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Noodles are made from freshly-milled Colorado heirloom grains at the Wolf's Tailor. Photo by Jeffrey Hunt

Colorado Grain Chain Needs Your Help

This nonprofit connects the missing links of the local grain economy.

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If you reach back into time and consider the Yellow Pages and its mission, you’ll understand the essence of the Colorado Grain Chain (CGC). Like the phone directory, the CGC was created to connect businesses and people—the farmers, chefs, bakers, and home cooks—who make up the local grain economy. “We have farmers who are interested in growing [heritage grain] but they want to be assured of market demand. On the other end, you have bakers and chefs who are interested in buying, but they don’t know where to get it,” says Mona Esposito, president of the nonprofit (and affectionately known around Boulder as the Grain Lady). “The Grain Chain’s focus is to bring all those pieces together.”

The grains in question transcend anything you can buy at the grocery store. As opposed to flours made from commodity wheats, which were bred to be nondescript and flavorless, heritage grains have the history, stories, flavor, and unparalleled nutritional properties championed by the local food movement. (Just try this simple test: Make a batch of pancakes using supermarket all-purpose flour, and another batch using a heritage-grain flour. The flavor differences alone are astounding.)

National interest in these nearly-lost grains was prompted by chef Dan Barber’s 2014 book The Third Plate, but local interest bloomed under Nanna Meyer, an associate professor in the department of health sciences and sport nutrition at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. In 2015, she launched Grain School, a multi-day conference that, through deep dives into science and practical application, encourages the reintroduction of heritage grains at home and in food service. Her message caught on as chefs like Kelly Whitaker of Basta, the Wolf’s Tailor, Dry Storage, and Brutø and bakers like Andy Clark of Moxie Bread Co. made heritage grains the stars of their menus.

Which brings us back to the CGC. “I get emails all the time asking ‘where can I get local flour?’” says Esposito. “[The directory] is a really efficient way to connect consumer to growers to end users. And it’s proof of concept for growers that there is demand.”

Clark, vice president of the CGC and founder of Moxie, a Louisville bakery that uses only heirloom wheat flour, puts it into more practical terms: “To the farmer who says ‘I planted 10 acres of lentils and winter wheat—where do I sell it?’ they can flip over to consumer directory see [chefs] like Chris Starkus or Alex Seidel. For a farmer to have a list of potential new customers is huge.”

As with all directories, the Colorado Grain Chain depends on membership for survival. Without an extensive network of farmers, consumers, chefs, and bakers, the resource stagnates. No matter if you want to experiment with one pound of heritage flour (make pancakes!) or are seeking a whole palette, this is the place to find your source. Membership costs just $40 for a consumer and $100 for a business. In either case, your effort will not only drive the heritage grain movement forward, it’ll yield a far more flavorful future.

For more on the local grain movement, read this: Kelly Whitaker’s Heritage Grain Crusade. Ready to nerd out at Grain School? Click here.

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