Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our first Board Meeting!

Carolina Ground, L3C had its first official board meeting this past week-- a great group of folks and a very effective first meeting. Our board is made up of four bakeries (drawn from our pilot group of seven bakeries that have been working with the NC Organic Bread Flour Project for the last two years), one grower (Kenny Haines, for his years of experience growing and selling grains), one allied business (Brent Manning of the Riverbend Malt House), one allied non-profit (of course, our very own Roland McReynolds of CFSA!), one member from the community possessing skills the rest of us lack (John Dickson, formerly president on Asheville Savings Bank, and also a gifted photographer), and me, project coordinator of the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, soon to be general manager and interim miller of Carolina Ground, L3C.

We began the meeting with introductions all around and then we dove right into the details. I handed out our financial projections, which show what we expect to pay per bushel for grain and what we expect to get per pound for flour. Here we were, bakers, a farmer, and the mill, and all the cards on the table. Our farmer (Kenny) said he thought the numbers looked fair. One of the bakers chimed in, asking why we should expect growers to sell to us at these prices in a year where commodities prices keep climbing. Kenny responded that it’s about long-term relationships. He said their farm would rather know, just like the bakeries, what their costs and income is going to look like year in and year out. We all need each other and fair pricing to the grower, miller, and baker is what is going to sustain us in the long run, not simply an amazing bushel price one year and rock bottom the next.

We rolled right into the next item of business—should we be an acting Board or simply an Advisory Board? Hands down, all agreed this would be an acting Board. A sub-committee of bakeries was established to determine criteria for the hiring of a miller—all agreed that this should be up to the bakers.

I'm going to back up a bit, because what brought us to the table for this first board meeting was not just that our growers have seed in the ground so we better have a board meeting soon, but that substantial pieces for Carolina Ground. L3C have fallen into place. At the beginning of February, our pilot group of seven bakeries met to discuss how we intend to finance Carolina Ground. It was decided we would launch a kickstarter campaign to match the grant we got which covers half the cost of our equipment (please, if you have not already done so, check us out and help us make this happen! It was also decided that we would seek equity investors to (hopefully) cover our build out costs. One of our bakeries compiled a list of potential investors, and, with success, he reached out to a handful of friends and community members. One of our investors wrote this to me in an email, so touching and inspiring, that I must share:

I will invest in the project because I think it is a good idea for the local farmers and bakers, not because I expect to make money. A return on my investment would be nice, but doing a project like this makes sense and seems like a better way to do things. My friendship with Steve and Gail is a big factor in my investment, but the bigger concept of connecting the growers and end users is a larger factor. Good luck with the project.

And spring has sprung.

From the ground up,


Monday, March 28, 2011

7th Annual Asheville Bread Festival

For the last two years our group-- seven bakeries plus one spent baker-- have been meeting around a table every few months to strategize about linking the farmer with the baker here in the Carolinas. We've sampled varieties of grain from Dr Marshall's Uniform Bread Wheat trials. We've given our feedback. We've worked with two teams of MBA students and four teams of law students-- proving to be quite an educational specimen. We brought in a milling specialist from Kansas and then a baking/flour consultant (also, of course, from Kansas) to work with us bakers. We had a bake sale to raise money. Our project coordinator (the spent baker) has met with growers, wheat breeders, crop specialists, grain and seed cleaners, bakers, and spoken with millers nationwide, as well as distillers, miso makers, brewers, and malters. But how did the eight of us come together in the first place?

Well, seven years ago Steve Bardwell and Gail Lundsford, better known as Wake Robin Farm Breads organized the first ever Asheville Bread Festival inviting all the area bakeries to come out and vend. We came, and so did the customers. And not just a few or a reasonable amount of customers-- the customers came en mass-- hundreds-- my memory sees it as thousands, like a rock concert sized crowd (okay, so i have a colorful memory...) Regardless, they swarmed in, bought all the bread, and we knew then that this would be an annual event.

Gail and Steve also asked us bakers to come together after the fest for an evening meal at Asheville's Market Place restaurant. We were provided a large table on the second floor, a space all to ourselves. We trickled in, one baker at a time, and at first we were all a bit reserved, as each of us was basically the others competition. But then we started talking and conversations flowed on and on, as we realized pretty quickly that we really liked each other AND we were much less like competitor than compatriot. We were all bakers, each of us, committed to this life.

So basically, that's where is all began. And this Saturday marks the 7th Annual Asheville Bread Festival Fittingly, proceeds from the bread fest will be pledged toward our kickstarter goal.

And a reminder about our kickstarter-- (If you have not already done so) please help us make this happen!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Another piece of the puzzle..

One of the first questions we asked ourselves when launching the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project was, what pieces need to be in place to connect the farmer with the baker?

We started out with this idea that if we could get a group of bakeries together, that together we could become a formidable buyer and establish direct relationships with Carolina growers of regionally adapted bread grain varieties (and other grains as well). The bakeries would be more sustainable, have more control, and for both the grower and baker, there would be an increased level of financial security. But as we took a closer look, did the numbers, we soon realized it was going to take more than simply a group of bakers to ensure a market for growers. And so we began to forge relationships with other grain users. Who else is importing grain? And what other grain-based businesses could be launched with Carolina grains? As with the group of bakeries—forming a group of small to medium sized grain users would create a formidable voice. We spoke with the American Miso Company in Rutherford Co and they said they would love to buy from Carolina growers, but they need to receive clean grain in 50lb bags, as their system is based on working in 50lb increments and they are not set up to receive unclean grain in bulk. We spoke with brewers—as there are at least 14 in the western region and a minimum of 30 statewide and over 50 including the surrounding states—and they said mostly they need their grain malted. In response, a couple of incredibly bright committed guys contacted me to discuss the launching of Riverbend Malthouse in WNC (we now consider them our sister company and plan to launch Carolina Ground at the same time as they launch Riverbend Malthouse-- fall 2011). And distilleries—craft distilling is on the rise and with it, a demand for local grains. So we identified the demand, but the different grains—wheat, barely, rye-- great for long term successive rotations in the field, though how do we go from field to processor?

In NC, we have existing potential markets for organic grain—Lindley Mills and Bay State Milling, but we—small to medium sized grain users--are a different kind of market to a grower. The larger mills have volumes high enough to justify in-house cleaning and lab work of grain. Grain is shipped—55,000 lbs-- in bulk, in grain trucks to the mill, tested then cleaned and processed. But for growers to access smaller markets, or put another way, for bakeries or distillers or malters to establish direct relationships with growers, certain pieces needed to be put in place. Also, we discovered along the way, that there was no clear source for regionally adapted organic grain and cover crop seed (seed varieties developed through both the USDA-ARS Uniform Bread Wheat Trials as well as NCSU’s BOPS project, Our lens opened even wider. It just so happens that grain and seed cleaning infrastructure is one and the same. And so an idea began to take shape. On-farm grain and seed cleaning infrastructure would create not only a source for organic regionally adapted grain and cover crop seed, it would also provide a service to grower who wanted to sell a higher value product—clean grain, bagged or in one-ton totes. Not only that, but numerous varieties of clean grain (in totes or bags) could be transported together on one truck-- hard wheat, soft wheat, rye, barley, oats...

Enter Looking Back Farms-- already instrumental in their partnership with Lindley Mills in assuring a seed supply of TAM 303 (see:, Ben and Kenny Haines expressed interest in setting up full-scale organic grain and seed cleaning infrastructure on-farm to assure a source for double certified grain and cover crop seed as well as provide grain and seed cleaning service. They faced the chicken-egg scenario though, in that because the infrastructure did not yet exist, and seed availability is still sparse, the demand for this service is not yet there. So, in order to jumpstart this essential piece of our sustainable food system, I assisted Looking Back in seeking grant funding and we were successful. Looking Back Farm received 40% cost share assistance from NC Market Ready for on-farm grain and seed cleaning infrastructure. And we just learned that RAFI-USA’s awarded them a Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund Community Grant. Very good news indeed!

From the ground up,


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A shout out for freshly stone ground flour...

From LA Times article entitled Home-ground goodness,
Award-winning baker Craig Ponsford, former chairman of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, compares white flour to Humpty Dumpty: "It's a deconstructed food, and then we put it back together. But we don't put it back together very well."

He adds that most of the whole-wheat flour sold in grocery stores is actually white flour to which the bran, but not the germ, has been added back. He points out that many people will reject baked goods made from commercial whole-wheat flour because it is dry, dense and bitter. In contrast, freshly milled whole-wheat flour usually has a sweeter taste. And the grinding process itself aerates and sifts the flour, making the texture lighter.

Ponsford explains: "The tastiest part of the wheat berry is the germ; that's where all the fat is. When you remove all the fat … it doesn't have all its properties and it doesn't taste good. With the germ, with what you guys are doing at home, it's super-duper tasty. And incredibly more healthful than the flour that's available at the grocery store."