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September 6, 2020

This week, we go behind the scene to understand efforts afoot to close the loop in the grain value chain through upcycling spent grain into food-grade milled flour. We also celebrate the start of Sourdough September, and reflect on AGC’s (virtual) Annual Members Meeting which took place last week. 

While we continue to work hard to create community and elevate our regional grain economy, our hearts are also in Kenosha, with the families of those brutalized by police violence.

—Alyssa Hartman, AGC Executive Director

Forgive the pun, but serial entrepreneur Sue Marshall is now a cereal entrepreneur. The Minnesota native is breaking grains ground with NETZRO, SBC—the company she founded in 2015 to address waste in food and beverage manufacturing. (SBC stands for Specified Benefit Corporation—a certification they're proud to carry.)

NETZRO captures nutritious, usable ingredients from byproducts, transforming things like egg shells, food scraps and, most exciting for this audience, spent grains from the brewing and distilling industry. These grains are referred to as “spent” because the carbohydrates are consumed during fermentation, but there’s still a lot that remains, such as protein and fiber.

Fermented beverages like beer and spirits use tons of grain, which means brewers and distillers have to coordinate disposal of spent grain just as surely as they have to figure out how to bottle and distribute their products. Because of the volume of spent grain, this project often requires a diversified disposal strategy. Beverage makers identify farmers to fetch some of the spent grains to feed to livestock, work with local artisans who can use spent grain in soaps or other products, or simply haul the waste for garbage or compost. Your favorite brew pub might give some of their spent grains to your favorite bakery, and maybe you snack on pretzels that link the two businesses. But there’s not a simple, scalable way to translate spent grains—sticky, perishable, nutritious—into bread, or bakeries and breweries would often be two parts of the same enterprise. That’s where NETZRO steps in, gathering the valuable scraps, and using technology to kiln the beverage remnants and stabilize them for use as a nutrient-packed flour. 

The competition at Tattersall Distilling's The Clover Club featured small bites made from upcycled grains prepared by Ann Ahmed, Lat14 Asian Eatery; Jose Alarcon, Popol Vuh; Steven Brown, Tilia Mpls and St. Genevieve; Mike DeCamp, Borough; Carrie McCabe-Johnston, Nightingale; and Chris Uhrich, Mucci's Italian.

“March 1st, we gave six chefs spent grains—corn, wheat, barley and rye—both coarsely ground and milled into flour, and let them run with it,” Marshall said, recalling their "Too Good To Waste" event that embodied what she misses in the pandemic-forced reorganization of our lives (see video above for more on that). Yet new opportunities to kindle creativity and engagement emerged. NETZRO shifted gears from focusing on business to business ingredient connections and made a product geared for consumers: a blend combining fresh milled flour from Bakersfield Flour and Bread with spent grains. In April, the flour hit farmers’ markets and grocers, and, of course, online sales platforms.

This product is only one part of the broad solutions NETZRO is pursuing. The company is also working on capturing the collagen from egg shells as another ingredient. Marshall and NETZRO recently helped organize the newly minted Twin Cities Spent Grain (TCSG) Cooperative to handle the waste stream of craft beverages efficiently and appropriately. This is the first in what could be a city by city network of collaborations to help funnel the remnants of the brewing and distilling processes into the upcycling movement. NETZRO is welcoming farmers to join the TCSG Co-op, which will get them a substantial discount on the spent grain animal feed currently being developed with AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute).

Big picture thinking is required in upcycling food, and while the technology each upcycling company uses is highly guarded, the field is very collaborative. Sue Marshall and peer businesses are helping the movement advance and become an industry; eight companies formed the Upcycled Food Association in October of 2019, and now there are 100 members. Keep your eyes on upcyclers like NETZRO—find them at the links below.


It's #SourdoughSeptember

The ninth month of the year earned an extra adjective in 2013, when the UK-based Real Bread Campaign began its international celebration of sourdough. The movement is an effort to raise awareness of natural leavening and spread knowledge of how to use it, as well as support bakeries that follow the process. The educational agenda of this campaign was born of a need to distinguish factory and supermarket sourdough breads from the genuine naturally-leavened products of craft-scale bakeries.

Last year, AGC joined along, starting with me, Amy Halloran in my kitchen, making easy sourdough recipes like tortillas and English muffins.

This year, AGC is going to highlight member bakeries who focus on this style of baking bread and bakers who teach sourdough baking, through snapshot profiles on social media. We're also hosting a virtual meet-up for sourdough bakers, gathering the forces of the Chicago Bread Club and the Huron Valley Bread Club online for a wide-open Upper Midwest bread night, Friday, September 21st from 7 - 8:30pm CT. We’ll chat about sourdough, and the many joys of fermenting flour—especially local flour. My personal Sourdough September agenda is reframing the concept of so-called discard, and helping people use all the stages of starter that are created while maintaining a lively wild yeast culture to raise our bread.

We hope you will join us for the meet up, or just in admiring the wonders of sourdough in your own baking and shopping. Stay tuned to our social channels for the fun!

—Contributed by Amy Halloran / @flourambassador
Image: Hewn / @hewnbread

AGC [Virtual] Annual Meeting 2020

On Tuesday, August 25, nearly 70 AGC members convened for three hours via Zoom to get to know one another, reflect on the work AGC has done over the past year, and dream together about where we’re heading next. The conversation was fruitful—as you can see from this graphic, crafted during the meeting by talented Minneapolis-based visual recorder, Amy Sparks. We look forward to continuing the momentum from this engaging meeting and getting to work over the fall, cracking away at the visions and goals we identified together.

Image: Amy Sparks / @avisualspark

Neighbor Loaves in the News - This month we have two links to share with Neighbor Loaves coverage: Madison Sourdough on WISC (CBS), and ORIGIN Breads on WMTV (NBC), both in the Southern Wisconsin market. More to come soon from elsewhere in the region. Stay tuned!

Black Farming: Beyond "40 Acres and a Mule" is a free, virtual conference being held from 7pm, Friday, Sept. 11 to 4pm, Saturday, Sept. 12. The focus will be the history of Black farmers in Ohio with an emphasis on the strength of community, preparing the next generation of underrepresented farmers for the future, and cultivating the cooperative business model to promote healthy farming and sustainable businesses. Keynote speakers include Anna-Lisa Cox, author of The Bone and Sinew of the Land.

In case you missed Amy Halloran's appearance on the Colorado Grain Chain's Home School video series, you can watch it here! Besides enjoying Amy's warm personality, you'll learn about the history of how mills and grain economies impact their communities PLUS how pancakes were involved in her finding a publisher for her book, The New Bread Basket.
See you in October!
Copyright © 2020 Artisan Grain Collaborative, All rights reserved.

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