Illinois is known as a major producer of corn and soybeans for the world market. But if more grains like barley, wheat and oats were introduced into crop rotations, and farmed sustainably, it would increase farmers’ overall yield and mitigate climate change—not to mention create beneficial opportunities at home for Chicagoans to sell, cook with and eat locally grown, nutritious whole grains.
But what would it take to actually make all of this happen? That is what the Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) is working to solve.
AGC is a grant recipient of Food:Land:Opportunity (FLO), a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and the Trust. Supported by Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, FLO aims to create a resilient local food economy that protects and conserves land and other natural resources while promoting market innovation and building wealth and assets in the Chicago region’s communities. AGC first came to FLO as a finalist in the Food to Market Challenge—a high-profile prize competition in 2016 to strengthen the local food supply chain.
By bringing together farmers, millers, brewers, distributors, processors, consumers, university researchers and nonprofits, AGC is developing a grain hub system to introduce new, artisan, food-grade crop varieties into Chicago markets.
This means figuring out each piece of the supply chain puzzle—from incentivizing farmers to grow the grains, to inventing new recipes for their use in home and commercial kitchens, to creating overall buzz and demand for buyers, restaurants and consumers to bring something new to the table.
AGC believes nutrient-dense whole grains should be available to everyone throughout our region. One of its partners is Laine’s Bake Shop, a family-operated artisan baking company with a social mission to revitalize urban communities, beginning with the South Side of Chicago.
AGC is a perfect example of diverse interests, from across the supply chain, banding together to test, refine, introduce and scale a locally grown product that benefits people and the planet.