Back in 2010 when I was living in Ithaca, NY I had the opportunity to tour a local grain mill in Trumansburg, Farmer Ground Flour. The region has a long history of grain milling with an old water powered mill at the top of Lucifer Falls/Enfield Falls in what is now Treman State Park. The water-powered gristmill was built in 1839 by Isaac Rumsey and used to mill wheat and corn until 1917.
And of course the Haudenosaunee (French name: Iroquois) people were grinding corn in the region for many centuries before that, with Jane Mt. Pleasant dating corn’s arrival to North America at 2,000 years ago. There is a regional project to bring back traditional Haudenosaunee white corn in the areas it was historically grown. If you are an agricultural history nut like I am, you will love Jane Mt. Pleasant’s 2011 paper, The paradox of plows and productivity: an agronomic comparison of cereal grain production under Iroquois hoe culture and European plow culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Students in my Land Steward’s course read this paper and it sparked some really fascinating discussions on how traditional ecological knowledge can guide modern sustainable agriculture practices. The corn yields in the traditional no-till system were astounding.
During the tour, you’ll see freelance journalist Sharon Tregaskis scribbling notes as we talk with Greg. Shortly after the tour she published a profile of the milling operation in the Cornell Alumni Magazine. I also love her piece on Black Currant production in the Fingerlakes. The winter 2013 issue of Edible Fingerlakes also has a nice profile of Farmer Ground Flour. So as much as I would like to ramble on about this operation, I’ll let Greg Mol, the miller and the professional writers, Sharon Tregaskis and Amy Halloran, take it away…
A brief note about this tour: These were the early days of design, construction and operation at the Farmer Ground Flour Mill. They have an updated facility now, but I feel this video is still instructive especially to those who are just starting out in a regional food processing business. An incredible amount of ingenuity, tinkering and research are involved in getting a project like this up and running because the infrastructure and equipment to support similar enterprises assumes a much larger scale of operation. Check out how this business re-invented small-scale regional milling:
Updates: Farmer Ground Flour received a USDA grant in 2012 supporting their work to create a sustainable regional food system. You can keep up with their progress on their Facebook site.
Farmer Ground Flour Granted Funds by USDA Rural Development to Expand Market (from the NOFA-NY newsletter)
“Farmer Ground Flour was awarded $75,000 by the USDA Rural Development Fund under the Value-added Producers grant program. These funds will be matched by $50,000 in working capital contributed to the project by Farmer Ground Flour, and a $25,000 personal loan made to the project by local residents Jon Bosak and Bethany Schroeder. Mr. Bosak and Ms. Schroeder are enthusiastic about participating in reviving local grain growing and milling in Tompkins County, and agreed to have the interest on the loan paid to them in flour and grain on a monthly basis. The two-year, $150,000 marketing expansion project will focus on expanding wholesale sales to bakers and institutions, and retail sales at stores and farmers markets.”
A brief note in memory of Bethany Schroeder, her work in the sustainability movement in Tompkins County lives on…