On the Road With Our Grains Team!

August 28, 2018

This July, GrowNYC's Grains team set out on the open road to explore the innovative ways farmers, brewers, and bakers are incorporating the burgeoning bounty of northeastern grains into their breads, beers, and fields. For this trip, we focused on the Hudson Valley, diving deep into the grains scene of Columbia and Greene counties. 

Our first stop was at Migliorelli Farm, which was one of the last farms to operate in New York City. As a child, Ken Migliorelli first learned farming in the Bronx, where Co-op city now stands. In the late 1950's, his father moved the family to Tivoli, NY in Columbia County where Ken still manages the original farm (plus an additional 900 acres). Migliorelli farm stands dot the mid-Hudson Valley, and Ken sells his acclaimed fruits and vegetables at 12 GrowNYC Greenmarkets. As he walked us through his barley and rye fields, Ken explained how he originally tried growing grain when Greenmarket first required bakers to use 15% local grain, but he struggled with fusarium head blight. Over the years, he has found a stable market for barley and rye with distillers and brewers like Coppersea, who use Migliorelli rye for their Empire Rye. Ken also established his own on-farm brewery, From the Ground, with brew master Jake Cirell, and he sells grains for animal feed to Quattro's Game Farm, a Greenmarket poultry producer. 

Dirt hounds take note: since adding small grains to his rotations, Ken's soil organic matter has increased by a whopping 1.5-3%. Excellent! Proof that partaking in a NYS beer or cocktail helps establish a more sustainable local food system. Cheers!

Next, we crossed the Hudson River to Sfoglini's new facility in West Coxsackie, NY. Two tiny pasta machines (the ones they began with in Brooklyn’s Pfizer Building back in 2013) were tucked into a corner of the vast, re-purposed aerospace facility. Colorful pastas--flavored with beets, mint, and sriracha--draped on industrial pasta dryers lined the walls. Sfoglini co-founder Steve Gonzalez told us about their recent expansion, including a $2.5 million round of investment and nationwide distribution through Whole Foods. Sfolglini remains committed to local growers; in fact, this commitment was something that attracted investors. In the last year, over 60,000 pounds of local flour (mostly from Farmer Ground Flour) went into their pastas. The company is now poised to grow with the Northeast grainshed. 

The next day began with a much anticipated tour of Stone House Farm, a network of projects developed and supported by Peggy McGrath Rockefeller and her children. We stopped by Sparrowbush Bakery just as owner Antoine Guerlaine and his family were unpacking loads of new proofing baskets in preparation for their first full scale bake. Antoine, who baked previously for Camphill Village, is setting up shop as an extension of his partner Ashley’s operation, Sparrowbush Farm. We can't wait to try Sparrowbush Breads! 

On the other side of the property, David Goldstein runs the onsite Hudson Valley Carbon Lab. David explained the six year rotation program they use to build soil and measure carbon capture. Stone House has a major research component with a mission to gather hard data on the impact of cover crops. David also showed us “Hudson Hemp,” a state sponsored pilot program to grow fiber and CBD hemp at the farm.  

Ben Dobson, the Farm Manager of Stone House Farm, then gave us a whirlwind tour of the farm's grain operation, that included fields of barley, rye, AC Morley, and Glenn wheat, with a pair of towering combines that is the base of the operation. Stone house has become both a source for farmers looking for organic feed, as well as an important resource for learning and research. Dobsen now growing grains for brewers and distillers, and he’s preparing to grow food and baking grade grains in the future.  

Our last stop was at Hudson Valley Malt. In 2014, Dennis and Jeanette Nesel launched the malt house, one of the few floor malting facilities operating in the country. Dennis believes this technique makes for superior malt flavor. Standing amid a rolling landscape of sprouted barley, Dennis walked us through the intricacies of the malting process, from soaking the grain, to letting it dry and cool, and then roasting it to bring out unique and delicate flavors. Dennis, who still works in finance (though it’s hard to tell which is the side gig), loves being the middle-man. He explained to us how growing malting barley gives barley farmers an additional revenue stream. The Nesels' have contracts with 24 breweries and four distilleries, including Migliorelli’s “From The Ground Brewery.” Dennis has one goal for all of them: “I want to be their secret weapon!” 

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