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Growing Connection Through Artisan Grains

Moving grains from farms to tables is a group effort. To that end, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) supported the Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) in its effort to build a network of farmers, millers, maltsters, bakers, chefs, food manufacturers, brewers, distillers and researchers to create a diverse, Midwest grainshed built on regenerative agriculture practices. Together, their goal is to improve the health of communities, local economies and natural resources.

AGC was founded in 2016 when bakers in Chicago realized local production of small grains could improve Midwestern landscapes and expand the flavor and variety of fresh whole grains available in the region. It works to strengthen the Midwest grain economy through five member-led working groups that facilitate information sharing, organize gatherings and offer support for regional farms, businesses and allied organizations across the value chain.

Education & Outreach
The working groups focus on creating outreach opportunities and materials highlighting what small grains and other staple crops are, their environmental benefits and how to use them.

Research & Variety Testing
At the same time, AGC and its members ensure research questions and information gathered are relevant, timely and necessary.

Farmer Collaboration
This working group provides a relationship-building community for farmers producing small grains and other food-grade staple crops, and connects grain farmers with resources to increase economic, agronomic and social resilience.

Brewing & Distilling
AGC’s work also connects entities across the upper Midwest beverage supply chain to promote collaboration and provide support, communication opportunities and resources to farmers, maltsters, brewers, distillers and upcyclers.

AURI’s Role
As part of AURI’s annual stakeholder survey, members of its staff engaged in a conversation with AGC. During the meeting, AGC requested support from AURI on behalf of one of its members for the development of a nutrition facts panel. AURI immediately recognized a challenge experienced by all AGC member farmers selling single grain or blended grain products (flours in particular). Simply put, farmers found it difficult to provide accurate nutrition information to consumers due to the high costs associated with obtaining the information.

While providing this kind of information to consumers is not required by law, it was clear to the farmers that consumers expected it.

AURI’s Business Development Director-Food, Jason Robinson, its Senior Scientist-Food, Lolly Occhino and the organization’s Scientist of Food & Nutrition, Ben Swanson developed a solution in the form of a nutritional database and access to nutrition label building resources that could be used by AGC’s members. The savings of up to $1,000 per new product created by this resource is a meaningful contribution to all the farmers who use it on their value-added efforts.

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