ReGen Brands Recap #64

Jody & Crystal Manuel + Brei Larmoyeux @ Gruff

Regenerative Organic Ancient Grain Grits

Jody and Crystal Manuel and Brei Larmoyeux are the Co-Founders of Gruff. Gruff is supporting regenerative agriculture with its Regenerative Organic Certified® Ancient Grain Grits made from organic cracked farro. Gruff can be purchased online, as well as on Amazon and at Azure Standard. Their products are also available in various retailers throughout Montana.

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Instagram embed code generatoA Health-Related Revelation

A Health-Related Revelation

In the mid-2000s, Crystal Manuel was diagnosed with Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that triggers an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Reluctant to rely on Western medicine alone, the Manuels did a deep dive into the causes behind the disorder, discovering a direct correlation to modern agrichemicals. It was an eye-opening discovery for a family who had been farming for generations – one that led them to change the way they worked with the land. 


Transitioning to Organic 

A first step in the transition of their land was attending a convention sponsored by Montana Organic Association, where they also met David Oian of Timeless Natural Food. In 2007, they began the process of transitioning their previously rented farmland to organic. Their land is located in the Golden Triangle of Montana where farmers typically only grow spring and winter wheat, and occasionally barley. Their commitment to organic and the market opportunities presented from their relationship with Timeless called for a more diverse rotation, so they started with spelt and emmer (emmer refers to the plant stage of farro).

“I remember my dad – who I’d been locking horns with over [the transition] – riding on the combine with me. We’d be harvesting spelt and he kept turning to me, saying, ‘Now what do you call this stuff again? How much is it worth?’ And then he’d just kind of shake his head.” – Jody Manuel

The Regenerative Trifecta: Annuals, Perennials, & Animals 

Fast forward to today, they’ve experimented with a wide range of annuals (including chickpeas, rye, purple and barley) and perennials (currently focusing on kernza interseeded with alfalfa). With a third of the ranch dedicated to these crops, and the remaining two-thirds with native grass and trees, they’ve also integrated livestock across their entire operation. 

Throughout the transition process to regenerative organic, they’ve learned to take a fresh perspective on things that farmers often consider problematic. For instance, weeds are no longer seen as foils to their system, but as agents for restoring balance (as explained in the book Weeds and Why They Grow).

“Weeds tell you what’s happening in your soil. They come into areas that are conducive to what they like and what they need. But then as they grow, they're consuming what's there and they're leaving something different behind. In 10 years, I watched native pasture overtake a huge weed patch. Native pasture is a picture of perfect balance, a functioning ecosystem where weeds aren’t needed.” – Jody Manuel


Bulk Breakfast Inspiration

Similar to so many other regen brands, COVID presented a unique opportunity for the Manuel’s and their dear friend Brei Larmoyeux to launch something new. Weathering the uncertainties together, the two families lived on the ranch, struggling to feed 11 kids at a time. 

Needing to make some humongous bulk breakfasts, the families discovered that grinding farro into grits could be a tasty, nutrient-dense breakfast food that even the fussiest of kids enjoyed. It was easy to cook in bulk (ready in 12 minutes), and worked well sweet or savory (so it could be served for lunch and dinner too!). 

“If you can boil water, you can make our grits. It started out as a hot cereal, served sweet with raspberries, maple syrup and what not. But we soon learned the grits were great for lunch and dinner with more savory flavors. Unlike a lot of foods, grits are versatile. You can back off the water, depending on the texture you want. Think everything from rice to risotto in texture, but with an ancient grain that’s superior in quality, higher in protein, and far easier to digest than conventional grains.” – Crystal Manuel

When it came to marketing, Brei led the way, guiding the crew to call their cracked farro “grits” over “porridge”. Consumer education has been a critical component of their efforts. They’re forging a new market for a new ingredient/crop, leaning into the product’s versatility (“Not your granny’s grits”), its value as a high-protein carb alternative, and their unique single-origin sustainability story. 

As for the Gruff name, their inspiration came from the folktale Three Billy Goats Gruff. For them, the troll in the story is representative of the obstacles they’re fighting against today in the entrenched, corporate-controlled food system.


Crop Diversity Requires Market Diversity

The Manuel’s journey from conventional to organic and now regenerative organic is a testament to the power of demand-backed agronomic changes. Early on, they were able to support their diverse organic grain rotation with purchases from Timeless Natural Food. Now they’re selling their kernza to Patagonia Provisions for a microbrew called Long Root Ale, and oats to Purely Elizabeth – in addition to commercializing their farro through their new brand Gruff.

Their journey is also a testament to partnership and collaboration, highlighted recently through their work with Mad Agriculture which has led to the partnership with Purely Elizabeth and a massive increase in their ability to track on-farm sustainability and impact data.


50% Market Share 4 Regen

While Crystal acknowledges that education is critical to the future success of regenerative food, she believes terminology presents a challenge. 

“The general consumer has little trust in the concept of organic. For them, it doesn’t mean anything – it’s a fluffy word like ‘natural’ that you put on a label so you can charge more money. But when we talk about the specific reasons for farming organically and regeneratively, when you explain the story in its entirety, it matters to people. ‘Regenerative’ matters because it speaks to a system, not just a label.” – Crystal

As a brand, they’re starting at the grassroots level, one mom, one family at a time, giving them enough information to make the right decisions about the products they choose to eat. They’re making headway against the “trolls” in the system, creating a ripple effect that’s fueling a movement.


You can check out the full episode with Jody & Crystal Manuel + Brei Larmoyeux @ Gruff HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober

The illustrations for this recap were created by Stacey Shaller