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Slow Food St. Louis’s Biodiversity Micro Grant

Apr. 3, 2014

By Kelly Childs, Slow Food St. Louis Co-Leader

It all started with the Red Wattle Hog. red wattle pig

Missouri is an excellent place to raise pigs. The climate is ideal, the terrain is ideal, and a proliferation of acorns are available. One of our Co-Leaders, Bill Burge, decided our chapter would focus on saving the Red Wattle. After a lot of research and discussion, he found three hogs for purchase, and a farmer who agreed to raise them for the three buyers was secured. It wasn’t easy, and the process took many months. But finally, the puzzle was assembled, and we would have Red Wattle served in two St. Louis restaurants.

One Saturday, we paid a visit to the farmers of Farrar Out Farm who had agreed to raise the hogs. Out of the blue, we presented the young farm couple, Christina and Bryan, with a check for $500 to cover the cost of the pigs and feed. When Christina started crying and we witnessed what this financial assistance meant to the couple, we knew we were on to something.

Slow Food St. Louis’s Biodiversity Micro Grant Program has been supporting the preservation of food biodiversity in the St. Louis food system since 2009. To date, we have awarded over $55,000 in micro grants to more than 45 small-scale, local farmers, supporting the cultivation of more than 300 heirloom varieties and heritage breeds.

Taking on a new project for a small farm can be risky. This initiative encourages farmers to grow heirloom produce and raise heritage breed animals with Slow Food St. Louis taking on all or part of the financial risk of the project. The program also encourages farmers to explore more niche product offerings, as many heirlooms and heritage breeds are unique to the marketplace, thereby distinguishing their businesses. For instance, consumers loved the taste of the Red Wattle Hog, and five years later St. Louis now has a consistent supply of the product with at least one farmer and one combined community supported agriculture (CSA) program focusing on the breed. It is also boarded on the Ark of Taste in the USA.

Ozzette Fingerling Heirloom varieties are defined as a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations and is not used in large-scale agriculture. Many varieties are listed with the Slow Food Ark of Taste, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that date back several generations, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture. The preservation of diversity in our food system is important not only for nutrition and taste, but also as a tool of flexibility as we face crop disease and climate change issues.

Our grants have been awarded to more than 45 different farms over the past five years. Route 66 Farm received a grant for experimenting with Mangel Beets. A single Mangel Beet can grow to 25 pounds in weight, and they have a history of being drought-tolerant and great for livestock feed. Because of the thinning balance chosen, most of the beets Root 66 grew were under one pound, but the farm was successful in cutting livestock feed costs by 50% for three months after the beet harvest.

Sunflower Savannah Farm has received multiple grants including one for Milo, another drought-resistant livestock feed alternative. They have been pleasantly surprised to find that Milo, thus far, has also been an effective Bermuda Grass repellent. North County Produce Co, an urban farm, received a grant to plant Ozette Fingerlings and All Blue Potatoes. They harvested 700 pounds of potatoes with the grant money, which were sold at six separate locations.

Community Action Agency of St. Louis County, an organization committed to overcoming food insecurity, used their grant funding to plant a “Sizzle Garden,” to educate the community about sustainable, small-scale methods of growing heat-loving and drought-tolerant vegetables that can reliably feed families through severe St. Louis summers. They produced some of these crops, like the Ark of Taste’s Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg Bean, on a larger scale to serve the Seeds of Hope Farm CSA and educate their subscribers about the value, versatility, and deliciousness of beans in healthy, affordable meals.

We have awarded a variety of other grants supporting Ark of Taste products including: Milking Devon Cattle, Silver Fox Rabbit, St. Croix Sheep, Spanish Goat, Dominique Chicken, Delaware Chicken, Bourbon Red Turkey, Boston Marrow Squash, Ozette Fingerlings, Hauer Pipin, Rio Oso Gem Peach, Sun Crest Peach, and the Inca Plum, just to name a few. The success of the program has dramatically increased the number of food varieties available to St. Louisans at farmer's markets, in CSAs, at grocery stores, in food buying clubs, and at local restaurants. Additionally, we have increased our grants to farms growing in and serving food insecure areas, and in 2014, we steered more than 20% of our grants to such areas.

For more information about this program, please contact Kelly Childs (Kelly@slowfoodstl.org), or visit www.slowfoodstl.org.

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