While the food supply chain affects — and is affected by — everyone, it’s often hard to see. For Charlie Negaro Jr., owner of Atticus Bookstore Café and son of Charles Negaro, founder of Atticus and Chabaso in New Haven, Conn., that relationship was eye-opening when he visited the Bread Lab at Washington State University.
“This was a point of incredible inspiration for me,” he said. “I grew up with great bread all around me; we’d been making it all my life. But for me, it faded into the background as something that could create meaningful change for a community and food system.”
After a decade working at Chabaso, where the bakery deals with 100,000 lbs of dough a day, Charlie Negaro visited a wheat farm for the first time, and a switch flipped.
“I left there knowing this is something I want to be a part of,” he said.
After several more visits to Bread Lab and a trip to Ecotrust in Portland, Ore., he discovered “Ag of the Middle,” a report published by Ecotrust.
“There’s small ag, which is a farmer raising enough organic chicken for the farmer’s market, and there’s big ag, like Purdue,” Charlie Negaro explained. “But if Chabaso or Atticus want to do something between those, we have to solve this ‘agriculture in the middle’ chunk. You have to vertically integrate or solve the problems from start to finish because no one else is going to do it. There isn’t enough demand in the middle.”
During the 18 months that followed, Charlie Negaro began working with two farmers, one who grows a few thousand pounds of rye and wheat, and another who grows hard red winter wheat in a varietal called Redeemer.
“It became a cornerstone for our bakery,” he said.
Since then, he’s been dedicated to seeking out and working with Connecticut farmers to increase wheat production in the state through methods such as crop rotation.
To perpetuate a positive cycle, Chabaso is partnering with the Yale Landscape Lab to host the Northeast Grain Gab, set for Oct. 7-8 in Orange, Conn., to promote and develop the local grain economy in Connecticut and The Northeast region.
“It can impact tourism, branding, marketing for food businesses in the region, not to mention giving farmers an opportunity to grow a premium product,” he said.
On the macro level, through the conference and by working in that “ag in the middle” space, Atticus and Chabaso can influence Connecticut’s struggling economy.
“Working in the middle can create demand for jobs at every point in the economy,” Charlie Negaro suggested. “There will be farmers getting more money for varietal grains. It can impact transportation, packaging, processing. And then bakers and brewers can command a premium for what the farmers are growing.”