Midwest GRIT (Grains Resource & Immersive Training) is a new initiative, administered by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Artisan Grain Collaborative, to develop a resilient food-grade grainshed in the Midwest by increasing the number of diverse small and mid-size grain farmers. The program will offer a year-long paid training and peer-to-peer learning exchange to current and aspiring grain farmers in 2022 and 2023. One third of the farmers selected to participate will be women farmers, and the curriculum will include specific programming designed to support farmers facing gender-specific agricultural and entrepreneurial barriers. Applications for 2022 are open now through March 31. Apply at www.midwestgrit.org/apply.
Midwest GRIT participants will be paired by matching the farmers’ collective experience, growing region and farming goals to foster a sustainable and mutually beneficial partnership. Monthly programming will range from peer-to-peer check-ins, deep-dive virtual seminars on topics ranging from field to finance, regional field days and on-farm demonstrations, hands on workshops, and virtual and in-person networking events to connect farmers to buyers, markets and consumers. Farmer pairs will support each other towards new gains in knowledge of organic food-grade grain production, while also developing mentoring skills that will have impact beyond the length of the cohort.
“This network between us is what is going to keep us afloat as we enter into these unknown [disruptions of climate change]. Resiliency is that knowledge you can reach out to someone,” said Andrea Hazzard, of Hazzard Free Farm in Pecatonica, IL, while speaking at the 2022 Illinois Organic Grain Conference in January. Hazzard is a farmer and miller growing a wide variety of food-grade grains using organic and sustainable land management practices. She serves on the Farmer Advisory Council of Midwest GRIT.
Hazzard is a pioneer in making organic grain production accessible to women, and currently mentors new farmers in her own community. Not often acknowledged in agricultural education are women’s diverse roles on the farm, which may include unique family responsibilities. Women farmers are also increasingly isolated compared to their male peers. “As a women farmer working in a male dominated field, I believe Midwest GRIT has the potential to open more windows of opportunity for women and young farmers to get a glimpse of the potential of farming while also facing the realities,” explains Hazzard.
Strengthening food-grade grain markets is critical now more than ever, as illustrated by market disruptions from the ongoing pandemic. The knowledge and practices required for growing food-grade grains differ markedly from feed-grade commodity grains, given the higher quality standards and additional post-harvest handling steps required to sell to food-grade markets. Resiliency for a regional grainshed requires collaboration, and Midwest GRIT is a project of three regional agricultural non-profits: Michael Field Agricultural Institute, Artisan Grain Collaborative, and The Organic Grain Resource and Information Network (OGRAIN). The program is funded by a USDA-NIFA OREI Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from the farmers we work with that a peer network, shared educational opportunities, and strengthened relationships with area food and beverage businesses is necessary for growing the regional grain economy and making innovation and further business development possible. Midwest GRIT offers the potential for all of these things to happen in tandem, and I’m really excited about the new opportunities for connectedness, learning, and community this initiative will create,” Alyssa Hartman, Executive Director of Artisan Grain Collaborative.
“A tighter weave of the farmers and advocates in the Upper Midwest will enhance the long-term success for farmers and the foodshed alike,” said Christine Johnson, Midwest GRIT Program Director. “Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is a research stalwart of the region, providing a unique bridge of research to application. Artisan Grain Collaborative provides the critical link for farmers to end-use consumers, markets, and buyers. OGRAIN brings technical support to food-grade farmers who are required to constantly innovate on grain varieties, equipment use and post-harvest standards.”
“The program also has the guidance of farmers who have been at the head of the wave in regional food-grain production and markets,” said Johnson.
Midwest GRIT’s Farmer Advisory Council includes Noreen Thomas of Doubting Thomas Farms in Moorehead, MN, Linda Halley of Gwenyn Hill Farm in Waukesha, WI, Andrea Hazzard of Hazzard Free Farm in Pecatonica, IL, Paul Bickford of Bickford Farm Organics / Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway, WI, and Anna Jones-Crabtree of Vilicus Farms in Montana.
Apply to participate in Midwest GRIT at www.midwestgrit.org/apply. Specific questions can be directed to Program Manager, Christine Johnson, at [email protected].