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October 9, 2019

THE EMERGENT GRAIN INDUSTRY IN CONNECTICUT

Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Conservation

 

“Happy Farmer, Happy Harvester, Happy Wheat, Happy Baker. Many hands. Can’t wait to make this into bread.” reads the Instagram caption of CT harvested wheat posted by Charlie Negaro Jr. of Atticus Bookstore Café and Chabaso Bakery in New Haven, CT.

In 2016, Charlie took over Atticus Bookstore Café and launched a bread program focused on regional grains dedicated to seeking out and working with Connecticut farmers to increase wheat production in the state. 

“This is all part of our path to remove commodity white flour from Atticus in 2020 and replace it with regional grain varietals that are chosen for taste and nutrition – and support the development of a regional grain economy along the way.”

Charlie has partnered with Connecticut farmers like Andy D’Appollonio of Still River Farm in Coventry, and the Bass family in Scotland to source locally grown grains.

“I have planted double the crops this year and will increase crop production even more next year,” said Andy.  “Word has spread that quality wheat is available locally and I have requests from bakeries I am unable to fill.”

In 2016, Still River Farm was awarded a Farm Transition Grant by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) for equipment used in the mechanization of grain harvesting and storage processes. Equipment included a grain dryer, rotary grain cleaner, and two gravity wagons for transport of grain from the field to farm site. 

Andy currently sells grain to two co-ops, one farm stand, one restaurant supplier, one bakery, and private consumers who buy in fifty pound quantities.

“I have experienced enough interest and requests for small grains from not only Connecticut, but consumers in Massachusetts, bakeries in New York and Rhode Island, and mills in Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania that provide a strong indication that small grains would prosper in our state,” said Andy.

Charlie is supporting Andy’s predictions.  In addition to Atticus Bookstore Café’s desire to remove all commodity white flour, Chabaso Bakery plans to shift a percentage of the 15,000 - 20,000 pounds of flour used each day to Connecticut Grown and regionally produced flour as the supply becomes available.

Charlie feels so strongly about sourcing grains locally and developing the regional grain industry, he was the catalyst for organizing the Northeast Grain Gab (GrainGab.com) at Yale’s West Campus earlier this week. 

Grain producers, chefs and bakers, malt houses, brewers, and industry service providers from New England and New York gathered to discuss growing the regional grain industry.  Panels were held for each New England state (excluding Rhode Island and New Hampshire) and New York. 

While some states like Maine have embraced regional grain production for years, Connecticut is ready and willing to catch up.  The list of needs to establish a thriving grain industry in Connecticut is still a bit long, yet brewers, malt houses, and bakeries are sourcing whatever is available. 

Spencer Thrall, with Thrall Family Farm, has recently opened a malt house, Thrall Family Malt, and planted barley, wheat, and rye to name a few, to produce his malt in Windsor, CT.  The malt house provides malt for a number of local breweries, including Kent Falls Brewing Company.

In an effort to keep the conversation going after the Northeast Grain Gab, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture is encouraging anyone growing grains or interested in growing grains intended for milling and/or malting to connect with us.  Please email Jaime Smith, Jaime.Smith@ct.gov, to link up with other grain growers and for information on how the agency can be supportive of this emerging industry. 

Information and presentations from the Northeast Grain Gab can be found online at GrainGab.com.