Scaling Up Food-Grade Millet Production for Minnesota's East Africans

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Naima Dhore
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal summary:

There are few culturally relevant crops available to East African immigrants to Minnesota, including millet. Millet is a staple for the Somali community, for example. As the University of Minnesota Extension has investigated, seed sources are one barrier. Seed cannot be transported from country to country, and only a few companies and the US Department of Agriculture have limited millet seed availability.

Other problems include farmers’ inexperience in growing East African crops like millet in Minnesota’s environment. What pest and disease pressures does the crop face in this environment and how best should those pressures be managed?

For the past two years, Naima's Farm has worked with the University of Minnesota to grow small plots of millet, which we harvested by hand. As we scale up, can the crop be harvested and processed on-farm efficiently, using small-scale seed cleaning equipment?

A number of questions need to be explored in marketing locally grown millet for the East African community. What price point will make purchase the grain accessible while allowing for farmer profitability? Will restaurants and food co-ops be interested in purchasing millet to use in their meals?  

Project objectives from proposal:

Seed is somewhat difficult to procure and the crop will be labor-intensive, so I plan to plant 20 beds (100 feet of millet). I will be planting the foxtail and proso millet varieties . After two years of experience growing foxtail millet and conversations with the Somali community, I have decided foxtail millet and proso is the most promising variety. (Some seed will be saved from the crop for next year because of the lack of seeds, specifically the proso variety.)

Manure will be applied to the beds for fertility and will be mulched with wood chips, which we get for free from a local business. The crop will be grown organically. I am concerned about bird pressure; if we experience that, I will try reflective black tape, which has been suggested by the University of Minnesota. 

I have learned from Jessica Barbosa Oliveira, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, about harvesting and processing. She told me about several useful techniques for harvesting, including a harvest sickle that allows you to cut the millet from the bottom. Fagas will assist me with the time-intensive harvest.

We will then dry the crop for a couple of weeks, then separate the seed from the hair and clean it. I will use the Winniw Wizard machine and screen for the cleaning which was recommend by a seed company I spoke with. A big part of this project is examining the usefulness of the Winniw Wizard machine for millet processing. The machine is marketed for seed cleaning in general, so I am not sure how effective it will be for millet production.

I will purchase visible plastic bags or brown bags for packaging and labeling the millet. I need to work with University of Minnesota, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and others on this aspect of the project to make sure I'm doing this project according to food safety standards.

For marketing, I have good contacts who will be interested in cooking demonstrations. Augsburg University community garden (in relationship with partnership with Fairview M Health) have already committed to a cooking demonstration. Others, like Afro Deli, will be interested as well.

For marketing, I'll do social media cooking demos as well. I'll market to Halal Meat grocery stores first (in St. Cloud and Minneapolis) for marketing. I will approach MHealth as well, which really wants to get culturally relevant crops. In addition, I will contact The Good Acre a food hub who I currently sell wholesale produce and see if they would include their holiday gift box.  I will sell the millet at the local farmers market and compare with two other market previously stated. 

This grant will examine the profitability of adding millet as a crop for Minnesota’s East African community. Objectives are:

  1. Demonstrate the feasibility of scaling up millet production from a small demonstration crop in 2021-22 to 10 beds (100 feet), including weed, water management and pest management
  2. Examine how to process millet efficiently using the Winniw Wizard on-farm seed cleaning machine
  3.  Explore markets for the locally grown millet so that it can be sold at a profitable price point
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.