The Pillsbury Doughboy is in for some healthy competition. A fresh flour movement rising in New Jersey now includes the Montclair Community Farms Coalition. Supported by a USDA grant, youths from low-income communities will learn the basics of growing and processing wheat – and get a taste for the business behind selling pizza, bread and pancake mix made from the organic grains.
From seed to sale, the 18- to 22-year-olds selected for the program will be exposed to a variety of different paths, along with college-level classes on communications and marketing, says Beth Pulawski, director of Montclair Community Farms.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program recently awarded $371,293 for the efforts. “It’s about bringing this craft, this knowledge and expertise back into the local community and creating new jobs,” says Bryan Murdock, director of Montclair State’s Center for Community Engagement, which, as a coalition partner, provides opportunities for student internships.
The program will launch in January 2021 with Montclair State professors and the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation providing expertise to help the local grain economy grow, Pulawski says. “The University has been a tremendous partner to Montclair Community Farms as part of our coalition and work, and we are really excited to deepen our partnership through this grant.”
The project builds on the Montclair Community Farms Coalition’s success in growing and distributing affordable fresh produce to Essex County neighborhoods from its mobile farm stand, farmers markets, online marketplace and agritourism events. Partners include Montclair State, HOMECorp, Montclair Department of Health and Human Services, Montclair History Center, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and Essex County 4-H and Master Gardeners. This winter, the growing season will start earlier thanks to a new relationship with Van Vleck House & Gardens, which will provide space in its greenhouse for a hydroponic garden.
The new program will focus on the emerging local organic grain industry, with the participants working everywhere from farm to kitchen. They will learn from farmers, bakers, culinary experts and business owners to grow, harvest, mill local grains, and sell organic flour, guided through entrepreneurship projects across the value chain that support and strengthen the operations for local small grains.
It’s an area for innovation as a revival in New Jersey encourages small sellers of flour as part of the renewed focus on locally grown crops, sustainability, and human and ecological health, says restaurateur Ruthie Perretti of Ruthie’s BBQ and Pizza in Montclair.
Perretti began growing wheat on her family farm in Warren County four years ago, with the very first grain harvested milled in her kitchen to make pancakes. “We’re so used to processed flour and everything tasting the same. But this wheat, it tastes amazing,” Perretti says.
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren
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