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WI Program Seeks to Create Resilient Grainshed

Michael Fields
Agricultural Institute
The Midwest GRIT program is a joint project between the Wisconsin-based Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Artisan Grain Collaborative, which aims to diversify the Midwestern grainshed.

A new program is seeking to help Wisconsin's grain farmers build more environmentally and economically resilient operations.

The Midwest Grains Resource and Immersive Training (GRIT) program aims to bolster the Midwest's grainshed by increasing the number and diversity of small- and-mid sized farms across the region growing food-grade grains.

Christine Johnson, Midwest GRIT program manager at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which oversees the program, said strengthening farmers' resiliency benefits local consumers down the supply chain.

"So having that regional food system established and strong will just help both the farmer and our communities alike going forward," Johnson asserted.

According to the U.S. Agricultural Census, which is conducted every five years, Wisconsin gained small and large farms from 2012 to 2017, but lost more than 4,200 mid-sized farms.

The GRIT program includes a year of paid training and education programs for current and aspiring grain farmers. Applications for the program are open through the end of March.

At least a third of the program's open spots will be reserved for farmers who are women. Johnson, who is a farmer herself, said the initiative includes programming specifically to support gender-specific barriers for female farm operators and entrepreneurs.

"We're also holding space for other communities, such as Black and Indigenous farmers, and really making a point to decrease barriers within our region for all farmers that want to achieve success," Johnson explained.

Johnson added Ag Census data and state grain farmer training surveys suggest only 15% to 20% of grain farmers in the Midwest identify as female. About 35% of all farm operators in the state were women, up 16% from 2012.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.
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