PITTSBURGH — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program has awarded $499,997 to Chatham University to execute the Pittsburgh-based university’s “Food Innovation Lab Grain Program: Promoting a Local Grains Economy in Western Pennsylvania.”
Managed by Chatham University’s Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation (CRAFT), the program has been designed to help local grain producers and processors in the region combine best practices in agricultural and business development in order to develop new products that are both financially and ecologically sustainable.
According to CRAFT, more than 80% of the 1,300 grain processors within a 200-mile radius of downtown Pittsburgh do not source their grains locally. A number of factors are at play, CRAFT said, including agricultural, business and communication barriers.
The CRAFT grain program plans to remove the barriers, helping processors more easily source and work with local grains. Additionally, the new program will assist in the development of new business partnerships among regional farmers, millers, bakers and other value-added processors, and will increase consumer awareness and consumption of local grain products.
“The grain program’s objectives are to help regional grain processors clear the hurdles of learning how to work with the inconsistencies of local grains, and to support them in developing standardized recipes for new products that they can produce successfully at scale,” said Alice Julier, director of CRAFT, Chatham University. “In turn, this will support an increase in grain sales for local grain farmers as more products using their grains are produced, as well as increasing the availability of and demand for local grain products by end-consumers.”
CRAFT said its grain program will provide product development services for small to mid-size grain processors on a sliding-scale fee schedule. Services include recipe testing, taste testing, sourcing guidance and business support, CRAFT said.
The program also will feature workshops and training opportunities centered around baking and food safety, as well as networking events and community outreach campaigns.
In December, CRAFT launched a Baker Training Program (B.T.P.) that will combine practical baking training and education with targeted entrepreneurial development and strategic food systems planning.
The B.T.P. is a collaborative effort between CRAFT and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides culinary training and job training for people with barriers to employment. The B.T.P. is an “accelerated program” designed for individuals who want to pursue a career in food service and baking, CRAFT said.