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Massachusetts-based CSA Seeks to Put Regional Grain Products on People’s Radar

May 14, 2013 |

Photo Credit: Mark Flemming Photography

Photo Credit: Mark Flemming Photography

Kick the commodities to the curb – that is the summer dare and promise of NOGMO, the Northeast Organic Grain and Malt Offering. Andrea Stanley organized the CSA to put regional grain products on people’s radar.

“I feel the locavore movement is so geared toward vegetables and fruits and not so much towards major staples of our diets like grains,” said Stanley, cofounder of Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts. The CSA will show that flour, popcorn and of course, malt, have local roots, too.

Andrea and her husband, Christian Stanley established the first malthouse in the Northeast in nearly a century. There is no school for small scale malting, and no standard equipment to purchase, either. They scouted information on the process, and built their first one-ton malting system. Another very important thing they’ve built is relationships with farmers as they sought grain to malt. These relationships are the core ingredient of the CSA.

Some of these farmers have their own value added projects, like Four Star Farms, which also grows and mills grains in nearby Northfield, and Oechsner Farms outside of Ithaca, New York. Both farms are participating in the CSA.

“Grains have always been the missing link but this is sort of taking all the different elements of this emerging system and putting them into one convenient shopping basket,” said Thor Oechsner, who sells Valley Malt various grains for malting. Part owner, with millers Greg Mol and Neal Johnston, of Farmer Ground Flour, he likes how the CSA will expose people to the different products available in the Northeast.

“Maybe someone will like our flour and ask their bakery to buy it,” he said, but to him, the more valuable part of the collaboration is how this kind of visibility and innovative marketing can help grain production succeed in the Northeast.

Others involved in NOGMO are Valley Malt neighbors the Next Barn Over, which will be adding popcorn and dry beans to people’s packages. Freekah will come from Lakeview Organic Grain, in Penn Yan, New York. Maine Grains in Skowhegan, Maine, where the Somerset Grist Mill lives in the former county jail, mills oats and other locally grown grains.

“This is a fantastic way to showcase the flavorful freshly milled grains now being grown and processed in the Northeast,” said Amber Lambke of Maine Grains, noting their products will also be featured in other CSA programs.

While NOGMO is not a CSA in the classic sense, since farmers are not getting money before they put crops in the ground, piggy backing meat, bread, cheese, fruit or other shares to vegetable CSAs is popular. Aggregate CSAs are helpful to farms and producers because they are much less time consuming than farmers markets, and more profitable than retail sales through other outlets.

True grain CSAs are few and far between. Eastern Washington state’s Bluebird Grain Farms, leaders in regional grain production, have run a CSA for a decade, but this is only 10% of what they grow and market. White Oak Farm in Western Massachusetts ran a grain CSA for two years, but farmer Adam Dole lost his business partner to cancer last August. This year, the limited amount of heirloom grains he planted will just be a rotation for his vegetable crops.

“I’m not totally sure CSAs are a great model for grains,” said Dole. In vegetable CSAs, if a farmer loses one crop, there is time to plant an alternate. If you something happens to oats or spring wheat, however, the window of planting opportunity for another grain is gone.

Another Western Massachusetts CSA handles that potential problem by aggregation. The Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA, also in Western Massachusetts has five farms growing for them this season, and anticipates up to 200 people joining in the fall.

A share in NOGMO nets three deliveries over the course of the summer, with pickups at CSA sites in Western Massachusetts, as well as in Boston, through Clover Food Lab.

Clover is a multi-pronged stab at change in the food system. With restaurants, food trucks, classes, and more, this for-profit operation acts like a non-profit. The Clover CSA program does what’s done by grassroots organizations like Just Food and NOFA: organizing CSA sign up events, and coordinating logistics between farms and consumers.

Last year, they gathered 150 members for a variety of CSAs. This year, they’ve collected over 400 members for several CSAs. New England farms drops off shares on different days of the week, and customers can get their shares anytime during operating hours.

“We’re introducing CSAs to many, many people who have never heard of them,” said Lucia Jazayeri, from the Clover CSA program. “Andrea and Christian are doing something totally revolutionary for grain in New England. They are literally re-igniting a true grain industry in New England.”

Clover customers, she said, who have bought shares are excited about the beer and bread they’re going to make at home.

The share has a home brewer option or a breakfast option, so if you don’t want malt, you get cereal. Recipes will accompany the ingredients, stretching people’s skills and awareness.

“Hopefully, this will connect people to some of these producers and farms so that maybe they’ll start looking for them at stores and ordering online and supporting them,” said Andrea Stanley. NOGMO is still accepting signups.

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