Rocky Mountain Heritage Grain Trials Project

Help us trial and grow heritage grains to 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 doing so, they are building the necessary seed stocks and laying the groundwork for a new local grain economy to emerge.

The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance partnered with the Arkansas Watershed collaborative and UCCS to expand this project across the entire Rocky Mountain region. The initiative 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 helping to implement this model in 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 GRIN, universities, agricultural non-profits, and pioneering heritage grain farmers.

As a result of this thorough search, we have collected over 285 varieties of heritage grains adapted to our region, including wheat, barley, oats, rye, quinoa and buckwheat. We began trialing these varieties in 2016 to evaluate their performance according to agronomic traits (e.g., plant vigor, height, lodging, etc.). New varieties are continually being identified and added to this program. Our grain trialists (including small farmers and gardeners) have been growing these varieties each season to help us increase seed quantities. At the same time we are continuing to train our best growers to do systematic trials. Thanks to their efforts, we have identified a top-performing subset of 15 to 20 varieties. These seed stocks will soon be expanded to large amounts for us to distribute to small farmers to revive heritage grain production in the Rocky Mountain West for local use and enjoyment.

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: 

Search our Heritage Grain Trials Directory to find others doing heritage grain trials near you.

Stay Connected—Learn More

RMSA offers Grain School workshops throughout the year. Learn more here.

You can also follow our work on the Heritage Grain Project Facebook Page.

Recent Articles About Heritage Grains

Back to the Future – Tapping into Ancient Grains for Food Diversity

What You Need to Know About Wheat

Bread vs. Booze: The Surprising Fight Brewing Over Quality Grain

Eastern Idaho expanding quinoa production

Teton farmer specializes in ancient wheat subspecies

A Local Grain Economy Comes to Life in California

Ad hoc farming guild plants seeds for locally sourced grains in L.A.

Make a donation to RMSA and help make our seed systems our own!

Top image by Christian Schnettelker

Who We Are

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening seed and food security in our region.

Our mission is to assure a diverse and abundant supply of seeds for the Rocky Mountain West through networking, education and helping establish community-based models of seed stewardship.



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  PO Box 4736 • Ketchum, ID 83340