Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems

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Regional flour milling, Trumansburg, NY

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.

Old Mill at Treeman State Park, Source:

Old Mill at Treeman State Park, Source:

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.

Haudenosaunee women grinding corn, unidentified 1664 engraving

Haudenosaunee women grinding corn, unidentified 1664 engraving

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…


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Working windmills in the Dutch food system

Note: Today is the one year birthday of this blog. We’re almost at 5,000 views! A huge thanks to all of the readers out there who share an interest in sustainable food systems. In celebration, I’m starting a series of posts on the European food system documenting my adventures so far living in Wageningen, The Netherlands and working as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Wageningen University.

This windmill, Molen de Vlijt, holds a special place in my heart, because it is the first windmill I’ve ever seen. I stumbled across it while taking a walk in my new town, Wageningen, this past winter. Built in 1879, the mill has survived lightning strikes, shelling in WWII and decades of neglect before being lovingly restored in 1979. This year happens to be the city of Wageningen’s 750th anniversary. I can’t wait for the special molenmarkt (mill market) this fall celebrating 750 years of milling for bread making.

Molen de Vlijt or "Mill of Diligence"

Molen de Vlijt or “Mill of Diligence”

750 years of milling

750 years of milling

The mill grinds regional organic grains and is open to the public on Saturdays. Being inside the mill while it’s running is almost like a steam punk space ship getting ready for lift off. The feeling of kinetic energy and the tremendous noise of the moving parts as the wind speeds up and slows down is very exciting.  I already knew I had a strong interest in traditional and modern food processing and preservation. I’ve toured Camas Country Mill in Oregon, and the historic Enfield Falls Mill in New York, but my experiences touring this mill have sparked a special interest in traditional wind technologies in the food system. Apparently I’m not alone, because there is an International Molinological Society that I just may have to investigate further. In this video, I take you inside the mill while it’s running from the ground floor to the fourth level. Here is a diagram of the inner workings of the mill as a guide.

Mill diagram from

Mill diagram from

Ready for baking!

Ready for baking!

Is it any wonder the Dutch are leaders in modern wind technology? Neeltje Jans, Zeeland province

Is it any wonder the Dutch are leaders in modern wind technology? Neeltje Jans, Zeeland province. And yes that is my Dad trying to push this wind turbine over into the North Sea!


SAEA 2012 Camas Country Mill, Willamette Valley, OR

During the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association meeting, we got to tour a local grain mill. They serve bakeries in Portland and Seattle with regionally grown grain flours including wheat, teff and rye. The family that started the mill was in the grass seed business, which is huge in the Willamette Valley. With the 2008 recession, the grass seed business took a hit everywhere and the family worked on transitioning their business to focus on: food for humans (grains), food for animals (forage) and food for the soil (cover crops).

Apologies for the background noise, the mill was running!

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Chicken processing in the Willamette Valley, OR

On my way to the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association’s 2012 conference in Corvallis, OR I visited an old college friend, Audra Norris-Jacob.  We had to visit our favorite Latin dance club in Portland, Andrea’s Cha Cha Club, since I hadn’t been there in 7 years. This posed a bit of a scheduling problem because we had also committed to helping her brother process 120 chickens on his farm the next morning at 6 am. True salseras do not need sleep! So we did both.

Audra and I chilling in the chicken processing trailer

Audra’s brother, Trevor, part of a poultry co-op where a bunch of folks get together to buy chickens, grow them on his farm and then process them as a community. I was really impressed with the prototype of the chicken processing trailer developed by Jerry Tindall of Grow International. The idea is to have everything you need to process chickens in a portable system that you can bring to a farm, use, then pack back up again. Tufts is working on a similar project they’re calling the Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) in conjunction with the State of Massachusetts. I hope these kinds of projects take off in Oregon and of course in Arizona because it offers a huge benefit to small and medium scale poultry farmers.

I know from attending the NY State Council on Food Policy listening sessions a few years back that access to meat processing facilities is a major impediment to efficient regional food systems. In fact, the amazing grass fed pork, chickens, turkeys and beef my husband and I bought while living in Ithaca were grown close by, but had to go just over the border to Pennsylvania and back in order to be butchered. I’ll have to ask my new friend Leslie at L Bell Ranch here in the Prescott area about the local meat processing regulatory situation.

Warning: This video is NSFV (Not Safe for Vegetarians)!

Most of the chicken processing team

One of the reasons I still miss Oregon, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir)

Post script: When Vicki Norris, Audra’s sister in law, invited us in for tea and then lunch, I was blown away by how beautiful and almost unimaginably organized her home was. It turns out Vicki is a professional organizer and has appeared on HGTV’s Mission: Organization. Vicki, I wish you lived closer to me! I could use some organization tips.

And an update: The first USDA certified mobile poultry processing unit has just been launched in Northern NY.