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Journal

Grassroots

By Linda Halley | “Inputs” Definition: In farmer-speak, Inputs are anything added to a farm for agricultural purposes that does not come directly from the farm itself. Think seeds (purchased, not saved), or minerals added to livestock feed. 

I have to keep a lengthy list of every input I use at Gwenyn Hill for annual review by my organic inspector. I’d like to imagine a closed loop farm where we produce all we need, but, with the possible exception of a small homestead, that is neither practical nor possible. If inputs can be something that are not delivered by truck nor purchased by the pound then I’d like to start listing my favorite grassroots organization for my inspector to review. I have come to regard grassroots organizations as valuable inputs, as critical to my farming success as compost or potting mix.

From the earliest days of organics, grassroots organizations performed such important roles as developing the rules for certification, educating farmers on innovative methods, and even conducting annual inspections. Without organizations such as MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) or OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association), my organic farming career would have been much harder and lonelier, and, I suspect, less successful. Some grassroots organizations focused on sales, marketing and logistics. Organic Valley, started in the ‘80’s by a handful of farmers around a kitchen table, has grown to make sales internationally for thousands of its farmer members. 

I was on the ground floor of two ‘90’s era organizations, Homegrown Wisconsin and FairShare. FairShare is still a thriving group of CSA farmers while Homegrown Wisconsin eventually shut the doors. There is no guarantee that a grassroots organization will live into old age. By their nature, grassroots’ success relies heavily on the passion and sacrifice of the founders. They have to grow enough financially to eventually make the shift from volunteers to paid staff in order to remain relevant and have impact.

Red Fife heritage wheat in pollen, June 2021

Over the past year, Artisan Grain Collaborative has kept me connected to a diverse and engaged group of folks, filling the void when conferences and field days were COVID-cancelled. Through zoom meetings, phone calls and the all-important listserv, I’ve learned so much about food grade, heritage grains. Besides the special requirements for harvesting and storing them, I have been introduced to those using them, and better understand the how and why. Through AGC I have glimpsed a whole world of maltsters, bakers, brewers, millers, distillers, growers and researchers. I can’t successfully farm in a vacuum. Like other small, non-commodity crop farmers, I need the knowledge, support and commerce that comes from a community of like-minded folks. 

An important contingent not well represented in the Artisan Grain Collaborative is the consumer. Ultimately, consumers should be a part of the conversation determining what farmers grow and what gets made from the farmers’ raw products. I am proud to grow heritage Red Fife Wheat, clean it, and offer it as freshly milled flour. I am eager to expound on the flavor that can’t be imitated by commercial flour. But, if bakers don’t know it is available, or understand its unique characteristics, I’m not going to be able to keep growing it. The partnership between organic farmer and consumer is what grew the organic industry from a niche to a significant food and farming sector. It is time to hear the voices of consumers on grains. I’d like to ask for your help. I hope you take this 5 – 7 minute survey put together by Artisan Grain Collaborative. I am confident your responses will be put to good use. AGC will share the compiled survey results with farmers, such as myself.  Fill out the survey here: AGC Grain Survey 

Turkey Red wheat harvest. Gwenyn Hill Farm 2020

Here are some of my favorite organizations that started through grassroot efforts. Explore them on the internet, if your interest is sparked, by following the links.

Dane County Farmers’ Market

MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Association)

Grassfed Alliance

Fibershed

Wisconsin Farmers Union

Family Farm Defenders

Organic Fruit Growers Association

Real Organic Project

Linda Halley has been the General Manager of Gwenyn Hill Organic Farm and Gardens since 2017.

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