Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger: Local Food Lovers

Utne Reader visionaries

Excited about the burgeoning local foods movement, Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger took a close look at the food they ate. While they had access to local vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meat, they realized that 70 percent of their diet—the staple beans, grains, and oils—came from across the continent, or from other parts of the world. That raised questions for them about long-term food security. 

In 2008, at four farms in Appalachian Ohio, they decided to plant test plots of staples like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, black turtle beans, and heirloom corn. Their vision: a field-to-table approach to staples in which local farmers take their grains, oilseeds, and other staples to local mills for processing; then local residents eat the high-quality products. In this scenario, farmers have more diverse crop options, the community eats more nutritious food, and money stays local. 

Ajamian and Jaeger quickly learned that growing the plants and finding buyers were the easy parts. Long before crops were ready, nearby bakeries, restaurants, and pizzerias put in their orders. Finding the right equipment for harvesting proved to be more difficult. The dilemma: How do you mill flour, press oils, and process dried beans for local consumption when the small mills that used to dot rural regions have all but disappeared? 

To figure out how to build a regional system for staple foods—including storage and transportation—Ajamian and Jaeger established the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative in 2008. This year they opened Shagbark Seed and Mill, a prototype processing facility, at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks in Athens. There, the seed and grain crops will be processed and cleaned, and finished products—including cereals, nut butters, and wheat-free flours—will be distributed to local businesses. Next on the horizon: community gardens and edible schoolyards that incorporate staple foods. 


Former Utne Reader editor Julie Hanus turned readers onto Ajamian and Jaeger earlier this year on her blog The Sweet Pursuit. In her post, Hanus discussed an article the two local food lovers wrote for Permaculture Activist. 

Harry Hamil
11/1/2010 10:21:00 AM

Thanks very much for this info. As a grower, distributor and retailer of local healthy food on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains (Black Mountain, NC), I have been trying for years to get local growers to plant beans like Scarlet Emperor; so we can offer them in our year-round store for local, healthy food. Please note that this type of enterprise will become essentially impossible to create if the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510) passes in the lame duck session. Sec. 103 Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC plans) would require a formal food safety plan that would surely be unaffordable at the volume they are producing. In addition, Sec. 105 Standards for Produce Safety will require the growers to comply with rules written by the FDA for "the safe production and harvesting" of the beans, etc. For more info, please write me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com .

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