March brought chill winds and gray skies, but the Rural Foodies wrapped up in fleece and headed down the road to Marquette, Nebraska, to glean facts about organic grains at Grain Place Foods. The north wind pushed us through the door and into the corporate office located at the Vetter farm, south of Marquette. Our senses were bombarded with the homespun smell of fresh grains. We were standing near the grain processing machines where tons of grain pour through cleaning, sorting and packaging machines in preparation for shipping to national and international markets. The warehouse smelled like a bread basket.
David Vetter, the executive director of Grain Place Foods, Inc. was solving a packaging problem in the warehouse when we arrived, and I noticed a print-out of the Grain Place Foods mission statement on the entry wall: The Grain Place provides ecologically sustainable grain products that benefit the long-term health of our clients and our planet because how your food is produced does matter!
The Rural Foodies whole heartedly agree with this statement because we pursue pinnacle experiences regarding food grown in rural Nebraska by chefs who smoke, grill, pickle, stew, sauté, bake and serve Nebraskans’ favorite foods or invent value-added food businesses like Grain Place Foods.
Organic growers are relatively few in number in the Corn Belt so when our friends Tom and Linda Schwarz, organic growers near Bertrand , Nebraska, mentioned meeting Vetter at an organic conference, we knew a Rural Foodies story was in the making.
I first spotted Grain Place products in 2007 at The Back Alley Bakery in Hastings, where chefs prepare fresh, locally grown and always full of flavor lunches often incorporating Grain Place organic grains into their breads and salads. Learning more about these grains, cooking with them and meeting the principals behind Grain Place Foods were on my wish list.
Vetter built Grain Place Foods into an international business for buying, cleaning, sorting, testing, marketing, and shipping organic grains as well as securing organic certification for his 280-acre family farm. On the farm, his family grows organic grains, beef and pigs for local, national and international wholesale markets. The Grain Place also offers products direct to the consumer via their online store.
Organic grains cleaned, tested, packaged and sold at Grain Place Foods include barley, flaxseed, wheat, millet, rolled oats, white and yellow popcorn, long grain brown rice, quinoa and spelt. Check out their website for a complete listing of their products and photos showing the grains and flours.
Vetter, the scientist, farmer, marketing and mechanical mastermind who leads this prospering company holds a degree in Agronomy and Soil Science from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and a Master of Divinity from the United Theological Center in Dayton, Ohio. I expected the Agronomy and Soil Science degree for an organic grain grower, but I asked why a Master’s of Divinity.
“We practice stewardship of the soil, water, land, plants and animals here, and our farming and theology are related in all ways,” Vetter said with certainty.
Vetter’s conversation about farming the organic way was sprinkled with the words “relationship” and “association” like sugar on gingersnap cookies. They go together. The science and practice of organic farming is intimately associated with the microbial and insect life in healthy soils.
“We apply our best methods of renewal and resilience to manage soil fertility,” he said. “We pay attention to the associations between the soil microbial community and the plants because information is exchanged between microbes in the soil and the roots of a growing plant that helps the plant.”
“The relationships of the pollinators and the birds and wildlife on the farm also improve the fertility of the soils and the growing condition for plants,” he added.
The Vetter farm pastures cattle, and the varieties of grasses and legumes growing in the Grain Place Foods pasture indicate a well-managed prairie grassland for the cattle and another benefit to farming the organic way. He also introduced us to his healthy herd of pigs that eat the leftover grains swept up from the floor of the cleaning room. All things in Vetter’s world seem to be speaking to one another and in association.
In addition, the Vetter family values its associations over the years with organic farmers, leading agronomists in the burgeoning organic industry, and the value-added organic food makers and distributers across North America and worldwide.
“The worldwide demand for organic grains and other organic produce outpaces the supply,” Vetter said.
Vetter and Grain Place Foods were featured in the December 2016 issue of Acres, a monthly magazine publishing real-world sustainable and organic farming news and facts.
About GROW Nebraska:
GROW Nebraska is a not-for-profit organization based in rural Nebraska. Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides market access, education and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska's educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors. For more information, please visit www.grownebraska.org.