First, a definition. Spent grain refers to the barley or wheat left over after separating liquid from mashed grain in the brewing process. But it's only "spent" in terms of the brewing process. It can live another life - to feed livestock, companion animals or human beings (as an ingredient in baked goods); even as biomass to power, in part, a brewery (Alaskan Brewing Company).
Closer to home, urban farming initiative Peaceful Grounds and several local breweries are teaming up to feed worms and make soil using spent grain. It all started when Andrew Castner, head brewer at downtown's RAM, needed to find a way to get rid of the spent grain produced by The RAM and Rock Bottom Downtown. He reached out to the community for ideas and, Castner says, "the most interesting and environmentally responsible option was a local gardening initiative that wanted to use the nutrient-rich brewery by-product to make soil."
He's talking about Global Peace Initiatives, which has been growing food to feed the hungry in Indianapolis for the past eight years. "We are involved in food system development because if you are hungry, there is no peace," explains founder Linda Profitt. If you can't even grow a tomato in your yard because of contaminated soil, something has to be done."
"Urban redevelopment is a big interest of mine," Castner says. "When Linda spoke about soil contamination in our downtown neighborhoods from 100 years of human pollution and how her company is hoping to help fix that, it struck a personal chord with me."
Peaceful Grounds, the latest GPI initiative, was developed to show the public what a mature year-round urban food system looks like. Proffitt believes urban growers have to start from the ground up so the organization has been worm farming to develop safe soils. "The worms like the brewer's spent grain because it fits right in their mouth," adds Proffitt. Peaceful Grounds recently relocated its entire operation to the Marion County Fairgrounds, where the Cattle Barn has become "Worm Central."
"I am a die hard recycler," says Jerry Sutherlin, head brewer at Rock Bottom downtown, "So anything that is going to help clean our littered land, I am for it. Other than the obvious need to remove spent grain from the brewery, knowing that a by-product of my labor of love can aid in the process is very rewarding. After speaking with Linda and getting more of an understanding of the composting process, I am going to start a program at home."
"People are becoming more and more aware of their food sources, often looking locally for options," says Castner. "If you combine this with a new generation of people highly interested in urban living in the Indianapolis area, urban farming is, and will become, even more of a civic interest. Peaceful Grounds will be there to make it happen. We have done a bit of social media to help Peaceful Grounds, and I am always willing to talk up Linda and her group with anyone who will listen."
"Nary a brew day goes by when a guest doesn't poke his or her head in the brewhouse and ask "what is that stuff?" and "what do you do with it?"" says Sutherlin. "After explaining the brewing process and our relationship with Peaceful Grounds, that guest is very impressed and I am very proud to get the word out that breweries can be a productive part in the green movement in a community."