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April 26, 2020

This week's Member Profile highlights A-Frame Farm, a 500-acre certified organic farm in Madison, MN, operated by Luke and Ali Peterson. The Petersons grow a diverse rotation of grain including two- and six-row barley, hard red spring and winter wheat, emmer, einkorn, flax, hulless oats, soybeans, and corn, all produced using regenerative practices focused on soil health. A-Frame Farm is on a path towards perennialization and have introduced alfalfa and Kernza®—both perennial grasses—and a beef herd to their rotation.

Luke learned how to grow grain on a conventional farm in North Dakota while Ali attended nursing school at North Dakota State University. After her graduation, they returned home together to the Madison area to set down roots, both for their family and farm. In 2012, Luke began farming 80 acres that belonged to his great-great-grandfather and made the decision to transition that land to organic production. In 2015, he reached out to Carmen Fernholz, a successful organic farmer for mentorship. As luck would have it, Carmen was looking for a mentee, not just to share knowledge with, but to transition A-Frame Farm to. The Fernholz and Peterson families have been working on this process together since.

Luke believes that given the challenges of small-scale sustainable farming, relationships to other like-minded people—fellow “dreamers”, as he calls them—are key to building and sustaining his business. He offers, “You have to have a product before you have a market to test it.” Relationships between farmers and bakers are especially important for successfully growing a deep rotation of small grains because bakers help farmers create markets for their crops. Meeting Steve Horton, founder of Baker’s Field Flour & Bread in Minneapolis, early on in his pursuits turned out to be one of Luke’s most important relationships. Baker’s Field became a champion of and market for A-Frame’s continually diversifying rotation, allowing the Petersons to cultivate new and different crops. Seven Sundays, a Minneapolis muesli maker, has been another important connection. A-Frame was recently contracted by Seven Sundays to grow thirty acres of organic buckwheat for their Wild & Free Mix which features the pseudo-cereal alongside blueberries and chia seeds. 

The market for A-Frame’s organic corn, one of their “heavy lifters” in terms of income that finances some of the farm’s less profitable endeavors, has been disrupted due to COVID-19. In addition, unpredictable weather as a result of climate change has put increased pressure on farmers worldwide. Despite these challenges, Luke and Ali remain optimistic. Business at regional mills including Baker’s Field is booming—read Amy Halloran’s recent article in Civil Eats on this very topic—so Luke’s planting plans for the season are still on track. He believes that now is the time for sustainably-minded businesses to double down on their dreams: “Food security is important. A-Frame Farm is not going to do anything different because all along we’ve been planning and building a more resilient food system.” 

 

Additional resources:

For more thoughts from Luke read our full interview with him on the AGC website. 

Read more about Luke's background and his interest in regenerative agriculture in this 2018 Forbes article.

Check out Season 2: Episode 12 of the PBS show Tastemakers, which highlights A-Frame Farm’s relationship with Baker’s Field.

Luke and Carmen are interviewed in Organic Grain & the Coronavirus, episode 6 of the MOSES Organic Farming Podcast.

Lastly, to get an insider’s view of life at A-Frame, follow along with Luke on social media using the links below and head to the highlights section of our Instagram profile for content from yesterday's A-Frame Farm takeover.

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Neighbor Loaves Update

It's been just over a month since we launched Neighbor Loaves, AGC's effort to support farmers, millers, bakers, and eaters by promoting the sale and community distribution of locally grown and produced bread. We were thrilled to welcome three new partners to the initiative this week: Kickapoo Cafe in Viroqua, Wisconsin, River Rock Kitchen & Baking Co. in St. Peter, Minnesota, and Three Twigs Bakery in Springfield, Illinois.

Nearly 5,000 loaves have been sold between the participating bakeries in the Upper Midwest since the initiative began on March 28. In recent weeks, the program has expanded across the country to the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Mid-Atlantic, and morphed into new iterations including at Deer Creek Malthouse in Philadelphia where they are producing "Neighbor Sanitizer." 


Neighbor Loaves has been recently featured in the Star Tribune, Morning Ag Clips, Foodtank's Food Talk Live, and on the podcast Too Good To Waste.

Your neighbors still need your support, so keep on purchasing Neighbor Loaves from participating bakeries. And, if you’re a baker that wants to begin producing Neighbor Loaves, start here.

Craft grain, malt, beer, and spirits value chain participants, please join North American Craft Maltsters Guild and AGC for a free webinar tomorrow, Monday, April 27, from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. CT. This free event is led by agriculture and food and beverage law experts, attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Portland, OR. You'll learn about tactics and best practices to tackle our “new normal” and how to access aid. Register here.

While many farms and food businesses have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, regional mills are experiencing a surge in orders, as described in the Civil Eats article linked above. Harold Wilken of Janie's Mill writes in the BBC that their consumer orders have exploded, rocketing from an average of 10 online orders a day before the pandemic to the mill’s current 500. And True Grain Artisan Milling, a home garage-based project that started out as a hobby for Benjamin Holland, is now a thriving cottage business according to an article in Block Club Chicago.

Did you know that there are groups across the country similar to AGC, advocating for the cultivation, use, and consumption of regionally grown small grains? Meet one such group, the Colorado Grain Chain (CGC), in this essay for Slow Food by CGC co-founder Andrew Calabrese. Since the COVID pandemic began, CGC has been producing Grain Home School, a series of webinars focused on baking and building grain knowledge from farmers like Demetria and Bryce Stevens who taught participants last week what it's like to grow Turkey Red Wheat. Sign up to participate in the series here.

Whisky Advocate offers a sobering snapshot of the effect that COVID-19 has had on distillers across the world, both large-scale companies and smaller craft operations. While larger businesses might have the financial flexibility to weather the pandemic, smaller independent craft distilleries face risk of closure as they may lack capital to see them through the next few months.

Goodbye to Jennifer - a note from Alyssa Hartman, AGC's ED

Over the past year, Jennifer Breckner, AGC’s Communications and Outreach Manager, has been drafting content, compiling images, and making things tick behind the scenes, building an engaged following through this newsletter, on our website, and via social media. I know I speak for the whole AGC community in saying that we appreciate the work she’s done to get the word out about our regional value chain in the Upper Midwest. Though this is the last edition of The Crumb Jennifer will help produce, you can stay in touch by emailing her at jenniferbreckner@gmail.com and following her on Instagram

We'll be back in May with more grain-y news and updates. Until then, stay well, take care, and go bake some bread!
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