Maine Grain Alliance
Photography by Jesse Cottingham
Preserving tradition and building for the future
The Maine Grain Alliance (MGA) is a nonprofit organization located in Skowhegan with a mission to preserve and promote grain traditions from earth to table. The organization has had an enormous impact on the grain economy in Maine and across the country through its workshops, annual events, and educational resources.
Whether growing grains for malting and milling purposes or to feed livestock, it’s an exciting time for MGA to be involved in all levels of grain production. While Maine is being recognized as a national leader for empowering the people who are creating regional grain economies, MGA wants to ensure that “grain is part of the sustainable whole vision that supports farmers, processors, and consumers on their way to a prosperous regional grain economy,” says Tristan Noyes, executive director of MGA.
MGA’s Rare and Heritage Seed Restoration Project is one aspect of this mission. The program collects handfuls of carefully kept seed from seed savers across New England and the world, then restores these small quantities to commercially viable amounts for farms to grow out. “These seeds are well suited to Maine’s growing conditions and climate and give us a unique and exceptional variety that’s different than what can be found elsewhere,” Noyes says.
MGA’s Kneading Conference and Maine Artisan Bread Fair have also extended their reach outside of Maine by inspiring events across North America. This past year, MGA has been invited to Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and even Quebec to speak about its work and inform on best practices and lessons learned.
Since its creation, MGA has been able to capture more of Maine grains’ value chain, which has led to a sustainable whole model incorporating food-grade grains that were, for years, not able to be taken advantage of the same way.
“MGA wants to be able to alleviate bottlenecks in infrastructure—particularly during post-harvest handling of grains: drying, storage, sorting, and cleaning—so farms can create the highest-quality grain to sell to a diverse consumer market.
“We have a cross-industry spectrum of people, including millers, maltsters, food entrepreneurs, chefs, brewers, bakers, farmers, distillers, seed researchers, land conservationists, and oven builders. We’ve been able to look across all those different people, convene them in ways that’s accessible and fun, and learn from one another and create opportunities out of that experience,” Noyes says.
He reminds us that grain touches much of what we consume every day. It’s in the bread we eat, the milk we drink, the beef we buy. “It’s part of a comprehensive story for our state and one we should be really proud of because we’re making remarkable ground toward a sustainable food economy.”
For some really amazing photographs of bread and baked goods, search #communitybakeday on Instagram. Seriously...do it.