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Grains Galore: From Rice To Spirits, Illinois Artisan Grains Are Rising To The Occasion

Grains Galore: From Rice to Spirits, Illinois Artisan Grains are Rising to the Occasion

When we talk about Artisan Grains, many of you may think about whole grain wheat and flours used to make breads and other baked goods. It’s likely you may have had some experience in bread baking during the COVID-19 pandemic when we were stuck at home looking for ways to pass the time (and feed ourselves and our families). Although we all love bread and baked goods, the interest in artisan grains has extended beyond bread baking to include some of the most unique and delicious products available. And lucky for Illinois consumers, there are some amazing grain producers rising to the occasion and offering artisan grain products that span from rice to spirits.

In this month’s blog post, we head out on a journey of grains galore beginning Southern Illinois at Cahokia Rice, then we’ll work our way north to Central Illinois where we’ll visit Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains and Silver Tree Beer & Spirits, and then move into Northern Illinois to complete our artisan grain journey at Breslin Farms.

Cahokia Rice

Cahokia rice growing in field
[Photo Credit: Cahokia Rice Instagram]

Non-GMO, whole grain and gluten free high protein white and brown rice

Cahokia Rice is a non-GMO, whole grain and gluten free crop that is grown by the Gerard Family in the Southern Illinois town of McClure. The company and rice is named in honor of the Cahokia Indian Tribes that settled alongside the Mississippi River. The Gerard Family’s farm has flourished in Southern Illinois for four generations. In 1990, descendant Blake Gerard returned to the land seeking to revitalize this multi-generational farming operation. “Blake’s passion for farming paired with his intimate understanding of the rice market allow him a unique perspective on producing the highest quality rice without sacrificing the unique characteristics that set family-owned and operated farms like his apart.” 

Cahokia Rice has become a popular artisan grain option not just for Illinois consumers, but consumers across the country (including the Cincinnati Bengals). Their unique strain of rice that the Gerard’s grow is 53% naturally higher in protein and is one of the lowest glycemic index rice on the market.  “We mill and package our crop in small batches to maximize taste and nutrition, harvesting the grains when they contain peak protein content.”
Cahokia Rice offers two products, High Protein Brown Rice and High Protein White Rice. If you’re looking for ways to include artisan grains into your well-balanced meal, check out Cahokia Rice. You can locate their rice at a store near you by visiting their website, order online directly from their website, and also check out some of their delicious recipes!

Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains

Funks Grove's Katie weighing grains
[Photo credit: Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains Instagram]

Fruits and grains grown without herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers

Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains is a newer farm located in McClean County’s historic Funks Grove. Jonathan Funk, Katie Funk, and Jeff Hake are the trio that began the operation in 2016. They have since expanded to nine acres located just across the train tracks from Old Route 66 and nearby Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup (in which siblings Jonathan and Katie are sixth-generation Funks).

“We intend to build on and honor the long legacy of farming and stewardship in the Funk family. We grow specialty grains and fruits, and process them into delicious food products for happy eaters in our region.”

Some of the delicious products that Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains offer includes Hard Red Winter Wheat Whole Berries, Hard Red Winter Wheat Rustic Stoneground Whole Flour, Whole Wheat Cookie Mix, a variety of Pancake Mixes, Johnnycake Mix, Maple Bran Muffin Mix, and Fruit Wowzers! (although directly not part of our artisan grain journey, we can’t NOT include a shout out for these fruit leathers because they are such a flavorful snack). 

One very neat thing to note about this farm is their collaborative nature, and goal to make the best of their own crops as well as those of their neighbors. Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains utilizes Hazzard Free Farm in Pecatonica to mill their grains, and Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup to develop their “ever-growing line of baking mixes, preserved fruit products, and seasonal items, and sell them through the sirup shop and a number of central Illinois stores and farms.”

If chocolate is your thing, you definitely need to check out their recipe for Decadent Whole Wheat Chocolate Brownies, which features their Hard Red Winter Wheat Rustic Stoneground Whole Flour. However, if you’re more of a breakfast person, or want to try something different from the typical muffin, we strongly recommend their Jonnycake Muffins (or cornbread). 

You can find Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains products in Central Illinois, at the Village Farmstand in Evanston and for mail order through the Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup website.

Silver Tree Beer & Spirits

Silver Tree grains on farm
[Photo credit: Silver Tree Beer & Spirits website

Home grown grains brewed and distilled into Illinois alcohol with an Irish twist.

Silver Tree Beer & Spirits was founded by brothers Dallas, Will, and Clayton Glazik. The trio began experimenting with grains in high school but quickly learned that there was more that could be made with the grain produced on their family’s farm. The brothers started their journey to Silver Tree Beer & Spirits with home beer brewing. The quality of the grains they used to brew their beers caught the attention of others, and they realized they could add value to their family farm by creating premium drinks for people to enjoy, which now includes spirits.

“Our spirits are handcrafted from the ground up. From pollination to pour, grain to glass, seed to spirit; our hands have been involved in the process to deliver you premium, artesanal drinks.”

Down East Vodka is their pilot spirit product. It’s a small batch wheat vodka with a clean, pure taste that offers hints of vanilla. Wheat for the vodka is sourced from the family farm, Cow Creek Farm, which is located in Paxton, Illinois. “Our grains just so happen to be home-grown straight from our certified organic, 5th generation family farm in East-Central Illinois. We put care and precision in our sustainable farming practice because we believe that the best drinks come from the best grains.”

The Glazik’s beer is currently in limited release and only available for a short time. To know when their beer is available, as well as their next batches of whiskey (including their Tillers 4 Grain Illinois Straight Whiskey which we hear is worth the wait) be sure to follow their social media (Facebook and Instagram). 

Breslin Farms

Breslin farms
[Photo credit: Breslin Farms website]

Growing certified organic row crops with a concentration on small grains and dry beans. 

Breslin Farms is a family operation, with mother Peg having inherited the 87 acres of farmland in Ottawa, Illinois that father John and daughter Molly turned into Breslin Farms in 2010. They participated in one of Farmers Rising’s Farm Beginnings classes that helped them to understand what was needed and required of them to really make a go of their farm business. Their combined interests in growing, cooking, baking, and of course, shopping at farmers markets, helped them to hone in on what their farm focus would become: grains and beans.

“With a focus on biodiversity and sustainability, we concentrate on small grains and dry beans. We use heirloom varieties and save our own seed whenever possible.”

The main crops at Breslin Farms include edible dry beans (black turtle beans and red beans), edible small grains (hard red winter wheat and winter rye), sweet corn, grains and beans for animal feed, and fruits and veggies (on a small scale). 

Wheat Berry Salad, one of the recipes featured on the Breslin Farms website, is a delicious way for you to  incorporate some of Breslin Farms’ grains into your recipe repertoire. “Grain salads and pilafs are some of our favorite ways to eat whole wheat berries. Use wheat berries on their own in these salads, or mix them with other grains like barley, quinoa, or rice.” If you are new to cooking wheat berries, have no fear. The process isn’t all that complicated. In a saucepan, add 1 cup of dry wheat berries to 4 cups of water. Boil for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat, put a tight lid on the pot, and let it sit for 30 minutes before straining. The result should be a nutty, and mostly whole wheat berry, ready to add to your salads (and so much more!).

If you’re in Chicago or Northern Illinois, you can buy Breslin Farm products when they are available at places like All Grass Farms, Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks, Sauce and Bread Kitchen,and the Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park (Chicago).

Visit the Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois online directory to find Artisan Grains near you. Search by location, affiliation, certification, and more, or navigate inside the map to find local products and businesses across the state.

Get Listed with Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois! Are you a farm, farmers market, farm-to-table restaurant, or grocery store that sells local products purchased directly from local farms? Get listed in Illinois’ most trusted guide to local food. Your listing is absolutely free. Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois is a local foods marketing project led by a coalition of organizations across the state working to promote local farms and food businesses like yours. Get listed and start reaching new customers today!

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