It was in March 2006 that the Anderson Valley Foodshed group convened the first Steps Toward a Local Food Economy gathering. It was an invigorating day, bringing together the first “wave” of local food economy leaders from all over Mendocino County. Not surprisingly, the farmers, gardeners, chefs, restaurant owners, and eaters identified locally-grown staple grains as a large gap in our food system. It was only two years later that small fields of grain were harvested in Anderson Valley, and just three years later – 2009 – that the Mendocino Grain Project germinated, with 40+ grain-share members the following year.
Until about 40 years ago, Mendocino County farmers produced an abundant variety of grains and legumes. The Mendocino Grain Project is dedicated to the notion that we can again enjoy tasty, healthy, natural and local grains and flours in all their satisfying forms. We believe this can be done on a scale that can work here. We see this as an act of economic independence–dry farm the grains without massive injections of chemical inputs; clean and mill it locally; bake the breads and make the pasta locally; save seed from open-pollinated, old varieties; build the local infrastructure and distribution channels to make it work–here. Looking at it in another way, this is about restoring a local food producing capacity we gave up decades ago.
For our 2011 harvest year the grain-share signed up over 70 members, two of which are local food stores who purchased shares of the harvest. That year Mendocino County had three other small-scale grain producers. In March of 2011, just five years after that first “Steps” meeting, two dozen farmers from five counties gathered in the barn at Nelson Family Vineyards to talk about our small-scale grain adventures. A year later the same gathering had grown to over 40 farmers, millers, bakers and others from all over California. The collective efforts of local grain growers are exciting. The support of our grain-share members and the growing interest of local bakers and chefs inspire us to keep growing!