From the ground up: Supporting healthy soil, food, and people
The Midwest proudly holds the title of America’s breadbasket. However, the majority of our agricultural landscape is used to mass-produce commodity crops, such as corn and soy, for feed and fuel to distribute across the globe.
Can America’s breadbasket reclaim its name? We think so, and are working with partners across the grain value chain in our region to make it happen.
“We are all eaters, so we all have reasons to come back to the table every day. Breads, whole grains, and beans are really the essence of how we survive,” said Ryan Anderson, Program Lead at Delta Institute.
Delta cofounded the Artisan Grain Collaborative in 2016 and received a Food:Land:Opportunity grant in 2017 to bring artisan crop varieties into the Chicago foodshed through regenerative farming systems that restore soil health and produce more nutrient-dense food.
Delta serves as the facilitator of this diverse collaborative bringing together bakers, chefs, nonprofits, farmers, millers, distributors, agriculture researchers, market developers, entrepreneurs, food system venture investors, and school nutrition experts to coordinate efforts and build demand for small-batch artisan grains in Chicago and the Midwest.
One member of the collaborative is Plovgh, a Wisconsin-based company that sources perennial, rotational, and emerging crops for food and feed markets across the U.S.
“Plovgh provides the nexus between growers that produce these unique or emerging varieties, and buyers that want a distinctive ingredient on their labels and menus,” said Elizabeth Haucke, President of Plovgh.
The collaborative is already starting to build key connections and feedback loops across the grain value chain.
“Being a member of AGC has facilitated some relationships with buyers that could provide feedback on the crops we work with,” said Haucke. “I can see that the network AGC is building is valuable.”
Plovgh plans to introduce perennial rye in 2019, a crop variety with deep roots that can hold soil in place and that stays in the ground for multiple years, enabling the farmer to save on the costs of tilling and replanting year after year.
Perennial rye can also compete with annual rye on yields and test weight, and from the end user perspective could replace annual rye in a recipe or product, which can help adoption.
“We see ourselves diversifying the landscape by providing farmers with clear alternatives to the mainstream corn and soy rotation,” said Haucke.
“Research has shown that adding a small grain into an otherwise corn-soy rotation has considerable soil and water benefits.”
— Elizabeth Haucke, President of Plovgh
Through the coordinated efforts of Collaborative members, Delta is working to support the value chain from farm to consumer for small-batch, artisan grains, and grow market demand for these unique varieties. By working together with our regional community and evolving with an ever-changing market, we can taste a bountiful future for the Midwest.