Petaluma Ca’s North Coast Grain Alliance Gets a Helpful Launch from Food Movement Icon

The North Coast Heritage Grain Alliance

Celine Underwood Baker and Founder of Brickmaiden Breads
Celine Underwood Baker and Founder, Photo From Brickmaiden Breads website

Quite a few of those present in Healdsburg were already well-acquainted with the Grain Alliance. There were several of the group’s founding and board members in attendance, among them Mai Nguyen, a Mendocino County grain farmer whose efforts were recently featured in the Mendocino Beacon, and Celine Underwood, founder of the widely acclaimed Brickmaiden Breads.

The Mendocino Grain Project’s Doug Mosel – himself on a years-long quest to reinvigorate a local grain economy –  was there. Mosel has been integral to the Grain Alliance’s founding, according to director Deborah Walton of Canvas Ranch, located in the Two Rock area of Sonoma County, west of Petaluma.

Healdsburg SHED owner Doug Lipton was on hand to host. Lipton and partner Cindy Daniel have been prominent, vocal supporters of efforts to reintroduce local grains to the area’s foodshed since their lovely “modern Grange” opened in 2013. The SHED features an in-house stone mill for public use, sells hand mills for home use and features a selection of local grains from the Mendocino Grain Project and elsewhere for retail sale. Lipton and Daniel have dedicated themselves to rejuvenating a local grain economy.

A farmer for over fifteen years, the Grain Alliance’s Walton noted that she and husband Tim Schaible been growing various grains at their Petaluma-area ranch for six of those years, and had reintroduced farro (emmer) production to California, harvesting about 8,000 pounds last season.

Walton first became enamored of the ancient grain and staple of the Mediterranean diet in 2009 while in Italy. Upon her return she discovered it had once been grown on their land outside Petaluma.

Organic Pearled FarroSpeaking with me after the SHED event, Walton noted the nutritional benefits of farro: it’s nutrient-rich, high in fiber and magnesium, and low in gluten. Spreading the word about farro and other heritage grains will be a major priority of the new Grain Alliance.

“The important thing to do now too is to get the word out to the general public about grains in general. I just can’t tell you how many times I have to explain the whole gluten situation – why people are having such a hard time digesting bread. They’re just eating the wrong kind, that’s all. So I would like to do some education around that as well.”

The Grain Alliance’s origins lay in a winter 2009 meeting of a small group of local farmers who dreamed aloud about the prospects for reintroducing locally-grown, heirloom grains to a northern California foodshed from which they’d largely disappeared.

A winter 2014 meeting found substantially more interest in local grains from farmers, bakers, brewers and distillers in the region, leading directly to the formation of the new non-profit to support their efforts.

“This was only December 12 of last year that the Grain Alliance actually started, so we’re not even a year old, but during this year I’ve been doing a lot of reaching out to farmers, millers, bakers, microbrewers, and everybody says the time is right, that this is exactly what we need right now,” said Walton. “We’ve had a rebirth of heirloom vegetables, grass-fed beef, omega 3 eggs. It’s time we brought grains back, so that’s the mission.”

According to Walton, the Grain Alliance has four primary objectives:

  • Support existing and new grain farmers with educational, training and other farm resources.
  • Connect grain farmer with grain users, be they consumers, bakers, millers, brewers or distillers.
  • Ensure access to the infrastructure for grain farming, processing, and distribution.
  • Raise awareness of and increase demand for whole grain products.

“Getting people onto the website to join as members” is a big priority, Walton told me.

Where To Find Local Grains“With membership they can post and share things on the website. I get those kinds of calls pretty often. So if a baker is looking for 100 pounds of local rye they can post that and connect with all the farmers who’ve signed up who might have what they need or know who does. That’s what I see as the tremendous benefit of having as robust a website as we have.”

Walton went out of her way to thank  Carrie Dufour of the Sloat Design Group for that website – – and other strategic marketing and identity services the company provided as the grantor of the 2015 Farm to Shelf Service Grant to the Grain Alliance. The annual grant is intended to benefit “farming that puts people, animals, and the environment first and to make responsible farming an economically viable way of life.”

Walton said the grant was a tremendous head start for a fledgling non profit.

“It was huge! They say it was worth $30,000 in donated time, but I believe we got a lot more value than that. I said look, the website is going to be the thing for this organization. I don’t need a brochure. So that’s what they spent their time on and boy it’s just a wonderful site. They’re so great to work with and absolutely fabulous.”


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