A grain network is a complex interplay of stakeholders who form a community centered on supporting and growing a regional grain economy. While participants appear to operate sequentially in our Grain Network graphic, this is for simplicity of presentation: links form and reform and change over time. For example, grain purchasers (5) might buy their grain directly from processors (5) and mill it themselves, bypassing millers (4). Millers (4) may sell their by-product to purchasers across the circle (8). These are just a few examples of how participation in a grain network can vary over time. One of the positive aspects of multiple links between the stakeholders is the resulting robustness; new relationships develop, resulting in collaborations that integrate the grain economy into the community life, and other connections in the network can mitigate interruptions in the supply chain.
Though the grain network diagrammed above simplifies the connections within the network, many variations can and do occur. Researchers (1) share knowledge with farmers about which grain varieties are optimal for their land. Farmers (2) use this knowledge to successfully plant and harvest grains and share knowledge and seeds with other farmers. The grain is then cleaned during processing (3) and is broken down even further during milling (4). Millers may refine the grain or keep it unrefined. Bakers, chefs, regional packaged goods companies, and individuals purchase the grain (5) and turn it into products that we need, like bread. Distributors (6) then ship these value-added products to consumers (7), who have gained access to nutritious products produced regionally. Grain by-product is made throughout this process, which can be purchased (8) for animal feed or composted. During each event in the grain chain, connections and business transactions are made between participants, allowing for the formation of a community. The community reinforces relationships between all the participants in the regional grain economy and creates a supportive network that engages the regional economy, connects consumers with the grain supply chain, and increases the consumption of nutritious and delicious whole grains.
Of course, a grain network exists within a larger context that includes funding, policy, the built environment, and education. Funding can come from private donors, Foundations, grain alliances, or federal and state economic development programs. Policymakers may provide incentives for participation in the regional grain economy. The built environment comprises the infrastructure for storing, processing, milling, and transporting grain, and education about the benefits of whole grains and regional food systems contributes to the demand for regional whole grains.