WSU’s New Grains Northwest program yields farm-to-school opportunities for buckwheat

A group of people in a circle look toward a presenter outside a greenhouse.
2023 Buckwheat Festival held in Chimacum, Washington, in collaboration with the Organic Seed Alliance.

VANCOUVER, OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington State University is working with school districts across the state to introduce nutritious buckwheat recipes into their cafeteria menus.

Funded by a four-year Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, WSU New Grains Northwest faculty are researching underutilized grains like buckwheat and millet and building farm-to-school markets throughout Washington.

A person harvesting buckwheat.
Justin O’Dea, WSU Extension regional agriculture specialist faculty, harvesting buckwheat during variety trials in Vancouver. Photo credit: Kyle Bouchard.

In 2022, Justin O’Dea, WSU Extension and regional agriculture specialist faculty, began conducting buckwheat variety trials for the project in Vancouver.

“With so much urbanization west of the Cascades, it’s helpful for growers with larger acreages to have alternative grain crop options that can provide more returns per acre,” he said. “Buckwheat will fill a unique niche in crop rotations here and provide opportunities to tap into more direct local or regional markets.”

Most buckwheat is globally exported from Washington, leaving out a significant statewide and U.S. market, according to Kevin Murphy, a WSU crop and soil sciences professor who leads the New Grains Northwest project.

“We’re building on this research to develop emerging market chains, like farm-to-school, for alternative grains like buckwheat and millet,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the farmers and for dietary diversity in schools.”

The New Grains Northwest project is unique in that it was initially the brainchild of WSU graduate students.

“Julianne Kellogg, Rachel Breslauer, and Taylor Reinman in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and Elizabeth Nalbandian in the School of Food Science took on this project,” Murphy said. “Without their innovative research and diligent project management, New Grains Northwest would not be nearly as impactful.”

Stephen Bramwell headshot.
Stephen Bramwell, director of WSU Thurston County Extension, partnered with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2022 to begin integrating new buckwheat recipes into school menus.

As O’Dea’s buckwheat research progressed in 2022, Stephen Bramwell, director of WSU Thurston County Extension, was partnering with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to integrate new buckwheat recipes into school menus.

“We worked with Christina Sanders at WSU’s Division of Governmental Studies and Services to develop a farm-to-school survey that was sent to the nearly 300 school districts in the state with the help of OSPI,” he said. “We received back around 75% of the surveys, a huge positive response.”

The questionnaire asked if the districts would be interested in incorporating alternative grains into their menus.

“Fifty school districts responded affirmatively and wanted to pursue a farm-to-school program,” Bramwell said.

The work is ongoing, but Bramwell credits the early successes of New Grains Northwest to broad partnerships and the personnel who have spearheaded these initial projects. Among them is the lab of Girish Ganjyal and Elizabeth Nalbandian in WSU’s School of Food Science, which is actively working on new buckwheat recipes. Bramwell also recognizes the millers, chefs, and local food hubs experimenting with this flavorful grain and generating excitement through culinary recipe testing. Their work is opening doors to future regional markets in Washington.

“It’s certainly been a group effort,” he said. “Coordinating with farmers, gathering and evaluating data from buckwheat research trials, finding and developing distribution channels and markets — credit really belongs to each person involved in this complex food system.”

Kevin Murphy.
Kevin Murphy, WSU crop and soil sciences professor who leads New Grains Northwest.

The current focus of the New Grains Northwest project is planting demonstration plots for both buckwheat and millet and working with farmers, students, and organizations like the Culinary Breeding Network and the Organic Seed Alliance to generate enthusiasm for these underutilized grains.

“We get to work with everyone in the food system on a broad project like this,” said Murphy. “There’s a lot of excitement, a very positive energy, a sharing of ideas and time. Working with new crops is a great challenge.”

Learn more

For information on Bramwell’s work developing statewide food hubs, read the Extension publication Food Hub Establishment: A Case Study of the Southwest Washington Food Hub.

For information on regional buckwheat production in western Washington, Rachel Breslauer spearheaded the Extension publication Buckwheat Production West of the Cascades.

Those interested in learning more about buckwheat research in Washington should contact Justin O’Dea or Kevin Murphy.

This work is part of WSU Extension’s effort to help build a more Resilient Washington.

Media contact

Kevin Murphy, Professor, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, email:,
phone: 509-335-9692