Bringing Small Grains into Chicago and the “Local Food” Conversation

-Ben Shorofsky, Programs Specialist at Delta Institute

Grains and beans represent a significant portion of our food system, but they are relatively new to the local food conversation. Delta Institute is proud to be part of a collaborative effort aimed at bringing small grains and beans into our regional food system through Chicago’s Food to Market Challenge. One of five finalists in the Challenge, the Artisan Grain Collaborative is a collective of bakers, chefs, nonprofits, farmers, millers, distributors, agriculture researchers, and school nutrition experts that are working to promote a regenerative food system by building the market for local grains and beans in Chicago and across the Midwest.

As a finalist in the Food to Market Challenge, the collaborative has the opportunity to win $500,000 to bring small grains and beans, including new perennial grain Kernza, to a wide market in Chicago. The Challenge winner will be decided at a pitch night on October 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Watch the video to learn more about the project.

The team includes Delta Institute, Fresh Taste, Plovgh, University of Illinois Extension, Jack Erisman of Goldmine Farms, Lonesome Stone Milling, Baker Miller, Floriole, Laine’s Bake Shop, Publican Quality Breads, Gourmet Gorilla, Earth’s New Ways, Spence Farm Foundation, Kendall College, The Kitchen Community, and IDEO.

Artisan Grains

With the high prevalence of commodity crops, small batch and artisan grains are often overlooked throughout the food system – farmers, millers, distributors, vendors, bakers and chefs. While it will take time for the grains to be adopted, they enrich soils while providing healthy food to end consumers.

Delta’s Ryan Anderson and Karen Lehman of Fresh Taste saw the Food to Market Challenge as an opportunity to pull together folks throughout the food chain and develop a robust approach to introducing diverse grains into the Chicagoland market, which led to the formation of the Artisan Grain Collaborative.

Part of our innovative approach includes Kernza.

Kernza – a new perennial grain

Kernza is a perennial wheatgrass that has been the focus of The Land Institute’s plant breeding research since 2003. It doesn’t need to be replanted every year, so its roots can grow much deeper than conventional wheat, something that is game changing for both farmers and for soil health.

A field of Kernza in Salina, KS. Photo credit to Ryan Anderson

Delta serves as the facilitator and convener of the collaborative. We head up the oversight team, provide the research and analytics where needed, and ensure that everyone in the collective is gaining from and contributing to the team. We are excited to be involved in this collaborative because regenerative agriculture has the potential to create healthy soils, provide healthy food, and create local economic opportunity.

Personally, I’m excited about the diverse partnerships on our team. The collaborative really includes people at every step of the process, and our approach is unique.

Check out the video to learn more about the project, and come out to the pitch event on October 26thRegister for the event.

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