Steve JonesOn January 11th, 2014, I found my way up the misty green coast to Tacoma WA for the 2nd Annual Cascadia Grains Conference. This event was packed with 32 speakers and 17 sessions on topics that brought together farmers, processors, end-users, researchers, educators, industry members, and development specialist. With so much knowledge in the air it was easy to sit still but hard to decide what sessions to attend. There were opportunities to learn about increasing regional production of small grains, designing regional food/ag businesses and discussions/insights on growing gluten-free grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa and much much more. Did you know varieties of quinoa are likely to be grown more widely in the Pacific Northwest in the near future? I was unaware but now know, thanks to Dr. Kevin Murphy and Washington State University Crop and Soil Science department for leading the way on this project.

One major theme of the conference was the value of craft malting. Yes, the common chain link between raw grains and ingredients for brewers, distillers and bakers alike. Much discussion in the sessions, which overflowed into the halls and lounges, surrounded the feasibility and opportunity of craft malting. Founders of Valley Malt, Andrea and Christian Stanley, shared the trials, insights, and joys of starting a malt house in New England. CEO Wayne Carpender and Maltster Mike Doehnel of Skagit Valley Malting along side Barley Breeder Extraordinaire Pat Hayes described a few of their many successes of utilizing regional, carefully selected rekindled varieties of grains to malt and brew some truly amazing, completely unique beers. As if this wasn’t enough good news, the major bonus is the team at Skagit Valley Malting started with a mission to boosting economic prosperity in the North West: How so? By filling a gap in the agricultural supply chain.

The quick facts:

  • The Puget Sound region has lost 60% of its farmland since 1950.
  • This area is known as home to many high dollar crops such as tulips, table beet seed, and spinach seed.
  • These crops require rotation, and growing a grass on the land is imperative to revitalizing the soil resulting in decreased income.

The solution:

  • Offer farmers a premium for their grass seed; create a demand for local value added grain.

Elementary, but genius and this movement is gaining momentum. Upon hearing maltsters describe the fruits of their labor and the future for heritage grains and artisan rarities, one could be fairly certain the farmers, producers, and economic development gurus in attendance were filled with enthusiasm and a thirst for products attainable only by embracing craft malting.

To find out more on the Cascadia Grains Conference check out the website:

Written by Twila Henley, Maltstress Grouse Malting & Roasting