Where have all the grains gone?
The Millet Project
We are a group of researchers and students from UC Berkeley who are passionate about diversifying our food and agriculture by the cultivation and consumption of lesser-known grains such as millets. Despite the variety of cereal grains that have been cultivated by humans over time, today, corn, wheat and rice comprise at least 89% of worldwide cereal production. This, in turn, has caused losses in the variety of food and consequently nutrients in our diet. Taken together, these changes have adverse environmental and nutritional impacts.
Our goal is to diversify agriculture and our diet by rediscovering the traditions of cultivating and consuming millets. Millets are a group of gluten-free cereal grains that are highly nutritious and commonly contain higher fiber, mineral, vitamin, and protein levels, compared to corn, rice and wheat. “Millet” is not a botanical term for a certain plant type but rather an umbrella term for various small-seeded grasses grown as cereal crops for human consumption. Most millets are resilient to varied environmental conditions - some are drought tolerant and others can grow in wet conditions and on skeletal soils. They have a relatively short growth period of 90-110 days, and often do not depend on the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
With support from the Berkeley Food Institute in 2015, we planted four kinds of millets in six different locations in Northern California along with our farmer collaborators, raised awareness about the grain in our community through a Millet Exhibit and created a website to catalog millet based information and recipes. We are now in our second year and actively expanding our cultivation trials and collaborations with local farmers in Northern California.
How You Can Help:
Your contribution today will help us to expand our grower community for the 2017 growing season, and to continue our outreach efforts by reaching out to food diversity and security groups, improving our website and the millet recipe collection, hosting community events such as the Millet Exhibit at the UC Gill Tract, offering tours through our millet plots, creating millet-based food and drinks, interacting with new growers and plant scientists, and informing them about millets and our project. We also plan to extend our educational outreach activities to local high schools and kitchen gardens. Please make a gift today and help us spread the word about our project!
We are committed to providing interested farmers as much information as possible about growing millet. By growing millets at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany and the Kearney Research and Extension Center (KARE) in Parlier, CA, we are able to study their drought tolerance, growth and yields in more detail. We have an active collaboration with scientists at the USDA Plant Gene Expression Center (PGEC) in Albany who study the millet microbiome under drought conditions and this will be continued. Additionally, in the 2017 growing season, we would like to expand our grower community in California to include more types of farms and more geographic microclimates.
By the end of 2017, we will establish a knowledge base about the feasibility of growing millets in Northern California, the drought tolerance of millet, and best-practice protocols for farmers on how to grow different types of millet. We will increase the momentum already generated and have local consumers be more aware of millet and its uses. With big and small food companies beginning to incorporate millet in their foods today, this seems to be an achieveable goal. Finally, we wish to provide enough US-grown finger millet, pearl millet and teff millet seeds to enable local farmers to grow and sell these millets in the US. Currently, only proso millet is sold for consumption, and establishments such as Ethiopian restaurants and Indian restaurants currently import finger and teff millet from overseas. Thus, growing and popularizing millets within the U.S. will enable us to achieve our goal – diversifying our agriculture and diets!
Make your gift today to support the Millet Project - and please share with your friends to help us spread the word!
Here's our budget breakdown:
45% for farming includes: 1. buying seeds, 2. paying out collaborator farmers for their millet farming needs, 3. expanding our work to include more farmers, 4. helping to make millets into a profitable crop for at least some farmers by offering them opportunities to visit millet growers in Colorado, North and South Dakota, 5. renting the millet plot at the UC Gill Tract Farm.
30% for the The Millet Project Exhibit: 1. preparing and buying food, drink and informational supplies, 2. printing information and publicity materials, 3. renting tables, chairs and canopies.
25% for outreach activities includes: 1. talking to school authorities and children in classrooms, 2. conducting home garden millet farming workshops where we teach people our experiences, and supplying seeds, 3. popularizing millet as a food by conducting millet cooking classes, 4. collaborating and organizing joint events with other food diversity and food security groups.
About the Millet Project
Conceived by Amrita Hazra, the Millet Project was granted early stage funding by the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI, http://food.berkeley.edu/) in February 2015. The project, co-authored by Amrita Hazra, Patricia Bubner (postdoctoral researchers, Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB)), Gavin Abreu (MBA student, Haas School of Business), Peggy Lemaux, Sarah Hake (faculty) and supported by Pedro Gonçalves (postdoctoral researcher, PMB) and Ramji Pasricha (undergraduate student), proposed to test growth conditions for growing proso, pearl, foxtail and japanese millets at the UC Gill Tract Farm in Albany, and at collaborating farms in five other locations in Northern California (Ukiah, Bolinas, Davis, Willits, and Healdsburg). Drought tolerance and qualitative yields for these millet varieties were tested, the group interacted with the community to educate them about the need for diversity in their diets and in the field, and introduced many people to the types of millet grains and their uses. In 2016, the Millet Project family expanded to include Becky Mackelprang, Martin Alexander, George Chuck, and Hailey Zhou, and the team has launched a trial which includes five varieties of millet (proso, pearl, foxtail, teff, finger millet) and with more collaborating farmers. They hope to learn more about the drought tolerance of millet and its growth in various microclimates and on different soil types. Lastly, in September 2015, the Millet Project Exhibit hosted a sold out 250+ people Millet Exhibit at the UC Gill Tract farm, where community members were invited to take guided tours through the millet plots to learn more about this grain, and to taste millet-based food and beverages. Through events and outreach such as this, the Millet Project team has been able to build a network with farmers, bakers, brewers and scientists. They will be conducting the second Millet Project Exhibit on the 11th of September, 2016 and you are invited to visit it and learn more!
Some of The Millet Project team members; from left to right: Martin, Peggy, Patricia, Becky, Amrita, Pedro. (https://themilletproject.org/about-us/the-team/)