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Ark Watershed Grain Project

After the 2016 UCCS Grain School, farmers from the Arkansas River Watershed called on UCCS to help regionalize heritage grain production. This project started with research of grain varieties previously grown in arid regions, sourcing of seed, and mobilizing growers to trial various accessions of ancient and heritage wheats, barleys, rye, and flint and dent corn. While inconsistent in methodologies, the grain trials showed success for several varieties of interest. 

The project objectives included 1) to support agronomic practices and formalize the role of diversification through grain production on small to medium size family farms in Southern Colorado, 2) to promote sustainability, health, food traditions, and food security in Southern Colorado through re-establishing the production of regional grains, and 3) to build consumer interest in alternative grains and thereby boost economic development. 

The next steps of this project are to move successful small-scale trials to field. The Ark Watershed Grain Project was recently funded by the UNFI Foundation to identify the best (yield and nutrition) 20 varieties (wheat, barley, rye, and corn) by 2020 (see below for more information). 

20 Heritage Grain Varieties by 2020

Through funding of the UNFI Foundation, UCCS will focus on retrialing the best 20 grain performers identified through the past 3 years when UCCS collaborated with farmers across the Rocky Mountain region.

The UNFI project, however, will include nutritional testing of varieties such as black einkorn, Swiss spelt, Wallis rye, and Rio Grande blue corn. By 2020, this project's goal is to identify not only the performance indicators of selected wheat, barley, rye and corn but also subject them to various nutritional tests, including macro- and micronutrients, along with polyphenolic compounds. These results will be presented at the 2020 UCCS Grain School with the goal to bring forward these best performers and entice Colorado farmers to consider production. 

Grain production of ancient and heritage varieties, however, is only feasible and realistic to Colorado farmers if millers, maltsters, bakers, and chefs embrace them and consumers want them. Thus, UCCS is currently working as subcontractor with Rocky Mountain Farmers Union on a USDA funded rural business development grant entitled "The Grain Chain Project" (see below for more information). 

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The Grain Chain Project 

This project focuses on establishing the "Grain Chain" as an association of producers (including millers, bakers etc) to work together, thereby diversifying farms and markets and retaining and creating jobs in rural areas of Southern Colorado. UCCS takes a supporting role of this Grain Chain formation through an educational pathway, while demonstrating a market demand, through a market assessment, to potential producers to become part of the chain. Thus, in collaboration of students in health sciences and the college of business, UCCS will develop an outreach approach (Grain Chain Literacy guide) and branding materials leveraging the results of the varietal trials and the market assessment, demonstrating the demand for the products and promoting their production specifications and nutritional benefits.

For more information on these projects please contact Associate Professor at nmeyer2@uccs.edu 

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