Putting together our training programs takes a lot of work, but it can also be a ton of fun. We wind up talking to all kinds of fascinating people and get to collaborate in myriad ways, from producing eye-catching multimedia to securing sponsorships with great businesses to creating curricula with incredibly talented people. Our Small Grains Workshop on December 10 is no different. Spence Farm Foundation, which held a great field day last summer, will be our hosts for the workshop. Spence Farm Foundation is an educational non-profit that trains chefs in how to work with local, sustainable product, and trains farmers to know how to work with local chefs. It’s based at Spence Farm, which was founded in Fairbury in 1830 and is the oldest family farm in Livingston County. Today it is managed by the 7th and 8th generation of the farm, Marty, Kris, and Will Travis, and specializes in small grain production. Erin Meyer, executive director for the foundation, and the Travis family have been instrumental in putting this workshop together.
We are also working with Greg Wade, head baker at Publican Quality Bread in Chicago. Our executive director, Cara Cummings, had a chance to have brunch at Publican recently, and while there, she shot this video. Hearing Greg say in his own words why he likes working with local grains and why he buys from Spence Farm is fascinating, and we are excited to hear him expand on these ideas when he comes to speak for the workshop. (For some bonus reading about Greg, check out this great article.)
We will also have Bill Davison speaking, who founded the Grand Prairie Grain Guild and has become a major advocate for small grain production in Illinois, and Andy Hazzard, who grows small-acreage grains in Pecatonica and was a Farm Aid Farmer Hero in 2015. I always feel incredibly lucky when I put together these workshops, because of the level of expertise and the depth of wisdom that these producers and advocates bring to the conversation and of which I get to be a part.
And of course, there are our generous and supportive sponsors, AgriEnergy Resources (who previously worked with us last March) and Hodgson Mill, based just south of us in Effingham. If you’ve ever been grocery shopping and you wanted a nutritious pasta or oatmeal product, you might have picked up a Hodgson Mill product. Personally, I love their whole-wheat spaghetti. We got on the phone with Hope Yingst, quality assurance manager for Hodgson, and Erin Goldstein, social media manager for Hodgson, last week to find out why they want to be a part of the workshop.
Yingst and Goldstein see a renaissance happening in how we view food as a culture. “Producers just want to do what is right,” says Yingst. “That notion goes along with our focus on non-GMO products and doing what’s right for the land.” They cite as a primary reason they are sponsoring the workshop. “The producers who will be there [at the workshop] are the most passionate growers out there and that’s who want to work with.”
However, they are also hosting the workshop because they want to be able to work effectively with those passionate small grain farmers. “Everyone thinks they can do it, but sometimes it’s hard for them to realize what the standards are. Whenever we make a claim, we have to be able to back it up, so traceability is key.”
Goldstein will be in attendance at the workshop, and notes that Hodgson Mill would like to see more buckwheat produced locally, but that “the more grains we can keep domestic, the better, and local is even better still.”