Grains and Beans

The Northern Grain Growers Association regularly holds field days, like this one at Butterworks Farm, to share developments in grain production. Photo: Butterworks Farm

Once upon a time, Vermont was known as America's "bread basket." In the early years of French and English settlement, wheat, rye, barley, oats, and flax were grown in Vermont. By 1800, the Champlain Valley was a major producer of wheat and Vermont was the country's largest exporter of the crop. But competition, disease, pests, and nutrient depletion led to the industry's demise. By the 1830's this Vermont industry had faded and fields were converted first to sheep and then cow pasture.

With Vermont's strong localvore movement, plus recent price volatility in the global commodity market, interest is shifting back to local grain production. Now, for the first time since the early 1800's, producers are growing a noticable amount of grain. The Nitty Gritty Grain Company, Gleason Grains, Butterworks Farm, and Great River Farm are growing wheat, rye, oats, barley, and other grains. The Northern Grain Growers Association's annual conference is growing markedly, from a few die-hard growers and enthusiasts in the early years to more recent crowds of localvores, homesteaders, educators, and bakery owners. Vermont food producers are excited about increasing availability of local grains, like Red Hen Baking Company, who uses local red wheat in their Cyrus Pringle bread, and Vermont Pub and Brewery, who produces a series of "uber local" brews using local grain and other local ingredients. 

While beans have not seen quite the level of revitalization as grains, the return of a healthy market may be on the horizon. Beans were once an important crop for Native Americans living in Vermont, and now there is renewed interest here, too. Elmer Farm, Beidler Farm, Morningstar Meadow Farm, Butterworks Farm, and others are growing beans for cooking and dry storage. Vermont Bean Crafters sources beans from many of these local farms.

How much grain and dried beans are produced in Vermont? Is our northern climate suitable for increased production? What infrastructure will need to be reintroduced to establish a consistent local supply?


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