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Grand Prairie Grain Guild: The new frontier of the local food movement has arrived in Central Illinois

The new frontier of the local food movement has arrived in Central Illinois:  local grain. In response to this national trend, University of Illinois Extension, area farmers, millers, bakers, and consumers have formed the Grand Prairie Grain Guild (GPGG). The goal of the GPGG is to bring together people with a shared passion and interest in local grains in order to move local grain into the mainstream. This will require new connections between growers, bakers, chefs, and consumers. An increase in local demand will also drive the development of local supply chains. “Many farmers are interested in the economic opportunity local grain provides,” states University of Illinois Extension Local Foods & Small Farms Educator, Bill Davison. The combination of low commodity crop prices and shrinking markets for those commodities has prompted some farmers to tap into the strong demand for identity preserved grain.

Local farmer, Harold Wilken has been growing organic grains for many years. Harold is a pioneer in the local grain movement and is a founding member of the GPGG. He is currently researching the feasibility of building a grain mill to serve local markets. Harold is excited by the potential of a local grain mill and he “looks forward to the day when you can walk into a store and buy a bag of flour made from local grain.” 

Wheat, oats, buckwheat, barley, rye, corn, soybeans and sorghum are among the crops that will be grown for the GPGG. Many of these would be turned into value-added grains, which are processed into flour or other products such as rolled oats. Of particular interest to the Guild is wheat, especially bread wheat. Wheat is a community building crop: the system needs farmers to grow it, millers to mill it and bakers and chefs to turn it into the products most people eat, namely bread, pasta, pizza and pastries.  

Members of the GPGG have begun testing recipes using local grain and the results have been very encouraging. “Working with Illinois grains and Illinois farmers inspires me to take my bread to the next level. To create beautiful, flavorful and nutritious bread is the dream of all bakers,” said Garlic Press baker Chad Sanders.

There are good reasons to focus on wheat as a local food. Americans consume an average of 3 bushels of wheat a year. That means the 174,647 people living in McLean County consume 523,941 bushels of wheat every year. With an average yield of 67 bushels per acre of wheat in 2014 in Illinois, it would take 7,820 acres of wheat – about 1.1% of the county’s farmland – to meet the needs of everyone in McLean County. Growing more food for local processing and consumption would create jobs, help bring young people back to the farm and revitalize rural communities.  

Perhaps most importantly, bread made with fresh local grains has an unmatched depth of flavor and complexity. The process of natural leavening produces a sweet and sour flavor profile that often amazes people when they eat if for the first time. Rich, nutritious, and deeply satisfying bread used to be a daily staple in the diet. Now, commercial industrial scale production of bread in fully automated factories has sacrificed the nutritional quality and flavor of bread for the sake of speed and industrial efficiency. The GPGG sees this as an opportunity to help increase the resilience of local farms, create new jobs, revitalize rural areas and to bring back real bread that promotes health and well-being. This is bread that people can feel good about eating.

We are looking for more farmers, millers, and bakers to be a part of the GPGG. Anyone interested in being a part of this project should contact Bill Davison at wdavison@illinois.edu or 309-663-8306.

— University of Illinois Extension

Source: Bill Davison, Extension Educator, Small Farms and Local Food Systems, wdavison@illinois.edu