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

Project Overview

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


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans


  • 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

    Proposal summary:

    Project Description
    Ethnic foods provided through food pantries has not kept up with the demand. Public land is
    available for non-profits and individuals to grow food. However, no specific model is available. This proposal will determine the feasibility of growing organic grains in a rotation and processing these grains for the needy.

    Description of farm or ranch and project coordinator background
    Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens is a non-profit organization that grows, tends and harvests food for the needy of the Dane County Area. Over the past 13 years, we 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 33 food pantries across the county.

    The proposed project will 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.

    It is my privilege to be the President/Chief Executive Officer for this non-profit. I bring to the group a knowledge of growing food. I was a teacher of High School Agriculture and Extension Agriculture Agent for 25 years. In my retirement over the past five years as a pantry garden leader, I have come to understand the need to develop a sustainable approach to the growing of vegetables and other crops.

    Others that will be working with me include the many volunteers that support the idea of growing food for the needy. Expertise from Erin M. Silva, Organic Production Scientist, Department of Agronomy, UW-Madsion; Gilbert Williams, Agronomist, Lonesome Stone Milling and Les Niles, Farmer/grower of open pollinated corn varieties, have already proven invaluable.

    Food pantries in Dane County have seen an increase in families wanting food that fits their culture. 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 grant will assist in developing a sustainable approach to growing food for the needy. The study will look at the production of open white corn and food grade oats at the Badger Prairie Park Land. It would demonstrate the feasibility of growing food on public land in an economically and environmentally sound way. Utilizing a rotation of white corn, followed by soybeans and then oats with clover will maintain nutrient levels while reducing weed

    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. These gardeners are required to contribute community hours and thus will have the opportunity to help with weeding, harvesting corn for seed and maintaining the surrounding area.

    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.

    Prior to the start of the project, composted manure will be spread on the field to improve fertility and tilth.

    First year – Organic Open Pollinated Corn will be grown.

    The ultimate product of white corn flour would be distributed through Community Action Coalition to area food pantries. Our goal would 14,000 pounds of flour or 28,000 half pound packages of corn flour.

    Field cultivation will be used to control weeds.
    Field will be monitored to identify plants for future seed.
    The corn will be harvested, cleaned, and ground into corn flour. Food Pantries will be surveyed to determine its acceptance among recipients.

    Second year – Organic Soybeans will be grown as a cash crop to fund the project over long term.

    The organic soybeans would be sold to finance the project on an on-going basis. The Goal would be 40 bushels per acre or about 200 bushels total valued at $5,000.

    Third year – Oats with clover

    The oats grown would be cleaned and rolled into oat meal for distribution through Community Action Coalition. The straw would be available for community garden use. Clover would help maintain the nitrogen level and reduce weed pressure.

    Several methods of outreach will be used to disseminate information including:

    Garden tours will be held each fall -- a public garden tour with information on the goals and progress of the project.

    Information on the project will be shared through the Dane County Parks and the Friends of Parks. This would include newsletter, websites and meetings.

    Specific field days will be held for the public to attend and learn about the project.

    Previous Research
    None was found specific to this project. Growing food for the needy falls out of typical Sustainable Agriculture thinking. Most are producing agriculture crops, feeding cattle, or developing marketing strategies. This will be new ground for SARE. One that could expand into helping the needy by providing locally grown, nutritional and safe food that is grown in an environmentally and economically way.

    Success will be measured on two fronts:

    First will be the economics of growing grains organically. The cost of production, whether covered by the grant or from donations will be documented. Specific volunteer hours will be recorded. Harvest weights will be measured and the value will be determined. The amount of soybeans sold in the second year will determine if the project can be sustained financially.

    The second front will be the acceptance of the corn flour being taken from the food pantry shelves. Most of our food pantries in Dane County Wisconsin use the customer choice model. It respects the dignity and ethnic diversity of clients. It will note the acceptance and need for this type of product in our pantries. Follow-up with these clients will be done by pantries to determine how the flour was used.

    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.