- Agronomic: grains and legumes (broad category)
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, technical assistance, resources
Grains and legumes are largely absent from the Mid-Atlantic’s otherwise strong local food system, notwithstanding the fact that historically, states like Virginia had a strong food grain economy. The Common Grain Alliance (CGA) is a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding a localized food grain economy. Founded by thirteen members in 2018, CGA has recruited over fifty members, many of whom come from long family lines of grain growers and millers. Motivated by the absence of grain on the local food table, CGA members are dedicated to working with growers to help them realize the market opportunities in food grain and thereby strengthen the local grain value chain.
Most food grain currently grown in the region is sold on the commodity market despite a nearly nine-fold price premium on the small but growing local market. Existing food grain growers lack the connections, marketing strategies, and often the sustainable growing practices needed to access higher prices, while beginning growers face cost barriers, lack of know-how, and market uncertainty. The purpose of this project is to develop and implement a modular educational curriculum to train and recruit food grain growers for the local market in the Mid-Atlantic. The project will directly address the educational barriers to growing grain for the local market through partnerships with experts at Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and the Natural Resources & Conservation Service (NRCS), who will help develop, distribute, and conduct the curriculum and its associated resources. The core feature of the project is a set of eight 60-90 minute classes that will travel to where farmers gather throughout the region and that can be customized to the intended audience.
This project will meet the following objectives:
- Provide grain farmers and people considering farming grain in the Mid-Atlantic with the flexible educational resources they need to start farming food grain for the local market.
- Continue to establish Common Grain Alliance as the key advocate for food grain producers in the Mid-Atlantic.
The first objective will increase the number of grain farmers, acres in food grain, enterprise diversity, and the quality of food grain while creating a farmer network that will facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing. The second objective will solidify CGA as a key organizational partner for other like-minded organizations, ensure that the project builds on existing programming, and establish institutional relationships that will help CGA fulfill its mission. This project is a critical first step to returning grain to the Mid-Atlantic local food table.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Provide grain farmers and people considering farming grain in the Mid-Atlantic with the flexible educational resources they need to start farming food grain for the local market. This educational program will increase the number of food grain farmers, the number of acres in food grain, the enterprise diversity of existing farms, and the quality of food grain in this region. It will also create a network of grain farmers that will facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing on key issues like soil regeneration, variety selection, sustainable management of disease and pests, and marketing.
- Continue to establish Common Grain Alliance as the key advocate for food grain producers in the Mid-Atlantic. This objective will help establish CGA as a key partner to other organizations involved in rural economic advancement, soil regeneration, and regional value-chain development. It will also help CGA connect with professionals and academics in the cooperative extension and research university network. These connections will be critical to ensuring that this project builds on existing research and policy and complements existing programming. The institutional relationships will also lay the groundwork for future collaborative research and educational programming, both of which are core elements of CGA’s mission and strategic plan (CGA 2019a).