The COVID-19 pandemic drove this trio to create grits from farro. Learn why the founders use regenerative practices—and won a NEXTY Award for it.

Kelly Teal

November 6, 2023

6 Min Read
Gruff Ancient Grain uses farro to make grits
Gruff Ancient Grain

As more people want to eat organic foods that nourish, rather than deplete, the soil in which they’re grown, Gruff Ancient Grain Grits stands at the forefront. That’s why the company won the NEXTY Award for Best Certified Regenerative Organic Product.

Gruff offers up a new experience with a relatively underused grain, farro. While it’s usually consumed as a berry or flour, Gruff cracks the grain and turns it into nutrient-dense grits.

Brei Larmoyeux, a founding member of Gruff Ancient Grain Grits, sat down with New Hope Network to talk more about the company. She runs the business alongside founders and Prairie Grass Ranch owners Jody and Crystal Manuel. The ranch has been in Jody’s family for 100 years. Larmoyeux and Crystal are longtime friends and wanted to find a way to work together.

The answer, after a series of events, came from focusing on grits. First, COVID-19 came along, and Larmoyeux took her five children to Montana, where they lived with the Manuels and their family. With nine kids under one roof and access to grocery stores in question due to the virus, the Manuels and Larmoyeux turned to their own supply of grains. They ground spelt and farro into grits to make the grains go farther than they would in their berry or flour forms. Then, after the pandemic passed, Crystal suffered a health crisis. Part of the solution for her lay in consuming organic foods. Thus, Gruff Ancient Grain Grits, named for “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and as an homage to the Prairie Grass Ranch goats, was born.

For anyone from the South, like Larmoyeux, accepting grits from a source other than corn can be tough. “I was like, ‘Guys, we can’t do that. They’re going to kick me out if we call this grits,’” Larmoyeux jokes. But after conducting deeper market research, Larmoyeux, a former Whole Foods Market buyer, discovered that any grain can serve as a conduit for grits.

Learn more in this Q&A, edited for length and clarity, about Gruff Ancient Grain Grits and the founders’ commitment to regenerative and organic farming.

Prairie Grass Ranch owner Jody Manuel, left, and his wife, Crystal, right, created Gruff Ancient Grain Grits with their friend Brei Larmoyeux, center.

How do you plan to capitalize on your NEXTY Award?

Brei Larmoyeux: We’ve been courting different distributors across the nation. We’ve really focused on the West Coast, but we've had a recent conversation with a fairly big distributor on the East Coast. He was saying, "You bring me 12 stores that want your products, and I'll bring you on into distribution." We plan on using this [award] to reach out to these distributors and just say, "This is the hottest item, now grab it up." We want to partner with family distributors who want to partner with anybody who really cares about the organic and regenerative movement.

What led Gruff’s founders to focus on farro, specifically?

BL: We started this venture thinking it was going to be spelt because they had spelt in the bin. We were excited about getting it out there. We had it on the boxes and website as spelt. And then Jody called and said we had a bin full of farro and suggested using that instead. It was a last-minute decision right before the boxes went to print. I had to email the printer and say, "Hold on, we're changing the entire product line to farro." So it would have been spelt, which would have been fine. But I did some market research and, actually, farro was, and is, more sought after right now than spelt, so it ended up being a good move for us.

Talk about Prairie Grass Ranch’s roots (no pun intended), where Gruff grains are grown for the grits, in the organic and regenerative sector.

BL: It's been organic since 2007, and then in 2021, they started making the steps toward regenerative organic. And then Gruff was founded in January 2022. So we're brand new. And to be clear, the ranch, the Prairie Grass Ranch, is Jody and Crystal’s. They're USDA Organic and Silver Regenerative Organic Certified for both their grain and their cattle operations.

Gruff Ancient Grain Grits

What makes farro grits special, particularly as a wellness resource as compared to traditional corn grits?

BL: One of the main things with corn right now is that it is genetically modified, and nothing about our product is even close to genetically modified. This is an ancient grain. It’s very close to its original DNA. It's very, very gentle on a lot of people's microbiomes, and so you'll find that a lot of people who can't tolerate modern wheat can tolerate ancient grain. Breaking it down into a grit doesn't necessarily change the health benefit, it's just another way to introduce something that's a little more familiar—the consistency is really similar to a rice or couscous—or you can take our creamier version of our recipe and make it more like a porridge.

As you talk with people at trade shows and other similar venues, what kind of reception are you hearing when they understand that Gruff Grains use regenerative practices and it’s certified organic?

BL: We’ve started to pique the interest of a lot more people because they want to know the what regenerative is and why it’s important. Right now, the term is being used quite a bit. And people just need that extra step of education. When we can talk to someone in person about the actual effects that farming with regenerative practices is having on the land, it’s unbelievable. It's really powerful.

How do you anticipate that Gruff’s commitment to regenerative and organic farming might influence the wider food supply landscape?

BL: We get really excited when we think about this because our food is only as nutritious as the soil that it's grown in. We’re a single-origin farm; I can tell you the field that the farro came from. There is a market for doing things this way—farmers will grow what there is a demand for. Our greater goal would be to say, "Come along with us, get regenerative—and organic—certified so that we have more to offer." One of the most impactful statements that I ever came across was this farmer who said, "You can tell that the physical landscape is changing because of the influence of implementing these processes." So instead of land lying fallow, it's going to be full of these beautiful pink legume flowers, and it's the landscape that is changing because of the regeneration.

What is one question you wish more people would ask about Gruff?

BL: What does this do long-term for generations? I feel like this is the question that people are starting to ask, and I guess I wish that's the one they would ask more often.

Is there anything you’d like to add, especially around the NEXTY Award?

BL: It was just an incredible honor as I started looking through the list of people that New Hope was considering for these awards. I mean, these are people doing really awesome and innovative things, and I feel like the NEXTY Award is just a great way to showcase a fresh take on food. It’s been a great way to talk to distributors and others. One of the segues I've used is, "We haven’t visited in a while—just wanted to let you know our update." It’s a great way to also network for the greater NEXTY community.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years' experience as a journalist, editor and analyst in industries including technology and health care. She serves as principal of Kreativ Energy LLC. Follow her on LinkedIn at /kellyteal/

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