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November 1, 2020

Happy November! I hope folks enjoyed Halloween festivities this weekend even if they looked much different than usual. During this uniquely challenging year, I’ve found it particularly important to dig deep for rituals, traditions, and small joys that unite us with our families, friends, and communities, even if from afar. 

In the tumult of the next week as we await election results—by the way, you’ve voted, right? There's still a few days!—I wish us all small pleasures, especially those brought by food and drink and (virtual) communion with those we love. It’s certainly the time of year to dig into whatever grain-y treat you prefer!

—Alyssa Hartman, AGC Executive Director

For a two and a half-year-old brewery, Giant Jones has already made quite a name for themselves. Co-owners Jessica and Erika Jones are passionate about what they do, and it shows—from their decision to become the first 100% certified organic brewery in Wisconsin, to the ways they work to create and support the community around them. “We have a good balance,” Erika said. “I do marketing, sales and communications, and Jessica does production, bottling, and is really our visionary.”

Their brewery in Madison is close to many food businesses they’ve collaborated with, such as AGC member ORIGIN Breads, who bakes loaves using their spent grain. Other collaborations have arisen out of their flair for entertaining and Jessica’s prowess as an Advanced Cicerone®—as Jessica puts it, “the beer equivalent of a sommelier.” 

In 2019, they enjoyed planning and hosting pairing events with fellow food entrepreneurs featuring chocolate, jam, sausage, cheese, name it. And despite the pandemic, Erika and Jessica have found creative ways to keep the party rolling with tastings and events hosted through virtual platforms. “Some people have told us they like our video playlist pairings events even more than our in-person events, because I can give so much dense info and they can pause and replay,” Jessica told us. They're also having fun curating themed boxes with pairings of beer and food—including their most recent election-themed box full of comfort foods made by local businesses, which patrons will be picking up on Tuesday afternoon. Ultimately they’re appreciating the time to reflect on what’s working, focus on community engagement, and really enjoy connecting with people remotely to offer experiences like what they had with the tasting room. 

Jessica is a serious brewer with knowledge of historical beer styles and a sense of flavor combinations—helpful, given that certified organic ingredients are not easy to come by nationally, and local organics are particularly challenging to find. While conventional malt has a seemingly limitless range of specialty varieties, Giant Jones has had to seek out a wide and diverse supply chain to find the organic malt they need, and much of it is currently imported. Being connected with other AGC members has helped line up a plan for some locally-grown and malted 6-row barley, and they’re eager to see demand for local organic malt result in more organically grown acres and more local malthouses. And organic malt isn’t only harder to source, it’s also 10-15% more expensive than conventional. To justify the higher price tag required for organic brews, Giant Jones makes big, high-alcohol beers that drinkers are willing to pay more for. “Being organic forces you to be a better brewer,” said Erika, “because you have to think through all of the systems and processes so thoroughly.”

Beyond their commitment to organic, they’re also dedicated to fair labor. “Stubbornly idealistic,” is how Jessica puts it. “We’ll work more and sleep less rather than try to hire someone at a poor wage.” 

Before COVID-19, 80% of Giant Jones’ revenue came from their tasting room. So they laid off their two employees early on, allowing them to file for unemployment before the flood of applications made it difficult. They shifted to more bottling, selling cases for three hours on Saturdays. Eight months in, their retail is still down, but wholesale is up. Over the summer they produced a “Black is Beautiful” beer line, with proceeds going to Freedom, Inc. “It lasted 10 days,” said Jessica. “It sold out faster than anything has, ever.”

Their dedication to community inspired them to create their Credible Pale Ale in 2018, with 100% of brewery sales going to the Dane County Rape Crisis Center—amounting to over $8,500. They’re active in the Culinary Ladies Collective along with other women business owners, working together to elevate women’s roles in the service industry.  

Follow their social media and website with the buttons below to keep up with seasonal brews, video pairings and themed boxes. For more about their journey, read their own telling of their story here

Photo credit: Giant Jones


Grains to Institutions: Expanding Value Chains and Cultivating Resources for Upper Midwest Grain Growers

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 courtesy of School Nutrition Program, School District of Amery, WI.

AGC is excited to partner with University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems on a recently awarded 3 year USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to connect regionally grown grains with Wisconsin institutions. The project will pair AGC’s farmer-processor value chain with UW-CIAS’s established farm to institution network to create resources, relationships, and procurement guides to ensure that grains become an increasingly essential part of institutional local sourcing. AGC-members Beth Dooley and Ali Berlow are partners on the project. Beth will develop institution-friendly grain recipes and guides, and Ali will leverage her experience researching and writing The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse to identify similar opportunities, challenges, and practical tools for on-farm value-added grains processing. Read more about the project in UW’s press release.


Introducing AGC's New Steering Committee Chair

Photo courtesy Sam Koentopp

For nearly three years, Greg Wade has served as the first Chair of AGC’s Steering Committee, supporting our organizational development and forging the path for our work when it was more of an idea than a reality. Many thanks to Greg for all of his efforts on behalf of AGC and his daily work in the bakery supporting farmers and local mills, and baking delicious long-fermented bread for Chicagoans. You’ve helped set the stage for the dynamic work that our collaborative is undertaking! 

We’re very excited to share that as of last month, Sam Koentopp, Program Manager at AGC member organization Big Green, was voted in as our second Steering Committee Chair. Sam has been part of the Steering Committee with Greg since its inception, and in addition to being a grain enthusiast in his personal life, Sam manages more than 200 school gardens in Chicago, where he’s supported the integration of small grain cover crops for both soil health and scientific and culinary education for students (we featured some of Big Green’s work in a previous edition of The Crumb.) We are grateful for Sam’s willingness to step into this new role, cultivating the next phase of AGC’s growth.

Two wonderful stories about Neighbor Loaves aired recently—Kare 11 News in the Twin Cities interviewed Alyssa Hartman (AGC) and Wes Gardner of Baker's Field Flour and Bread. In the Milwaukee area, WTMJ News ran a story that featured two food pantry directors as well as Stephen Blanchard of Stephen's Breads and Kris Collett of Stone Creek Coffee.
If you happen on a November issue of Food & Wine magazine, you'll find a story about Neighbor Loaves there, too. We'll share the digital link when it's available!

A new study by ecologists at Arizona State University shows that soil is a significant driver of carbon draw-down, accounting for almost 46% of the planet's total carbon sequestration. The work included a global quantification of root productivity that will be leveraged to model the global carbon cycle in search of new approaches for carbon removal. 

Photo: Arizona State University

NY-based Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is continuing to support collaboration among farmers, cooks, processors and purveyors with all-virtual content for this year's Young Farmers and Cooks Conference, Dec. 8-10. Panels, workshops, small-group breakouts, networking and more are designed to inspire a generation of culinary and agricultural producers as they transform the future of food. While the core audience of ~800 people will be culinary and agricultural producers, some keynotes, plenaries and workshops will be open to anyone in the world who would like to learn more about an ecological food system. Stone Barns is offering all tickets at a reduced price of $25 or less. Register here

Have you heard of election cake? This fascinating article in Comestible details this sweet's history from the 1700s to today, with insights from Maia Surdam, co-owner of OWL Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina. Take a read and try your hand at a cake on Tuesday!

Papercut illustration by Anna Brones

See you in two weeks!
Copyright © 2020 Artisan Grain Collaborative, All rights reserved.

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