You can help rekindle a thriving, localized grain economy in the Rocky Mountain West.
Locally grown grains are the missing component in many regional food systems. The Rocky Mountain Heritage Grain Trials Project aims to revive the production, use, and cultural experience of locally grown heritage grains in our region's communities. Our ultimate goal is to create a vibrant system of farmers, millers, bakers, and brewers throughout the Mountain West who can give new life to ancient grain varieties and ensure this diversity is preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.
Origins of the Heritage Grain Trials Project
In early 2016, RMSA held a Grain School course at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS). Along with graduating 24 students, this course gave rise to an exciting new collaboration of grain farmers, breeders, and researchers. The Arkansas Watershed Grain Project (as the group came to be called) set out to first identify ancient and heritage grain varieties that will perform well in their area, and then to increase quantities of the best performing varieties for use by local farmers. In so doing, they are building the necessary seed stocks and laying the groundwork for a new local grain economy to emerge.
The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance has partnered with the Arkansas Watershed collaborative and UCCS to expand this project across the entire Rocky Mountain region. This initiative is closely aligned with RMSA's mission to strengthen seed diversity in Rocky Mountain communities through local networks of seed stewards. Returning heritage grains to active use in a network of growers, processors, and consumers is a powerful way to ensure this diversity lives on. It also becomes a boon and source of pride for a region's culinary culture, with local restaurants and artisans creating delicious breads, beers, pastas, and other delights from their own heritage varieties.
We are modeling this work on the exciting local grain revival taking place in Southern Arizona, where heritage grains like White Sonora wheat are once again being grown, processed, eaten, and celebrated throughout the region. RMSA co-directors Bill McDorman and Belle Starr were involved in these efforts and are now bringing this model to the Rocky Mountain West.
About the Project
Through this project, we are taking the crucial first steps to create a new, resilient local grain economy for our region. This process began with identifying and collecting the seeds of grain varieties that were once grown here, as well as those from regions with similar growing conditions. We cast a wide but careful net in our search for these varieties, focusing on what visionary grain revivalist Glenn Roberts calls "pre-industrial, low-input, drought-tolerant, deep-root, tall-straw grains." The hunt spanned such sources as USDA seed banks, universities, agricultural non-profits, and pioneering heritage grain farmers.
As a result of this thorough (and fascinating) search, we have collected 110 varieties of heritage grains adapted to our region, including wheat, barley, oats, and rye. This year, 2016, we began trialing these varieties to evaluate their performance according to agronomic traits (e.g., plant vigor, height, lodging, etc.). Once a a top-performing subset of 15 – 20 varieties has been identified, we will begin grow-outs of these varieties to increase our seed supplies. This expanded seed stock will then be used by local farmers to produce the first crops of Rocky Mountain heritage grains for processing and consumption.
How You Can Get Involved
Restoring our region's heritage grains is a big effort, and we need your help to make it happen. If you are a farmer, gardener or seed grower with access to additional growing space, please consider joining us in this important work. You don't need previous experience growing grains or saving seeds to participate (though some basic farming/gardening experience is helpful).
Please click here to complete the Heritage Grain Trials Grower application. A $50 application fee is requested to cover costs for providing stock seed, our grain trials instruction manual and oversight of your project. Scholarships are available to those in need. You will also receive a one-year Supporting Membership to RMSA with your Grain Trials application, which entitles you to some great perks. Thank you for your commitment to creating an abundant, diverse, and delicious Rocky Mountain West!
For questions about our Heritage Grain Trials program contact Lee-Ann Hill by emailing: Lee-Ann@rockymountainseeds.org
Top image by Christian Schnettelker
Make a donation to RMSA and help make our seed systems our own!
Search our Heritage Grain Trials Directory to find others doing heritage grain trials near you.
Stay Connected—Learn More
Grain School 2017 is scheduled for January 13 – 15 at the UCCS campus in Colorado Springs. We will be posting more information including registration details on our website, so please stay tuned.
We will also be presenting workshops for the Heritage Grain Trials Project at the first Mountain West Seed Summit in New Mexico in early 2017. We will post information about the Summit on our website as the event unfolds.
You can also follow our work on the Heritage Grain Project Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/heritage.grain.trials