Joel Williamson

Joel Williamson, co-founder of LINC Foods, LINC Malt and the Grain Shed in Spokane, will be the keynote speaker at an upcoming Inland Northwest Artisan Grains Conference.

Last year, Cascadia Grains Conference organizers held a pilot program to gauge interest in a conference in Eastern Washington and Idaho.

Registration for the event sold out.

That meant the conversation needed to continue, said Aba Kiser, Washington State University Food Systems program project manager.

WSU and the University of Idaho and other community partners will present the Inland Northwest Artisan Grains Conference in Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash., July 12-13, with a kickoff dinner July 11.

Feedback from the pilot meeting indicated a need to address bottlenecks in processing, distribution and malting. A session on the topic at the Cascadia Grains Conference last January in Western Washington was the best-attended, Kiser said.

"We're seeing that conversation being a really hot-button subject right now," she said. "We want to provide a space for those conversations to happen.

Local entities are interested in providing support for malt houses and distribution centers, Kiser said.

Profitability is a big part of the discussion. Kiser pointed to Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop, Wash., which has created its own artisan grains market, selling directly to bakers or wholesale accounts.

"We're really at an exciting time where there's a lot of opportunity for people to be crafting this movement in the way they want to see it move forward," Kiser said. "That's a huge space we're hoping can be filled by these gatherings, that people can begin to see the economic potential."

Joel Williamson, co-founder of LINC Foods, LINC Malt and the Grain Shed in Spokane, will be the keynote speaker.

"He's going to be addressing the 'why' of local grains," Kiser said. "Why does this matter? Why small-scale and not large-scale? Why not commodity (markets)? We're here to get people at the table who are involved in this in the day-to-day to really tackle these questions together."

The conference agenda includes tracks for processing, production, business and hands-on experience.

It also includes tracks for a brewing tour, the plant breeding process from seed to plate, a homebrewing workshop and WSU grain trials.

"We hope people become more aware of where the conversation is at currently, and what they can do to plug in," Kiser said. 

Kiser expects 200 participants.

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