Midwest GRIT kicks off year-long training program

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Andrea Hazzard stands in front of a field of rye on her farm in Pecatonica, IL, during an OGRAIN Field Day in July 2017. Field Days like this are planned for the 2022 Midwest GRIT program in order to share production needs, market potential and realities of growing food-grade grains with farmers in the Midwest.

A group of 30 farmers will soon embark on a year-long educational program to hone their food-grade grain growing skills.

Midwest GRIT (Grains Resource & Immersion Training) is a new peer-learning program, funded by the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), with a goal to increase the number of successful beginning food-grade grain farmers using organic practices in the Upper Midwest.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was created through the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill) and provides mandatory funds for supporting education, mentoring and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers and ranchers.

Midwest Grit will be administered by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Artisan Grain Collaborative, to develop a strong food-grade grain shed in the Midwest by increasing the number of diverse small and mid-size grain farmers. The program will offer two, year-long paid training, and peer-to-peer learning exchanges to current and aspiring grain farmers in 2022 and 2023. 

The group was selected through an application process to participate in the 2022 programming experience, which kicks off in May. Participants are from various states throughout the upper Midwest including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio. Over one-third of the selected applicants are women. Participants range from backyard farmers to multi-generational farmers and land-owners that are currently working 1000 or more acres.

Monthly programming will range from peer-to-peer check-ins, 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. In addition, participants can work in pairs to support each other towards learning new skills in organic food-grade grain production, while also developing mentoring skills that can impact future producers.

For farmers that may traditionally only grow a few crops, adding additional small grains requires new hoops to jump through when it comes to equipment needs, post-harvest handling, and storage and food safety considerations. Each system is unique to the farm and their rotations, such as the harvest shown here at AGC member Granor Farm in Three Oaks, MI.

"The knowledge and practices required for growing food-grade grains differ from feed-grade commodity grains, including higher quality standards and additional post-harvest handling steps," says Alyssa Hartman, Executive Director of Artisan Grain Collaborative. "I’m really excited about the new opportunities for connectedness, learning, and community this initiative will create."

Food-grade grains have a wide range of end uses in homes, restaurants, breweries and beyond. Navigating the different marketing paths and opportunities is one critical link for a farmer's success adding these crops to their rotations.

According to Christine Johnson, Midwest GRIT's Program Manager, "Through structured and facilitated peer-pairing, Midwest GRIT will provide farmers with a range of financial and educational resources to be successful in agriculture, as well as foster productive relationships that will last well beyond the program." 

Applications for the 2023 program can be found at www.midwestgrit.org/apply. Specific questions can be directed to Program Manager, Christine Johnson, at cjohnson@michaelfields.org.