Artisan Grain Collaborative partners with bakers, millers, farmers in upper Midwest to feed people

CHICAGO -- As the coronavirus pandemic keeps thousands of people out of work, food pantries continue to see more clients.

Many of them provide people with canned goods, fresh fruits, vegetables and if they are lucky, baked goods.

To help make bread and other grain-based food a more regular item in Midwestern pantries, Artisan Grain Collaborative stepped up to help.

"There are two opposing issues," said Alyssa Hartman, executive director for the AGC. "Food pantries don't have food and bakeries don't have enough business. So I thought, how can we create a situation where bakeries could be producing food for food pantries using local grain that's coming through local mills and having a positive impact on our local economy."

The Artisan Grain Collaborative started the Neighbor Loaves program by partnering with bakers, millers and farmers in the upper Midwest to feed people in need in their communities.

"Through the program, we're supporting a lot of different aspects, from the farmers to the bakers and we're also feeding people in need," chef and baker Bobby Schaffer said.

Schaffer owns Lost Larson, a bakery in Andersonville. Since April, he and his staff have been able to provide more than 3,000 loaves of bread for Ravenswood Community Services and Common Pantry.

Here's how the program works. Supporters buy a loaf from a participating bakery-- those bakers use at least 50% locally grown, stone-milled flour from farms like Meadowlark Organics.

The resulting loaves are given to local feeding organizations for distribution to those in need. That's it.

"As a chef, I've always been focused on supporting local farmers," Schaffer said. "Not only because you get things that are at peak seasonality, but you're also supporting communities that need support and are growing things that take care of land."

Bakeries in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan are currently participating in the program. AGC, however, is planning to expand to areas across the country.

"We've been really excited to work with new partners in New England, Pennsylvania and the D.C. Metro area," Hartman said. "We really value the word collaborative and similar work needs to be done around the country so we're excited to work with new partners and share ideas."