Farmer Ground Flour Keeps Pace with Local Demand
August 2, 2011 | Chuck Harvey
Located in Trumansburg, NY, Farmer Ground Flour fills a market niche by selling locally grown organic flour to local restaurants, bakeries and residents that are clamoring for it.
The organic grain for the flour is grown by farmers Erick Smith (Cayuga Pure Organics) and Thor Oeschner (Oeschner Farms) who along with Mol are also co-owners of Farmer Ground Flour. The grain is milled in a small plant known as a micro mill. It is then sold to area customers and a few regional distributors.
Farmer Ground Flour mills six different grains into twelve products that run the gamut from 100% extraction whole-wheat flour that is made solely from grinding wheat berries with “nothing taken out, and nothing added in” to corn flour milled from flint corn.
Buyers like the fact that the product is organic and because it spends little time in sheds and on trucks it is always at peak of freshness. The company produces about 24,000 pounds of flour per month.
The idea is to keep pace with local demand. A larger milling plant is planned, but the idea is not to mass-produce flour. “We’re not a national supplier,” Mol Said.
Mol has been a mill operator and owner for about three years. Before that he was working as a farmer at Oeschner Farms.
It was at there that he realized he could boost total farm income by providing a value-added product like fresh organic flour. He was also aware of local demand for the flour.
So Mol formed a partnership with Smith and Oeschner to begin a sustainable operation.
In addition to the response from consumers to Farmer Ground Flour’s product, reaction to the company’s local focus and embrace of sustainable organic practices has also been extremely positive. In 2009, Farmer Ground Flour won a “Sign of sustainability” award from Sustainable Tompkins. The farmer owners believe that the best way for people to feel confident about the purity and quality of Farmer Ground Flour is to see where it comes from. Their farms are open to anyone in the community who wishes to learn about how they farm and see where the grain is grown.
Farmer Ground Flour will make its operation even more sustainable by utilizing a renewable energy source to run the planned larger mill. The new site is adjacent to a creek with running water, which will be used to generate electricity for the mill.
Mol said Farmer Ground Flour has gone through many changes since it opened and that demand for its products continues to grow. “We started with nothing,” he said. “We are maxed out now.”
The new 1600 square foot milling plant, which Farmer Ground Flour is in the process of building, will be able to produce five times more organic flour and help take the company to the next level. “It is a bigger building and we can scale up and be more efficient,” he said.
And because the company will need more grain, Farmer Ground Flour will need to contract with other farmers in the area, which in turn will help to further grow the local economy.
Mol hopes to open the new plant in about six months.
The company has applied for a working capital grant of $50,000 to $100,000 to cover the initial cost of workers’ wages and to help purchase grain. To obtain a working capital grant, Mol must show that he will expand marketing of his product and increase production.
But again, Mol doesn’t want to get too big. He could reach more bakers and be more profitable, but with a larger operation, problems could develop with quality control.
Organic wheat carries about a 15% premium. But it is not sold at near the same scale as non-organic flour.
Also, the higher price can make it a harder sell.
However, with higher prices anticipated for non-organic grain, organic flour could become more competitive and attractive to the buyer.
So Mol sees opportunities ahead.
For the most part, the flour has sold itself. It’s just a matter of getting people to try it.
Promotion programs and a recognized logo are also important components of the company’s strong sales.
Farmer Ground Flour uses a wheat sunburst as an eye-catching logo. And so far, business has been sunny for Mol.
It’s also been a lot of hard work.
But the rewards are evident in the growing demand for Farmer Ground Flour’s products.