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CropTalk: Cha-Cha-Cha-CHIA: A Super Food With Super Potential

February 2019

Published on Monday, February 18, 2019

For most, managing and growing 3,800 acres of row crops would be enough of a full-time job, but imagine adding a start-up chia business to your plate and you'd be walking in Chris Kummer's shoes.

And yes, you read that right... 100% American grown, non-GMO chia. But before we get into the benefits of growing (and consuming) this powerful super food, let’s go back to where it all started.

Chris Kummer is a fourth-generation farmer who came back to his home and farm in Kentucky 28 years ago to take over for his dad who was ready to retire. Over the years, they have grown a variety of crops from corn and soybeans to soft red winter wheat, alfalfa, and even a special line of soybeans that were used to make tofu.

Chris was introduced to chia thanks to a connection with a professor at the University of Kentucky. The university was working on breeding to develop early-flowering lines that would grow in the Midwestern U.S. When the new lines were ready for field trials, Chris was the first one they called. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Traditionally, chia has a long growing season. The University of Kentucky adapted chia to U.S. conditions and then patented the lines. As part of that patent, Chris was presented with the opportunity to secure an exclusive license to produce the only chia seed grown and packaged in the U.S.

In 2012, Chris and his wife Jill formed Heartland Chia. Their mission is to offer a new, unique crop option to other farmers and provide food manufacturers and consumers with healthier food choices. Not only was this a great opportunity to add value to the acres they were already farming, but the Kummers recognized the potential it could bring to other American farmers as a new crop opportunity for both profitability and environmental stewardship.

Heartland Chia is a successful start-up company, but that success didn’t happen overnight. With an obligation to protect the patent, Heartland Chia is required through their license to maintain control of the quality of all the seed that is produced while also managing every aspect of the development of their chia brand. And I mean EVERY aspect, from satisfying government and food safety regulations, proving its nutritional value and labeling herbicides, to meeting regulatory approvals and marketing to food companies and consumers. Whew. Did I mention this is only one of their two full-time businesses?

To date, Heartland Chia has successfully grown pure white and charcoal chia in 16 states from the Pacific Northwest all the way back through Kentucky to North Carolina. Heartland Chia hopes to start expanding their contracted production acres to farmers across the Midwest as their consumer base grows and farmers show an interest in adding it to their crop rotations. In addition to selling to food manufacturers, Heartland Chia products are sold directly to consumers both through their website and at a small number of specialty retail stores.

So, what exactly is this super food with such super potential? Rich in nutritional benefits (and very few calories!), chia is an ancient seed that is a great source of protein, omega-3 and fiber. The seeds are loaded with antioxidants and can help stabilize blood sugar levels, lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and even boost weight loss.

But chia isn’t just good for the consumer, it’s also great for the land. It’s a sustainable, restorative crop that improves the land and environment and is a serious pollinator crop. It has much lower input needs, requiring 50% less water and about 75% less fertilizer than conventional crops. It can also be grown on no-till land and it brings biodiversity to crop rotations, breaking disease and insect cycles naturally without having to use pesticides. The best part? Chia has a similar lifecycle to a soybean crop so it already fits into a typical Midwest growing season AND it can be planted and harvest with standard farming equipment.

Like I said. Super crop. Super potential.

If you want to learn more about Heartland Chia, purchase the product, discover some delicious chia-based recipes or find out how you can grow chia on your farm, visit www.heartlandchia.com.

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Author: Maggie Holt

Categories: CropTalk, 2019

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