Project to expand supply chains for regional grains to local cafeterias

Baked-on-site cornbread on a lunch tray at Amery School District for the 2019 Wisconsin Chili Lunch. Statewide farm to school events like the Wisconsin Chili Lunch encourage schools to practice procuring and serving more local-grown foods in cafeterias, including local grain.
Photo credit: Amery School District, School Nutrition.

Farm to institution, the practice of purchasing locally grown foods in the foodservice setting at schools, hospitals, colleges and business campuses, is a growing movement that supports area farmers and increases meal quality. Institutions represent a significant potential market opportunity for grain growers who currently struggle with market access. And while many institutions already purchase grain in many forms, they may currently lack the relationships, staff capacity, and culinary confidence to choose locally grown grain. A newly funded project aims to create tools and support to help increase the ease of use of delicious regionally produced grains in local institutions.

The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was recently awarded a $516,000 grant through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers Market Promotion Program to address this work. The three-year project, titled “Grains to Institutions: Expanding Value Chains and Cultivating Resources for Upper Midwest Grain Growers,” will work in partnership with Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) and Upper Midwest grain producers, processors, and Wisconsin partner institutions to create multifaceted resources for regional farmers and foodservice audiences nationwide.

This project will develop a suite of resources for entities across the grain value chain from growers to buyers to accelerate procurement of local grains and continue to grow farm to institution efforts. Planned resources include an institutional culinary toolkit including explanations of different local grains; information about storage, processing, and cooking; and new cafeteria-friendly recipes. These materials will be complemented by farmer stories about how and why producers choose to grow these grains, an analysis of available processing and supply chain infrastructure, and recommended strategies for on-farm grain cleaning, sorting, and processing for institutional end-users.

Wheat harvest at Funks Grove Heritage Fruit & Grains in McLean, IL. The farm is a member of the Artisan Grain Collaborative. Photo Credit: Jeff Hake.

“The importance of building a regional grain value chain has become particularly evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as farms and mills have stepped up to fill grain and flour shortages created by bottlenecks in global supply chains and the consolidated processing infrastructure,” says Brianna Fiene, CIAS Farm to Institution Outreach Specialist. “This project presents an opportunity to expand existing efforts to connect grains to people in public and community settings throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, including hospitals, colleges and K-12 schools.”

This project directly addresses infrastructure needs and leverages established relationships through the Wisconsin Farm to School Network, AGC’s Producer Collaboration Working Group and other regional grain organizations to support more farms in getting grain out of the field and onto the trays of students, workers and patients. For more information contact: Brianna Fiene, email