Category Archives: Emerging Crops (Aronia, Hops, etc.)

Specialty Pork forum – update

August 2012, CIAS convened a meeting of people passionate about specialty pork. Specialty-finished, heritage breed pork is much-sought-after, especially by restauranteurs interested in an authentic, innovative and sustainable menu item. Heirloom breeds, unique finishes, and artisanal processing are coming together to give consumers a taste of regional flavor. In the Upper Midwest prok finished with hazelnuts, chestnuts, acorns, and apples provide that regional flavor. This one-day forum, co-hosted by Rooted Spoon Kitchen Table,  brought together farmers, processors, restaurants and vendors to discuss regional pork. They shared their expertise and experiences, and discussed next steps toward developing a regional supply chain for local pork.

More than 30 stakeholders from around southern Wisconsin gathered in Viroqua for a forum on the region’s nascent specialty pork sector. Some pasture-based hog farmers have begun finishing their animals with specialty products to alter the flavor and distinguish their products to consumers. CIAS recognized that this could be a new niche for small- and medium-scale pasture-based operations in the state, and so we convened a forum to discuss its potential. We posed the question of whether a marketing program akin to “Wisconsin Specialty Pork” could serve participants along the pastured pork value chain. With farmers, processors, vendors, and representatives from CIAS in the room, the group held a lively one-day discussion on issues facing the growth of a specialty pork economy.

We first heard from growers Jeannie Herold (Hazel Valley Farm) and Mark Osterberg (Hawk’s Cry Farm) on the value they’ve found in hazelnut-finished hogs. Both Herold and Osterberg began their operations with hazelnuts before incorporating hogs. Without the necessary industrial facilities available, they have found that pigs are the next-best way to process their hazelnut crop. Herold sells her pork directly to consumers, and she reports that her customers appreciate the rich flavor the meat takes from the nuts.

Next Christopher Pax (Black Earth Meats), Scott Buer (Bolzano Artisan Meats), and Tim Blokhuis (Pete’s Meats) presented on the state of specialty pork from the processor’s perspective. During a break, Caitlin Henning (MSc candidate in Agroecology) discussed her fieldwork on denominations of origin for specialty pork in Spain and how lessons from that country could help farmers and vendors in Wisconsin market specialty pork as a terroir product.

For the final panel discussion, Jeremy Johnson (Willy Street Grocery Cooperative), Nik Novak (Together Farms), and Talish Barrow (Graze Restaurant) talked with the group about marketing challenges and opportunities for specialty-finished pork. While the panelists haven’t yet observed consumer demand for specialty finishing, their businesses have responded to consumer interest in local and pasture-raised pork. Barrow proposed that specialty finishing could be another niche for farmers and vendors with the right amount of consumer education.

Most farmers attending the event were curious about whether specialty finishing could work for their operations. Surveys completed during the event indicate that there is interest in both specialty finishing and product aggregation to take advantage of larger markets and niche consumers.

Another note – if you are on FaceBook, check out the Black Pork site. Lovely photos!

black pork

Meeting participants:

Last Name First Name Affiliation/Organization
Armbrust Matt Organic Processing Institute
Barrow Talish Graze Restaurant
Bernardoni Bob Roller Coaster Farm
Blokhuis Tim Pete’s Meats
Buer Scott Bolzano Artisan Meats
Doherty Charlotte Roller Coaster Farm
Fabos Steve April’s Garden
Fox Dan Fox Heritage Foods
Fox Art Fox Heritage Foods
Goetzman Sandra Fair Wind Farm
Goetzman Tom Fair Wind Farm
Henning Caitlin UW-Agroecology
Herold Jeannie Hazel Valley Farm
Hoch Harry Hoch Orchard and Gardens
Holmstrom Deanne Holmstrom’s Grassy Acres
Holstrom Jamie Holmstrom’s Grassy Acres
Hunter Jonny Underground Food Collective
Johnson Jeremy WSGC
Johnstone-Buer Christin Bolzano Artisan Meats
Keeley Keefe UW-Agroecology
Mabe Nick Hoch Orchard and Gardens
McCann Nick Iowa State Univerisity
Moths Jessi CIAS
Novak Nik Together Farms
Osterhaus Max Hawks Cry
Osterhaus Mark Hawk’s Cry Farm
Pax Christopher Black Earth Meats
Prusia April April’s Garden
Schneider Stephanie Together Farms
Schriefer Gene Iowa County UWEX
Solberg Dan prospective farmer
Toepper Lorin Madison College
Williams Brady CIAS
Wong Kristina Hawks Cry
Wright Carla Organic Processing Institute

Networking Across the Supply Chain – LaCrosse 2/20-21/2013

100 regional food supply chain entrepreneurs are gathering in LaCrosse this week to shape a public R&D agenda for getting local food to market in a way that is economically viable, socially just and environmentally sound.

Visit this link to see the agenda, speaker bios and a list of organizations attending.

Can’t join us? A proceedings will be published later this year.


4th Annual Upper Midwest Hazelnut Growers Conference

March 1-2, Eau Claire

Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin hazelnut growers plan to convene this spring to share information on growing, processing and selling hazelnuts. Researchers from Ontario, New Jersey, Minnesota and Wisconsin will share their work on propogating commercial nuts from hybrid and native hazelnut stock, and various ways growers are marketing their crops.

For more information and to register, go to:




Setting A Yield Goal for Hazelnut Breeding in the Upper Midwest

UW Extension recently released a new report “Setting A Yield Goal for Hazelnut Breeding in the Upper Midwest”. This report summarizes some of the work-to-date on an ambitious project to improve hazelnut germplasm, develop appropriate-scale nut processing equipment, and develop sustainable business models to support commercial hazelnut production in the Upper Midwest. University of Minnesota is the project lead, with partners at UW Extension, UW Stevens Point, UW-Madison Department of Horticulture and CIAS. The project is part of The Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, a collaboration of researchers in Wisconsin and Minnesota working with early-adopter hazelnut growers to develop an Upper Midwest hazelnut industry.

Hazelnuts are native to the Driftless region, with considerable potential as a perennial, high-value, drought-tolerant, permaculture-friendly crop. Keep your eye on this project and tell us your interests and concerns with hazelnuts.

Transportation Costs and Considerations

Mark your calendar for a Workshop on transportation costs, the evening of May 2, 2012 in Dubuque. This event is targeted to farmers who want to assess what their transportation costs are and consider alternate ways to get their products to market. The event is free, but we need an RSVP to ensure adequate refreshments. Please spread the word throughout the region.

Land Stewardship Project and Iowa Extension is offering the workshop, in conjunction with the UW-Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the National Center on Freight Infrastructure, Research and Education.

Growing hazelnuts in the Driftless

Are you growing hazelnuts in the Drifltess? Are you thinking about it? CIAS is working with the University of Minnesota, UW-Extension, Rural Advantage, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Superior and the UW-Horticulture department on a hazelnut project. Hazelnuts are native to our region and have the potential to hold soil in place, withstand drought, and provide a high-quality food source. The project has three primary components: select native bushes that show potential for good nut bearing and evaluate the native/european crosses that are already growing on farms in the three states; work on developing processing equipment that is appropriate scale for small to mid-size operations; and help farmers organize their processing and marketing efforts to make the most of rural economic opportunities. Check out the Midwest Hazelnut Initiative web site if you want to learn more.

Attached are two documents. The first Hazelnut Wiki gives an overview of hazelnuts. The second is a GIS analysis of hazelnut production in Wisconsin, with some suggestions for where to place a processing facility.    Hazelnut_PDF_GIS_Analysis 


Welcome back!

Nearly a year has passed since our eloquent blogger, Mark Sieffert, and his gifted wife CeCe,  graduated and left Madison for further Adventures in Sustainability. We’ve missed their good works on behalf of the Driftless Region and our broader community, yet much has happened in the months following their departure.

We’ve made considerable progress on our work investigating transportation systems for regional and local food markets working with Alfonso Morales (Urban and Regional Planning).  Rosa Kozub took the lead on a first set of cases detailing some of the issues embedded in regional food transportation. Check out the report. David Nelson joined our staff and began where Rosa left off – investigating ways that farmers interested in regional markets could make use of transportation and logistics tools created for national scale distribution. We also started partnering with the Land Stewardship Project to help farmers determine their cost of transportation. David and I have since given numerous presentations on this topic to diverse audiences. We look forward to another year’s work on this project.

Brady Williams, with his faculty advisor Sam Dennis (Landscape Architecture)  joined us this year to work with hazelnut growers and informing the development of  a  processing industry for their product. As you may know, the Driftless is home to the most diverse pool of wild hazelnut genetics. It is also home to many farmers interested in agroforestry and dabbling in hazelnut production. Brady is currently developing case studies of other similar businesses to guide growers in starting this new industry off on solid footing.

Caitlin Henning, advised by Jane Collins (Community and Environmental Sociology),  joined our team in pursuit of artisan meat. She is organizing a meeting in the Driftless with farmers and processors to discuss issues of concern in raising, finishing, and processing. This summer she plans to spend time with farmers in Spain to learn about the Black Iberian pig and hazelnut finishing. She will then be making an interlocal connection between artisan producers in Spain and the Driftless.

The Driftless Food and Farming Project was featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Edible Madison, thanks to our friend, Jessica Luhning. Check it out.

We’ve made some great connections in Illinois, with the Driftless Area Initiative, and in Dubuque. We’ve added more than 100 people to our list of food system creators in the Region. I gave some variation of this presentation to a number of new audiences.

Plans for this summer include 4 workshops in the Region to develop the Driftless story, artisan meat opportunities, and transportation options.

Partner with us on your pet project. Invite us to participate at your up-coming events. Commit to creative, authentic innovation.

And tell us your stories. Let’s learn together.

Next Steps for Emerging Crops Breakout Group

Emerging Crops – Aronia, Hops, and other Fruits & Nuts

The feeling that materialized from the emerging crops group was that the sector is poised for noticeable growth, due to surging recognition of perennial crops’ environmental and health benefits.  While demand has yet to develop following the increase in interest in these crops, growers need simultaneously to prepare for the growth and to actively encourage it.  Product development, consumer education, and production efficiency are all areas needing attention.

Next steps:

  • How do we channel the passion and commitment of pioneering growers to work together towards a series of common crop-specific production and marketing goals?  What should those goals be?
  • How do we capitalize on growing interest to expand markets for value added products?

We would like to encourage your participation in continuing conversations. Please step forward by posting a comment below or by emailing us.  If you have suggestions on how we can proceed please don’t hesitate to share them.