Western SARE completed our second season of Fresh Growth. Thank you for listening! As we are working toward Season 3, we are sharing some special podcasts created by Washington State University students.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Shepherd's Grain COO and Director of R&D Jeremy Bunch. He discusses what makes Shepherd's Grain unique and how they work with no-till wheat farmers. The model links farmers with consumers. You'll learn more about the importance of traceability as well as no-till practices for soil health.
Student team: Mia Berry, Miguel Fuentes, James Pellervo, Mathew Zimmer
Thanks for listening to Fresh Growth! To learn more about Western SARE and sustainable agriculture, visit our website or find us:
Contact us at email@example.com
Hello, and welcome to fresh growth. A podcast by the Western Sarah program that sustainable agriculture research and education just for background Western, Sarah is funded by the us department of agriculture's national Institute of food and agriculture to promote sustainable farming and ranching across the, and west through research education and communication efforts. Like this podcast, we are preparing for our third season, which we'll launch on February. First. In the meantime, we are sharing special podcasts produced by students in Washington, state universities, introduction to agricultural and food systems, class, the students interview producers and ag leaders on a variety of topics. We hope you enjoy and learn from their work .Speaker 2:
Hello everyone. My name is Mia Barry , and welcome to a special episode done by a group of WSU undergraduate students in an agriculture food science class, where we will be talking about a special company named shepherds grade . Our group is composed by Matthew Zimer who made this interview happen, Migo , Fontez and James Pere who helped research and organize this interview here today with us. We hash shepherds green CEO, Mr. Jeremy bunch . Thank you so much, Mr. Bunch for making time in your schedule to join us and teaching us a little bit more about shepherds green and how they work. MySpeaker 3:
Pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.Speaker 2:
Yes. To start off, wanna tell us a little bit about what Shepherd's grant is and how do you , you guys set yourself apart from other companies?Speaker 3:
Yeah, so really we were started in 2003 by a couple of Eastern Washington wheat farmers who saw that like 95% of the wheat in this region gets exported overseas. Most of it is soft light wheat , which makes, you know, noodles flat breads things that we don't eat here as much, but they eat a lot of, you know, especially in the Pacific rim countries. And so, you know, they're babying their crop along all year and then harvest comes and they just take it to the local grain warehouse dumping in the pit and kiss a goodbye. And they had no real connection to where the food was going, that they were producing. So when we think of like farm to fork , we usually think about customers or consumers who wanna know where their food comes from, who the farmer was, how it was grown, but for farmers, they really value knowing where their food is going and how it's being used and connecting with the people that are consuming it. And so that was really how shepherds that was kind of the main value upon which Shepherd's grain was built. These farmers wanted to start growing the types of wheat around here that would produce the kind of breads and pizza crus, things like that, that , that we eat more commonly in this region. And, you know, most of that wheat was coming from Montana or Kansas, Oklahoma out of the region. So they said , let's grow those types of wheats here, sell it more locally, Portland, Seattle Spokane, and , um, and so 30 or , yeah, let's see, that was 2003 . So 18 years later here we are. We're buying wheat from 35 farmers in this region, the blue region, and , um , milling in into flour and , and selling it all the over the place now. So that's what we do. It is different from all of the other flower companies that are out there because we have that traceability from the farm, through the milling process, to the bag of flour , we know which farms , uh , grew the wheat that are in those bags of flour . So there's the trace ability . But , um, besides that, the other kind of cornerstone value that we have is that all of our farmers are no-till farmers, so they're not disturbing the soil. So there's a real sustainability aspect that we use in our marketing and, and sales and, you know, just , um, asking people in the good place to buy flower , to support these farmers that are, are using those sustainable practices.Speaker 2:
Thank you for that . And then , so going off , based off a lot of what your guys' website and what your guys' company does you guys talk a lot about how you guys ensure high quality grain ? So how do you guys make sure that you guys' grain is the highest quality ?Speaker 3:
Yeah, so there's, there's several things. First of all, you know, when you decide that you want to start selling , uh , wheat that makes bread like we eat, and that's like hard red winter wheat, or dark Northern spring wheat, those red wheats with a kind of a hard characteristic to 'em , um, there's a whole bunch of different varieties of those types of wheat that farmers can grow. So if they say we want to grow hard, red winter wheat, they go to the sea dealer and there's like 12 different varieties of that kind of wheat that they can grow. And not all of them have the highest quality attributes. Some of 'em yield really high, and that's about all they're good for, but to make a loaf of bread, it's pretty pitiful , um, or vice versa, you know, they might bake really good bread, but not yield well. So what we do is, is we take all those varieties. And once a year, we do bake tests on, on them to determine which varieties are the best for making bread. Um, and so we make kind of a short list of varieties that we'll accept from our farmers that are just based upon , um , good baking quality. So we're really picky about that. It's kind of like the gate , um , for quality control is to say, we're only accepting these varieties that are the best, excuse me. But then after that at harvest time , um , I go around and collect, you know, five samples of the wheat that's been harvested from each of the farmers that we contracted wheat with. And then I send that in to, to get a Frio graph . It's a test where they, they actually do a bake test. They, they mill up the five pounds of wheat. They bake a loaf bread with it and do some, an analytical on it to, to show how the dough performs for , uh , each farmer's wheat. So most flower companies or flower mills when they get wheat in, they just want a consistent protein. Okay . That's the main quality attributes that they're looking at with us. We know the protein from each of our farmers so that we can blend for consistency there, but also , um, we just know all of this analytical data that we can make sure that we are sending to the mill to make sure that it's consistent too. And that's just as important as knowing what the protein is. So we're really, we have a really tight sort of micromanaged in a good way ability because of the traceability to manage for quality.Speaker 2:
So then also going kinda now days of how things have been affected. So how has COVID 19 affected your guys' company?Speaker 3:
Yeah, it was really hard because most of our customers were bakeries and , you know, throughout the Pacific Northwest. And so when they were shut down, we stopped selling flour. So it was, it was, it was pretty devastating for a while , especially for our customers, but, but it hurt us in the sales department too. But what happened was so 99% of our , uh, flower sales are what we call wholesale, you know , direct to distributors who then who then sell it to bakeries or restaurants. But, you know, when we say wholesale, I'm talking like 50 pound bags or bulk loads of, you know, trucks. Um, and so that's 99.9 per percent of our business is selling 50 pound bags. 1% of our business is selling five pound retail bags in grocery stores. It was just a very small amount of our business. And , but that just during COVID it completely flip flopped and all of a sudden everybody's at home has extra time, wants to figure out how to, you know, make their own sour dough , bread loaves. Um, so the demand for retail flour just spiked during the heart of the COVID lockdowns. And , um, we, we weren't really prepared or able to meet all of that demand in such a short period of time. And that's where we saw, not just with us, but , um, with flower production. And of course, all other sorts of food products, there was just big hiccups in the supply chain. So the lesson that we learned from that is we needed to be more diversified and have, you know, increase the sales of the retail bags of flour, the five pound bags of flour, so that we're not caught in the like that when there's supply disruptions for a pandemic or for whatever reason, but at the same time, it was really encouraging to see so many people in the public recognize that baking your own bread at home is a valuable thing. It's a fun thing. It's a , it's a great art to know. And I mean, there's just nothing like sour , sourdough bread, that's been toasted up and a lot of butter on it.Speaker 2:
For sure. So going off something you said earlier is that you guys buy from other, from farmers. So what makes farmers wanna do business with you guys and stay with you ?Speaker 3:
So there's two things. One is just that value that I said before of, you know, having some connection to the marketplace that's really valuable to them . So , um, you know, oftentimes we'll bring bus loads of our customers from Seattle or Portland out to the farm so they can see what no till agriculture is firsthand. Um, you know, get to speak with the farmers face to face . There's a lot of , um, untruth or half truths about agriculture that, you know, people can read about on the internet. And so to have that ability to just talk to farmers directly, ask, you know, questions and be transparent about it all, it's a great learning experience. So our farmers love that, but sometimes we also take them to Seattle and take 'em to a tour of a bunch of bakeries that use our flour . And, you know, it's, the farmers are just impressed that, you know, these bakeries, like there's this French , uh, pastry bakery that we took 'em to one time in Portland where it was almost making some of our farmers tear up, cuz they're looking at like these super fancy pastries, you know, gold leaf on, on the chocolate. And, and it's like, how do you pull off this magic with our flower that we do on the farm? I mean, they're just blown away. And so to , to be able, I mean, that's what Shepherd's grain does, is it real , really provides that ability to make those connections that are valuable to the farms. And then the other thing that the farmers appreciate is that we pay them for a bushel wheat based upon their cost of production, plus a a 5% profit margin. So , um , when we first started the company, we were with Washington state extension economist, basically built a spreadsheet where the farmers enter in all of their expenses, everything from the big ticket items, like what their fertilizer costs , their labor, their seed, their fuel, all the way down to what they ought to be reimbursed for their home office, their health insurance, everything is taken into account. And at the bottom, it pops out a , a price per bushel that they need to make in order to meet all of their expenses. So, you know, the , the farmers like that model, the bankers, their bankers love that model because it just, it ensures that their costs are being covered as their other option is to sell into the commodity markets , um , which are just really extremely volatile. And, and don't always pay the farmer what he needs to make in order to stay in business long term . There's a economic sustainability component to the whole shepherds grain program.Speaker 2:
Kind of going off that more of why, what makes farmers wanna stay with you is, are you guys looking for more farmers to like meet growing demands or anything like thatSpeaker 3:
Currently we're not. So we kinda have a policy that we don't add new growers until, or unless our current grower base is unable or unwilling to supply us the wheat that we need. So on average, our farms market about 15% of their wheat through us and the rest of it goes into the commodity market. So , um, we just need to drive up more demand for our flour , sell more flour, and then our farmers will have the opportunity to sell more wheat for that growth. Um, and if they don't want to, then at that point, we would go looking for other farmers.Speaker 2:
Well, thank you so much D for coming with us to talk about Shepherd's grain, we've learned so much about who you guys are and how you guys developed. You told us about how you guys are ensuring high quality grain for your guys as consumers, and also a little bit about how COVID affected you and what makes farmers wanna stay with you. So thank you so much for teaching us more about Shepherd's grain. And then I'd also like to thank everyone for listening and I hope you guys have a great day. Thank you.Speaker 1:
Thank you for listening to fresh growth. We hope you enjoy this episode for more information on Western Sarah grounds and our learning resources visit Western sarah.org .