The seeds for GrowNYC Grains (formerly Greenmarket Regional Grains Project) were planted in 2004 as Greenmarket assessed how to better integrate bakers into our mission to support regional agriculture and provide fresh, local food to New York City residents. In 2009 Greenmarket began requiring bakers to use a minimum of 15% local grain -- grown and milled in the region -- in their baked goods. The rule was intended to kick start a nascent grains economy by building demand for regional grains; help facilitate processing and distribution; and encourage bakers to showcase regional grains in their baked goods. The rule also attempted to reverse the longstanding belief that the climate in the Northeast wasn't suitable for producing grain for human consumption. In fact the work of a few pioneering farmers and millers was proving that it could be done.
In April of 2019 we raised the minimum requirement for local grain in Greenmarket baked goods from 15% to 25%.
What started as a conversation about how to encourage Greenmarket bakers to incorporate local flour into their baked goods has bloomed into a full-blown initiative to revitalize and sustainably scale up the production of grains in the Northeast.
Since the implementation of the baked goods rules, much has happened: more and more farmers are deciding grains are a profitable crop, and are converting their fields into hundreds of acres of long-lost heritage wheat varieties, spelt, emmer, rye, barley, and more. New, larger mills are being built throughout the region. And new products made with grains ranging from freekeh and einkorn to emmer and wheat berries are popping up, not only at Greenmarket locations but at other retail and wholesale outlets as well.
Greenmarket has fostered these changes through constant education, promotion and networking. In January of 2010, Greenmarket, with its partner the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, hosted a discussion and tasting of products featuring regionally grown grains and baked by local bakers. This event brought together the city's top bakers and distillers, and launched an important conversation about how to incorporate local grains into our daily diets. Later that year we hosted “Grains Week,” an entire week of collaborative programming featuring classes, cooking demonstrations, tastings, and expert panels on the future of grains.
In 2011 the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project joined forces with several partners to launch three grant-funded initiatives. The first, “Farm to Bakery,” matched flour mills sourcing grain from regional growers with commercial and home bakers in New York City. The project, which resulted in the Farm to Bakery report, was a partnership with New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Pratt University, and the New York Industrial Retention Network.
The second initiative led to the creation of technical assistance tools for farmers, millers, bakers and other entrepreneurs hoping to start careers in food-grade grain processing and baking. In partnership with the Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network (OGRIN), we produced technical assistance videos, hosted workshops, and published online fact sheets and case studies.
For the third project, which is ongoing, Greenmarket has joined a national team of researchers and other sustainable agriculture experts to research, develop and scale up the production of food-grade, high-value wheats and other grains. Funded by USDA’s Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI), it is a joint effort of GrowNYC/Greenmarket, OGRIN, Cornell University and Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, North Dakota State University, and the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society.
Our partners are studying how to optimize grain quality and market potential of heritage wheats and other grains, through their improved growth, processing, management and marketing.
Greenmarket’s role is chiefly to explore strategies for accessing local and regional markets. To that end we launched a distribution pilot in 2013 with our wholesale division, Greenmarket Co., connecting growers, millers and other processors with restaurants, caterers, bakers, retailers and other commercial outlets for regional grains in New York City.
The OREI-funded project includes frequent outreach events such as field days, workshops, and webinars; short courses on baking, milling, and processing techniques and marketing; and tastings. Videos on growing, baking, and processing grain are available online or through DVDs.
The mission of the GrowNYC Grains is to foster a thriving regional grain economy within the local food system, beginning with our network of growers and customers and extending to any farmer, entrepreneur or retailer contributing to its growth throughout the Northeast. Our mission begins at Greenmarket, so we rigidly enforce the rule that Greenmarket bakers’ products must contain at least 25 percent flour grown and milled in the region. But creating a marketplace that supports our mission requires more than just rule enforcement. We must ensure the rule is feasible for Greenmarket bakers. We believe in leveraging our experience and reputation to not only influence the demand for regional products, but also to strengthen their supply and distribution chains.
Although wheat acreage has more than doubled in size in recent years, demand still outstrips supply. Increasing demand has created an opportunity for organic and sustainable farmers to substantially increase profitability. But there is a pressing need for rural, small-scale processing enterprises—either on-farm or in association with farms—for grain cleaning, storage, dehulling, milling, baking, and the production of value-added products, such as crackers, pasta, tortillas, and malt.
To help fill the supply gaps, we devote as much work to educating and connecting people as we do to running markets. Our latest venture into wholesale distribution demonstrates that commitment, as we teach caterers, restaurateurs and bakers in New York City about the values of using regional grains, while giving growers and millers access to the rapidly expanding wholesale marketplace.
The Greenmarket Regional Grains Project is a joint effort with our many valued partners:
We would also like to thank the following funders who support our work: