantitative and qualitative research through research trials on 20 varieties of cereal grains at 4 sites on: height, yield, weight, and stalk nitrogen, lodging, pest resistance, and conduct comparative nutritional and baking analysis on 20 varieties of heritage grains from 4 research sites on grain protein, moisture, falling number, wet gluten and gluten index.
Through replicated block design models, qualitative field testing and quantitative lab testing were conducted on 20 varieties at the 4 research sites. The 20 varieties were selected as the most adaptive and promising cereal grains with the adequate stock available from five previous years of grassroots grain trials in the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance's Heritage Grain Trials Program. This data collection was implemented to enhance the data available for heritage grains and ancient grains, and to help farmers assess if they are compatible for their own practices, soils, crop methods, and markets. This will also allow for comparisons to conventional varieties that have extensive performance data.
In order to compare varieties and to compare grain quality to conventional varieties, we tested grain for moisture, test weight, 100 seed count, falling number, protein, stalk nitrogen, and wet gluten and gluten index. Grains were collected and combined per variety per site from the 4 field sites and sent to Great Plains Lab for lab testing, other than the stalk nitrogen that was send to Ward Lab. These results are still being analyzed and will be available in the final version of the Heritage Grain Guidebook.
Results and discussion
Data is still being compiled and analyzed, and will be available in the forthcoming Heritage Grain Guidebook, which will be freely available on the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance website (www.RockyMountainSeeds.org). Yield results and qualitative data have been assessed. Varieties in the trials are listed here from highest yielding to lowest in pounds per acre, with moisture rates incorporated in the calculations. This order also generally reflects weed and pest pressure resistance.
- Sangaste rye
- Black Emmer
- Turkey red winter wheat
- Sonoran white wheat
- Iraq durum
- Red Fife*
- Pacific Bluestem*
- Tibetan purple barley (winter trial)
- Sin El Pheel
- Black einkorn
- Arabian blue barley
- Pima Club
- Ethiopian blue-tinged emmer
- Purple dolma*
- Rouge de Bordeaux*
*Limited regionalized seed stock at the onset of the trials of Rouge de Bordeaux, Red Fife, Pacific Bluestem and Purple Dolma barley prevented trialing those varieties at each of the four sites, though each of the varieties was tested at a minimum of one site.
The yield analyses and the qualitative observations from the research trials reflect results from the grassroots trials. Challenges are also consistent between the research and grassroots trials with weed suppression as a key data set and setback for growers who are reporting more weed competition along with more pest pressures. Einkorn and Tibetan purple barley were significantly impacted by weeds to the point of crop failures, though winter plantings of Tibetan purple barley and black einkorn offered enough of a “head start” on the weeds to result in a successful harvest. Einkorn is notoriously slow in germination so weeds generally outpace the growth of this variety. The Tibetan purple barley, while much quicker to germinate, is shorter in stature and thus is also often outpaced by competing plants. And the hulled varieties (spelt, emmers, and einkorn) have the additional challenge of needing specialized equipment for dehulling, which adds time and cost considerations to the final product.
RMSA Pup Loaves and Alveograph Analysis were conducted on all wheat varieties, and the results between varieties were surprisingly similar despite varying gluten and protein contents. However, the tests were based on conventional loaf standards using yeast rather than artisan breads using sourdough, which is likely the more common bread application for these specialty grains. Data is available from the trials on gluten strength, volume, flour and crumb character, and other factors that bakers may find helpful and translatable for their own purposes. All in all, the pup loaf analyses also reflected our grassroots kitchen trials, which involved professional and at-home bakers.
As for our objective to increase seed stock, we were able to increase and share seed stock though with many plots failing to reach harvest due to weed competition, and with the amount of seed required for the lab analyses (approximately six pounds per variety), not all varieties yielded 20 additional pounds of seed stock for farmers.
Final conclusions are forthcoming with the final data assessments, and will be incorporated into the Heritage Grain Handbook. Preliminary conclusions suggest that the top 5 varieties above are most adaptive and resilient in the field, best yielding, and best performing against weeds and pests. The highest-ranking grain for the bakers who provided feedback was emmer for the flavor and the sourdough bread performance, and professional bakers showed an additional interest in Khorasan, rye, and durum as localized products, along with interest in local Sonoran White and Turkey Red wheats, though those varieties are available in the greater Western region at a price that would likely be more competitive from larger regionalized growers than smaller local growers. Through casual survey with professional bakers who were milling their grains, the price point for local grains was $2 per pound for clean whole grains. The enterprise budget analyses will help determine the feasibility of the market.
Help connect farmers and growers to local chefs, cooks, bakers, and brewers interested in incorporating heritage and ancient grains into the local food economy.
By connecting all of the pieces for a local grain economy including grains, growers, millers, farmers, bakers, brewers, chefs, and consumers, we can support regional grain economies. Grain trials enable farmers and growers to become acquainted with the grains and assess field performance in relation to their own practices, climates, soils, and operations so they can grow successful crops of varieties that perform best for them. Field days offered an opportunity for growers and bakers to meet, and an opportunity for participants to taste flavors and products of these specialty grains. Additionally, through the kitchen trials we were able to further connect home and commercial bakers to grains to assess grain flavors and performance in breads.
Through educational opportunities, kitchen trials, and field trials, we were able to offer various ways for people to participate. For the kitchen trials, five heritage and ancient wheat varieties were provided to forty-four trialists that were invited to share their experiences, photos, and data on flavor, crust and crumb. For the field trials, in total since 2016, 196 grain trialists participated in the Heritage Grain Trials Project, which included 265 varieties of cereal, Indigenous, and alternative grains. Through this SARE project and the greater Heritage Grain Trials Project, the impact of supporting regional grain economies has been significant, with more people showing interest in growing and consuming heritage and ancient grains, and more bakers and chefs interested in local grains for their kitchens and products. Further surveys are needed to quantify the impact, though the "buzz" for local grains is testimony to the success of the greater local grain movement.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Heritage Grain Trials: 196 participants since 2016 (not included in numbers below)
Our actual outcomes have been closely aligned with our proposed outcomes, and many have already been accomplished though some are ongoing as follows:
Goal: Educate 50 agricultural professionals and farmers through our online Grain School Course. Accomplished: 58 participants enrolled in the live Grain School online course, and we are packaging the course for an ongoing educational opportunity for many others.
Goal: Educate 200 agricultural professionals and farmers through 5 Heritage Grain Field Days. Accomplished: In 2021, we educated 110 students in the field days and have one more field day forthcoming in 2022. Participation numbers for live courses were lower than anticipated with the ongoing COVID concerns. However, we are hopeful the host sites will continue working with our organization and local extension agencies to open their farms up to further public visitation post-pandemic.
Goal: Distribute 200 Heritage Grain Handbooks to agricultural professionals and farmers interested in heritage and ancient grains. Accomplished: The Heritage Grain Handbook is currently being designed. Research is still being analyzed and will be incorporated into the handbook once finished.
Goal: Provide seed for 20 varieties of heritage and ancient grains to 4 research sites. Accomplished: Completed as outlined, with all 20 varieties now being analyzed.
Goal: Conduct comparative quantitative field research on 20 varieties of heritage grains from 4 research sites (height, yield, weight, and stalk nitrogen). Accomplished: Field results were compiled and lab results have been received; data are currently being analyzed.
Goal: Conduct comparative qualitative field research on 20 varieties of heritage grains from 4 research sites (lodging, pest resistance). Accomplished: Data are being analyzed for the three qualities identified.
Goal: Conduct comparative nutritional and baking analysis on 20 varieties of heritage grains from 4 research sites (grain protein, moisture, falling number, wet gluten, and gluten index). Accomplished: Lab results were received and data were analyzed. Please see RMSA Pup Loaves and Alveograph Analysis for more information.
Goal: Create 4 heritage grain tutorial videos. Accomplished: Footage was collected at field days and field sites; videos are now in the post-production process.
Goal: Develop an enterprise budget and economic report for growing heritage and ancient grains in the Intermountain West. Accomplished: Reports are now being completed by the extension partners on this project and will be submitted with the final SARE report and integrated into the Grain Guidebook.
One year of data isn't enough for a final conclusion on which varieties are the best "bet" for field performance, yield, and grain quality. Nor does the year answer all the needs and questions bakers and chefs have on kitchen use. However, this study does offer a "snapshot" of the performance for this specific year. Qualitative data have also been valuable from growers, bakers, millers, and chefs who are now gaining experience with these grains. Many of these grains have not been available to them until this project commenced and as they look to the future with more hands-on interactions with these grains. We recognize more ongoing research is warranted for a conclusive study. This is especially true since only specific cereal crops were included. We suggest additional areas of study include:
- Pre-planting and post-harvest soil samples taken
- Drought tolerance comparisons made
- Cover crops and rotations with heritage grains be analyzed
- Indigenous and alternative grains such as amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, upland rice, and teff be incorporated into the research
- Infrastructure analysis and cooperative equipment options made available
- Sustainability studies regarding carbon analyses and less intensive practices be addressed
- Barley characteristics for malting be incorporated into analyses
- Climate data in relation to each trial site for each research year be collected
- Allelopathy be studied