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

A Local Grain Economy

Since local grain production has largely disappeared over the past several decades, the equipment to harvest and mill grains has gone as well. Doug Mosel has for some years now regularly lent his combines to a host of growers for harvesting, including Walton’s Canvas Ranch. Such equipment is prohibitively expensive, particularly for young or beginning farmers, but necessary.

Leilani Clark Freelance Journalist
Leilani Clark Freelance Journalist

Mosel told writer Leilani Clark in 2014 that he had noticed a substantial growth of interest in growing local grains in recent years, suggesting that you could find a growing local grain movement nationwide, but particularly in Northern California.

“It kind of started up simultaneously in Mendocino, Sonoma, Humboldt, and Lake counties. Farmers showed an interest in trying out grains again.”

Liam UiCearbhaill, the current manager of another local grain endeavor – the Grange Grains project – pointed out to writer Kate Maxwell recently that “within living memory, Mendocino was the primary supplier to the bay area” of a variety of grains, including wheat, oats, and barley. Mills were a much more common feature of local communities.

Frances Moore Lappe at the Healdsburg SHED
Frances Moore Lappe at the Healdsburg SHED, Photo From Healdsburg SHED Blog Site

Today the broader category of field crops represents less than 1% of agricultural production in the region, so little that such crops are not currently tracked in any of the region’s annual county crop reports.

Rebuilding a local grain food chain that stretches from grower to miller to consumer and back again will require considerable time and resources, but yield positive results for our health and environment as we consume more nutritious whole grains that are also beneficial for soils, and eat less highly processed foods made with enriched white flours.

“Since I wrote Diet for a Small Planet, nutrition and calories have been parting ways. Now you can have all the calories you need, but still be harmed by poor nutrition,” said Lappé in Healdsburg, noting further a recent study had concluded that within five years 75% of all deaths will be due to non-communicable diseases, most of them diet-related.

Red Fife Grain Used To Make Whole Wheat Bread Crackers and Pasta“So our food, for the first time in human evolution, our food is making us sick. Our food is killing us. There is this parting of nutrition and calories.”

Despite this and other bad news – Lappé noted the alarming disruption of the phosphorous and nitrogen cycles, for example – she remained decidedly optimistic, pointing to the Grain Alliance and other multifaceted efforts to rebuild local food and agricultural economies.

She called our attention a meeting she attended in Wisconsin in the winter of 1988 with a small group of Wisconsin dairy farmers who hoped to form a cooperative. Family farmers at the time seemed dying breed and they hoped to survive through a collaborative effort. Lappé encouraged the group to proceed, but had now idea how successful they would become. The Organic Valley cooperative is now the single largest source of organic milk in the U.S.

“I ask you to think about the tremendous power that you have,” she said, suggesting the times call for boldness and pushing past fears which may prevent people from acting.

“Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist,” she read, quoting Chinese writer Lu Xun from a poster she said had adorned her wall for years. “It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.”

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