You are here

In the Grain Pit: Modern Missives from Small-Scale California Grain



The small-scale grain movement in California has been growing and gaining steam for years, but the shifting market demands in the last year have certainly infused the grain community with new energy. In this conversation, we will hear from four endeavors around the state that will give the farming community a window into the current climate for California grain.
Zion Taddese, founder of Sheba Farms LLC, will describe her ambitious cross-border enterprise growing and processing teff both in California and in Ethiopia. Rob Barnett, farmer, community organizer and aficionado of cooperative economics will discuss the nascent statewide equipment-sharing collective. Nan Kohler, owner of Grist and Toll Urban Flour Mill for nearly the past decade will fill us in on the novelty of this particular moment in local grain. Finally, Leslie Person Ryan, longtime farmer and CEO of Sweet Wheel Farm will talk about the experience of being a “newbie” grain farmer. Leslie just added grain to her rotation this year and will talk about how grain fits into the overall ecosystem of her farm and offer a glimpse into the incentives for and challenges with getting started with this vital staple crop. Join this event to get a window into the current temperature of the small-scale grain movement via 4-efforts uniquely situated in this post-pandemic world.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

12 - 1:30pm PT


Zion Taddese, Founder of Sheba Farms LLC
Zion Taddese is a restaurant owner, founder of Sheba Farms and Shashemene Holistic Medicine Institute, and active member of I Am Sac Foundation. She has worked in the food industry for over 20 years and has delved into holistic nutrition for several years. She is the ambassador for the growth of teff in California and seeks to make it a global project with the partnership of UC Davis. She also cultivates cannabis and incorporates its benefits into a holistic approach to benefit the population.
Rob Barnett, Regenerative farmer and community organizer
Rob Barnett (he/they) disabled veteran, educator, solidarity economy archivist and cooperative organizer currently paying rent in unceded Northern Chumash territory, Los Osos California. A deep generalist focused on collective enterprise development and democratized access to the means of production. One of many coordinators of a venture to coordinate equipment sharing among grain growers in California, and seeking collaborators! For current events in cooperative industry development check out the resource hub on Facebook called “Cooperative Enterprises and Economics Study Group” or at or @generative_ventures on Instagram.
Nan Kohler, Owner and miller Grist and Toll
Nan Kohler is the Owner/Miller of Grist & Toll, Los Angeles’ first urban flour mill in almost 100 years. Milling in small batches on an authentic stone mill, she is re-introducing the craft of milling and providing local bakers with fresh whole grain flour of exceptional flavor, aroma and nutritional value. She sources her wheat and grains from like-minded farmers, dedicated to sustainability and transparency. Her goal is not to revive an old-fashioned approach, rather it is to showcase the beauty and diversity of grain, which we have lost, and to put it back where it belongs – on the cutting edge of culinary discovery. Grist & Toll produces exclusively 100% whole grain flours, which Nan believes is the key to unlocking all the beauty of grain diversity.
Leslie Person Ryan, CEO of Sweet Wheel Farm
Leslie Person Ryan is a farmer, propagator of unusual specimen vegetables, entrepreneur, and business owner of almost four decades. She strongly believes in community volunteerism, food activism and doing the right thing. She can be found equally comfortable helping someone with a wedding invitation, driving and doing field work on a tractor with her hand forged machete, or volunteering to end sex trafficking in Santa Barbara. In 2018, Leslie started Sweet Wheel Farm & Flowers, an organic farm market cart addressing the area’s food insecurity.


Leyna Lightman, artist, activist, grainiac
Leyna Lightman is an art world veteran with a broad range of projects and collaborators. She is actively engaged with justice in its many forms- from gender and race to environment, food and agriculture. Leyna believes that progress is holistic in nature meaning, "justices" hold hands with each other and cannot be siloed. Leyna has extensive experience supporting the complex California small-scale heritage grain economy. She works deeply with all of the small-scale grain farmers in the state as well as many other relevant to further the heritage grain movement through cooperation and collective efforts.