Project title: Pioneer Valley Grain Grower's Buisness Development Project: Meeting Challenges of Producing, Processing & Marketing an Emerging Commodity.
Funded by: Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), Massachusetts Agricultural Innovation Center (MAIC)
Project duration: March 1st 2009 - September 30th 2010
Project budget: Grant: $66,761. In-kind:$47,291. Total:$133,522.
Massachusetts agriculture can be proud of its ‘buy local" campaign successes. When markets have called for direct sales of high quality, locally grown food products, farmers have responded quickly with fresh and processed products and ready-for-the-table prepared foods. They recognize a market-driven opportunity when they see it and have quickly developed impressive production, handling and direct marketing skills. But when an emerging opportunity involves producing and selling a "new" commodity, even the most skillful farmer-marketers will likely fail if suitable crop production technology and processing infrastructure is not available.
Pioneer Valley (PV) growers currently face this kind of challenge. On one hand, opportunity to produce and market locally grown "heritage" grains is emerging. This opportunity is driven by a two-tiered market pull. First, faced with escalating prices for grain from outside the region, artisan bakeries and natural foods businesses are looking for affordable, dependable supplies closer to home. In addition, and as recent news articles have faithfully documented, their customers are asking for baked goods and other products that are more than delicious and nutritious - they are making it clear that they would like their bread and crumpets "locally grown." And they're not alone. Throughout the Northeast, interest in the history of grain culture and demand for products prepared from "heritage grain" varieties is rising. Products made with locally produced spring and winter wheat, spelt, barley and rye are increasingly popular. Whether promoted as "good food," "slow food," or simply "local food," when marketed skillfully, these products quickly become "comfort food." We have successfully crafted the message that there's a certain kind of comfort in buying local, and as smart growers and food entrepreneurs have learned, there's an excellent market for that.
In short, with demand for locally produced food products growing, and grain prices sky high and rising, many field crop producers are eager to explore options for producing and marketing grain. Diversity of market options increases their interest. If a crop is not suitable for the miller, it can find its way to the feed store, or to the seed bin, or to the hen yard. But who has the experience, or the equipment, or the storage and processing facilities for producing and handling grain, be it for food, feed, seed or even the sustainable energy pipeline? And without products to test in the marketplace, who knows whether a heritage grain enterprise will sink or swim?
The Project is working with local growers, bakers and consumers to begin answering these questions. Building on and shaping a process that is already gathering steam on its own, we are identifying sources of local grain production and processing expertise; locating appropriate equipment; assessing local, direct market opportunities and providing access to information and opportunities for training and skills development. Our goal is to provide growers who have an interest in this "new commodity" with an opportunity to give it a try. Cash and in-kind donations from local farmers and consumers have already provided resources needed to fill many important gaps in the Pioneer Valley's grain production and processing equipment and infrastructure. MAIC support provides us with an opportunity to assemble the pieces and establish the means to test and perfect our ability to meet an emerging demand for locally produced grain.