Going Local: Encouraging the Growth of Sustainable Small Grain Economies in Southeast Michigan
Current conventional food production has created genetically homogeneous crops that encourage environmentally harmful practices. The large-scale production of commodities like wheat discourages consumer engagement and has led to the efficient production of mass quantities of subpar quality food. Encouraging the growth of local small grain economies and partnerships between farmers and businesses can produce food that is flavorful, nutritious, has fewer harmful environmental impacts, and has greater genetic diversity. This project analyzed local grain economies in Southeast Michigan in order to identify the barriers that exist to their expansion, and facilitated a partnership between Zingerman's Bakehouse and a local organic seed company (Nature and Nurture). The goal of this project is to expand the variety of local grains Zingerman’s Bakehouse uses in their products and to help create a market for local sustainably produced small grains. To identify diverse wheat varieties that can grow in this area, a series of grain trials were designed for Nature and Nurture to implement over three years. Surveys were used to identify consumer preferences that drive behavior and the grain attributes that are most meaningful to consumers, and expert interviews were utilized to guide our research and gather first-hand information. Creating relationships between farmers and product markets, and identifying gaps in the local grain economies prior to large-scale production mitigates risks, and outlining this process will be useful for more of these grower-buyer relationships to form in the future.
Sheila Wald, MS (CE, EPP); Nicholas Empey, MS (EI, EPP); Zixuan Jiang, MLA, MS (CE)