Western Pennsylvania is a fertile growing region for a variety of grains, and Chatham University in Pittsburgh is on a mission to promote the local bounty.
For the second year in a row, students in Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability and the university’s Food Studies programs have created grain boxes to educate and market to consumers. This year’s theme is breakfast.
Each box contains at least seven locally farmed, milled or processed grain products, including buckwheat pancake mix, granola, masa dough, dehydrated sourdough starter, polenta and rolled oats. There’s also a Taste of PA biscuit mix developed by grad students at the school.
The boxes were initiated by Chatham University’s Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation (CRAFT), under the direction of Program Manager Cassandra Malis. CRAFT is funded by a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant, which supports local production by seizing an untapped market opportunity.
Last year, “pantry builder” was the theme of the boxes, which were filled with local flours. “There was a shortage of flour on grocery store shelves during the pandemic, and we tried to take up the slack by providing local products,” says Malis.
Next year, the students will brainstorm ideas for a new theme and pitch to local businesses for products to fill the box.
“Our grain box program helps to grow the reach of local grains farmers, millers and producers by placing their products in the hands of customers who might not otherwise engage with and enjoy them,” says Malis. “Our hope is that by introducing more people to the wide variety of high-quality locally-produced grains in our region, consumers will become more aware of and intentional about the types of local food producers they seek out, invest in and support.”
The breakfast boxes, priced at $65, went on sale July 7. For another $16, purchasers can add a four-pack of Pennsylvania Loophole beer brewed from local grains. Each box also contains a sourcing guide, recipes and educational materials about sustainability and local agriculture.
CRAFT purchases all the products from local growers and businesses, and any small profit goes back into the program.
Since the grain boxes are targeted to consumers and created in a very limited quantity, Chatham University’s foodservice department isn’t able to participate in the program. However, the Falk School of Sustainability also boasts a 388-acre farm, as well as gardens and an apiary, and some of the produce grown goes to campus dining.