The Colorado Grain Chain Increases Access To Local Grains

The concept of “Know Your Farmer” is nothing new — for years it has aimed to spread the idea that communities are better off when they get to know their regional farmers and ranchers. In short, the concept is knowing who is picking and pulling their vegetables or butchering their meat translates to more pride and more support for community agriculture. But, that concept seems to fall short when it comes to grains, which is ironic given the number of grains consumed by Americans in a given year. While the conversation typically falls flat due to the lack of infrastructure regarding — local — grain economies, organizations like The Colorado Grain Chain are here to stand up for the local grain farmers in Colorado.

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Photo by Zascha Fox

A local nonprofit, The Colorado Grain Chain, is driving the quietly brooding conversation regarding regenerative farming techniques here in Colorado. Their mission? Provide Coloradans — both consumers and businesses — with the best access to ancient and heirloom grains, all while maintaining “short supply chains, minimal to no chemical use, and traceability.” Originally born out of UCCS Grain School and spear-headed by Dr. Nanna Meyer and Sean Svette the Colorado Grain Chain is now overseen by its Board Chair, Andy Clark of Moxie Bread Co. The Colorado Grain Chain is driven by its goal to “embrace regenerative farming techniques,” which help support a healthier climate by focusing on healthy soil. Embracing these techniques allows those who work with The Colorado Grain Chain to set new standards, or rather uphold the standard of grains linked to preindustrial era quality and taste — think grains that predate the 1960s/70s industrialization of American agriculture.

For many, a slice of bread from The Colorado Grain Chain holds a flavor like no other, each bite feeling as if the customer is stepping through Thomas Hart Benton’s painting “The Harvest Of Wheat.” What started as a simple concept has now slowly infiltrated the homes and kitchens of popular restaurants — Moxie Bread Co, Blue Grouse Bread Co, Troubadour Maltings and Dry Land Distillers. By reintroducing Coloradans to locally sourced grains, Coloradans can experience authentic local flavor like never before, from grains that, at a time, could have gone extinct.

Dry Land Distillers Heirloom Wheat Whiskey, which is distilled from an heirloom wheat variety called White Sonora Wheat, represents a perfect example of how The Colorado Grain Chain — along with the help of others — resurrects ancient authentic grains. With the conversation around short-chain grain economies slowly building, Colorado is leading the pack regarding when and where to get “the goods.”

But could it really be true that reintroducing ancient and heritage grains in loaves of bread, cakes, beers and grain alcohol makes for a better product and a stronger community? The Grain Chain thinks so, which is why in the coming months they will be rolling out their very own Colorado Grown Grains (CGG) Co-Brand. This Co-Brand is an exciting new endeavor for the organization and is in partnership with the UCCS Grain School, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the University of Colorado, Boulder. The goal? To connect community members to makers and growers who facilitate the use of local grain products thus further highlighting the value-added by sourcing locally. It is small actionable steps such as this new Co-Brand that facilitate a strong foundation for community members to engage with makers and growers that use locally sourced grains which in turn benefits Colorado’s local grain economy.

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Photo courtesy of Black Cat Farms

Sustainable food practices have been routinely discussed, especially over the past several years. And, when it comes to the global supply chain — regarding grains — counties like the United States and Europe have been slowly figuring out ways to leave global grains in the past.  So, it’s no surprise the rise of concepts like “Know Your Farmer” have catalyzed positive change regarding alternative food networks. In all honesty, these alternative food systems resemble something along the lines of social-ecological systems where everyone from stakeholders, local land owners and farmers are, for all intents and purposes, “fully bought in.”

Organizations like The Colorado Grain Chain increase the value of a community in three ways, societal, economic and, most importantly, environmental. These short-chain grain economies are resilient to disruptions and adapt quickly to changing circumstances — a common occurrence in an ever-changing climate. And while organizations such as this exist on a small scale, these small grassroots organizations lead to a more empowered and connected community. Which has always been the rationale for alternative food networks anyway, right? No one engages in a local food economy to distance themselves from the food arriving on their plate.

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Photo by Samantha Hines

What Clark and company are doing with The Colorado Grain Chain goes far beyond a transaction of high-quality goods from one party to the other. The Colorado Grain Chain is an example of a positive social-ecological system that fosters strong social relationships, increased awareness of heritage, culture, and a celebration of ecologically appropriate farming practices. While The Colorado Grain Chain continues improving the community and restaurants they serve, they are still a young and prospering organization that needs support to continue its mission. So the next time you think about whether or not to grab a pastry with your coffee, go ahead and do it — especially at Moxie Bread Co — knowing that you are supporting Colorado’s authentic, local grain chain.

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