Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain Project

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, rice, rye, spelt, sunflower, wheat


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, community-supported agriculture, marketing management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain, as a non-profit, has sought 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 brought together 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. The problem is that we no longer 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/regionalized food supply. As world-wide grain reserves have continued to fall, populations and demand have continued to grow, and the water supplies our current worldwide production depends on is being sharply decreased by climate change and overuse, there could be no more critical a moment to address this by re-establishing community-based staple food production (grains and dried beans). The massive, subsidized and widely distributed wheat production of the Midwest undercuts the economic opportunities of smaller-scale and climatically under advantaged wheat growers in New England. Up until recently, a consumer focus on cheap food as well as the low price of oil has kept wheat production out of the North East. Expensive land has made corn - with its significantly higher yields of 150 bushels per acre versus 40 bushels per acre for wheat - a more financially viable crop for this region. As a result, the infrastructure needed for grain processing and storage, as well as any research and development of varieties suitable to New England have been forfeited.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.

    Our plan for 2010 is to expand on last year'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 will continue 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 plan to increase that to four farms. In 2009, Ben Lester, Arnie Voehringer, Alan Zuchowski, and Adam Dole participated in various workshops around New England, seeking out information and mentors from regional grain growers. This year we will apply that knowledge, including the potential use of windrowing, a windrow pick-up head on the combine, frost-seeding of clover for winter grains, post-emergence seeding of clover on spring grains, and more.

    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.