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, www.organicbreeding.ncsu.edu). 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: ncobfp.blogspot.com/2011/01/locally-grown-nc-organic-wheat.html), 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,