by Rhyann Green

While the focus of increasing nutrition in school meals over the last few years has largely centered on incorporating more locally produced fruits and vegetables, some schools and research organizations are searching for ways to increase the amount of local grains used in school lunches. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) recently received a $516,000 grant from the USDA to fund this research.

The CIAS plans to use the grant to construct various resources that will be available free to the public, such as “an institutional culinary toolkit including explanations of different local grains, information about storage, processing and cooking, and new cafeteria-friendly recipes.” The project will span three years, with a review of existing resources and an index of current barriers, challenges and areas of need to help answer questions for both consumers and growers.

CIAS will be partnering with Artisan Grain Collaborative for the duration of the project. AGC, which formed in 2016. works across the Upper Midwest “to create a diverse regional grainshed built upon regenerative agriculture practices that steward the health of communities, local economies, and natural resources.” In addition to this partnership, CIAS plans to work with the Wisconsin Farm to School Network and local grain farmers, producers and processors.

Going beyond K-12 schools, the project is also intended to increase the presence of local grains in several other institutions where food is served, including college campuses, hospitals and business campuses.