Determine the Feasibility of Growing and Processing Organic Grains for the Needy of the Dane County, Wisconsin Area

Project Overview

FNC14-968
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,460.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Thomas Parslow
Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, community services, social networks, quality of life

    Summary:

    • Project Duration: 2014-2015
    • Date of Report: December 31, 2015

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Organization Description:
    Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens (Gardens) is a non-profit organization that grows, tends and harvests food for the needy of the Dane County Area. Over the past 15 years, the Gardens have grown over 1 million pounds of fresh vegetables on five acres over three different garden plots. The locally grown vegetables are then distributed to about 43 food pantries across the county.

    Over the past few years, the Gardens has looked for ways to expand the production of food for the needy.  Food pantries in Dane County have seen an increase in families wanting food appropriate for their culture. Ethnic foods provided through food pantries has not kept up with the need. Also there is an increased interest in locally grown and the concept of “slow food” sources. Current sources have not kept pace with this demand.

    The original proposed project was to be located on a 5-acre piece of land that is part of the Badger Prairie Park. This land was designated by Dane County for community gardens and growing food for the needy. But due to a crop failure in the first year, additional privately owned land was leased for the project.

    The Gardens have used or attempted to use various practices to move closer to a sustainable project.  The Gardens have expanded the use of cover crops, frost seeding of clover, no-till with certain vegetables and reducing tillage.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    The grant will assist in developing a sustainable approach to growing food for the needy. The study will look at the production of open pollenated corn for corn meal, hominy and masa. Alternate years, pinto beans will be grown.  It would demonstrate the feasibility of growing food in an economically and environmentally sound way. Utilizing a rotation of flint corn, followed by pinto beans and then winter wheat with clover will maintain nutrient levels while reducing weed pressure.

    There are other non-tangible benefits. This project is located on land adjacent to community gardens, the project will raise awareness of these sustainable practices and build an appreciation for growing food for the needy.

    This model or a modified version could be implemented in other park lands in the county. Individuals and volunteers could see this as a means of producing desirable food for the less fortunate. The project will focus on start-up of a rotation that will expand to 3 or 4 years of crops.

    GOALS

    1. Grow, harvest and distribute to food pantries 5 – 6,000 pounds of edible beans.
    2. Grow, harvest and distribute to food pantries 14,000 pounds of yellow flint corn
    3. Develop a protocol that can be replicated in other sites.
    4. Determine the acceptance of these products among ethnic groups.

    PROCESS
    FIRST YEAR:  Several things impacted the project with negative results that question the feasibility of growing organic grains for distribution to food pantries. The late spring delayed the planting of the open pollinated white corn. The corn was finally planted on May 31, 2014. On June 7 over 3 inches of rain flooded the plot. A pond in the lower part of the plot attracted mallard ducks for a few days. To say the least, about a third to a half of the planted corn was flooded and did not germinate. This area was reseeded by hand. As “best laid plans” would have it, over 2 inches of rain covered the area again reducing production. A dry August did show promise. In September, the crop looked okay and perhaps a crop would be harvested. Seed corn was hand harvested on October 18, but had a moisture level of over 18%.

    Ultimately the crop was harvested on December 10. This small amount of corn was moldy and thus not fit for human consumption. No edible crop was harvested.  According to Bryan Jensen, Extension Plant Pathologist, much of the white corn grown in Wisconsin was infected with this mold.

    SECOND YEAR:
    The project expanded with major changes. A private farmer stepped forward interested in the project and grew the flint corn. The Gardens entered into a rental agreement for the use of additional land. This is a change the original plan expanding the project to 13 acres.

    Flint Corn

    Open pollinated white corn seed was unavailable due to the infestation of mold in most corn fields.  Yellow flint corn was available in quantities necessary for the project.  Its acceptance by food pantry will not be determined until the product is placed in pantries.

    1. The seven-acre field was no-tilled.
    2. 1/2 bushels of open pollenated corn was planted in 36” rows with a no till drill
    3. Initial weed control was with a rotary hoe
    4. Field cultivation was used to control weeds.
    5. Field was monitored to identify plants for future seed. Four bushels of seed corn was harvested for seed for next year’s planting.
    6. The majority of the corn was harvested with corn combine, dried, cleaned and ground into corn meal. The corn meal will be packaged in 2 pound packages.  Some of the corn is being kept whole for use by clients for hominy and masa.  Instructional pamphlets are being drawn up for distribution with the corn on use and preparation instructions.
    7. The corn meal is being distributed through Community Action Coalition or directly to pantries.

    Pinto beans

    Product: Dry edible beans for salads, soups and other dishes

    Practices:

    1. Major tillage using moldboard plow followed by disk
    2. 300 pounds of commercial seed was planted in 36” rows on 5 acres.
    3. A rotary hoe was used for the initial weed control followed by field cultivation
    4. Harvested with combine, cleaned and packaged in 2 pound packages.
    5. The 1,000 2 pound packages are being distributed directly to food pantries 

    PEOPLE

    Erin M. Silva, Organic Production Scientist, Department of Agronomy, UW-Madison

                Provided initial information on sustainable practices  

    Gilbert Williams, Agronomist, Lonesome Stone Milling

                Provided invaluable advice on processing and milling of the final products

    Les Niles, Farmer/grower of open pollinated corn varieties

                Provided information on agronomic practices to incorporate

    Fred McGibbon, Farmer/Grower

                Grew the flint corn and assisted with the production practices

    Lisa Johnson, Dane County Extension Educator, CES-UWEX

                Assisted with the development of informational brochures

    Alex Butz, Farmer/Grower, Non-profit member

                Provided equipment for planting and harvesting

    Mark Miller, Volunteer, Non-profit member

                Provided Labor in cultivating flint corn.

    RESULTS

    Outcomes:

    Pinto Beans:

                Harvested 2,000 pounds of great looking pinto beans from 5 acres.

                1,000 bags of the beans are being distributed to food pantries.

    The cost of producing the beans exceeded 75 cents a pound.  This compares to the bulk price that food pantries pay of 39 cents a pound.  Primary reason for the high cost was poor yield due to weed pressure. 

    Acceptance of the product has not been determined.  Initial reactions are positive.  Future efforts will need to focus on reducing weed pressure.

    Flint Corn:

                Harvested 14,000 pounds of yellow flint corn from 7 acres.

                Corn is drying at this time.  Planned are whole corn being distributed for processing into masa and milled corn for corn meal.

    Volunteer groups will come together on Martin Luther King Holiday to bag the corn meal for distribution to food pantries.

    An opportunity to work with a local food kitchen to process the yellow corn into masa for distribution of the corn for food pantries is being explored.

    The Gardens are currently looking for a farmer to raise next year’s crop. 

    Updates will be available in next few months on this project.

    DISCUSSION
    There was mixed reaction to the project and the outcomes.  There were two hurdles that affected the outcomes.  The site characteristics of the county land hampered the successful production.  This land would be better suited for use as a nature preserve.  It was thought that with drainage practices in place the site could be productive.  There is reluctance to put into place these drainage practices.

    Renting land and having an experienced grower working with the Gardens was a positive approach to solving a great deal of hurdles in growing the flint corn.

    Renting equipment also gave us problems.  Being a small operation, it became difficult to line-up the needed equipment especially for harvesting.

    OUTREACH

    1. Project tour – a group of gardeners toured the project in the first year. Not only did they see the white corn plot but also learned about the sustainable approach being explored.
    2. Labels placed on the pinto beans and corn meal identified the project and source of funding.
    3. Plans are being made to present the project at upcoming Winter farmer markets. This effort will reach not only producers but also consumers explaining locally grown products and our overall effort to provide food for the needy.

    PROGRAM EVALUATION
    The funding was a big help.  This project would not have happened without these funds.

    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.