Flour Power

During the current crisis, and especially during the spring lockdown, our mills have been going full tilt to meet the huge demand for stoneground flours produced the traditional way by wind or waterpower. Many of our member mills produce a very wide range of specialist and additive free flours that cannot easily be obtained elsewhere.  Many people have tried their hand at breadmaking for the first time, and have discovered how satisfying it is to make your own bread. There are lots of books out there to help you, and the Real Bread Campaign is another place to get advice and ideas. Please be aware that there may be some shortages, especially where our mills are solely reliant on wind or water for power….Mother Nature is not always obliging!

Here are a few examples of what our member mills are doing to keep you in flour, and themselves in dough. If you have a flour joke or two then we may even post that up too!

Heatherslaw Mill, Ford, Northumberland

Click this link to go an article in the Northumberland Gazette,  and this one for coverage on BBC look North. Miller Dave Harris-Jones raised well over £1,000 for the local Mountain Rescue by running up Cheviot with a sack on his shoulder, without even leaving the mill…magic, or what?!

Charlecote Watermill, Warwickshire.

The BBC has runs several stories on the dramatic increase in demand for flour from smaller mills, like this one about Charlecote Mill. 

Y-Felin Mill at St Dogmaels

Meanwhile, over in west Wales,Y-Felin Mill has also been busy, as Emma Williams recounts:

Since the start of the pandemic we at Y Felin have been inundated with phone calls and emails from local customers, new customers and people from all over the UK. My mother was fielding phone calls for us sometimes up to 60 a day. One man stated he would drive to Pembrokeshire from Birmingham that very afternoon to collect 80 kgs of flour, this was at the height of the “Stay Home, Keep safe, Protect the NHS”, at a time when no one was going anywhere, supposedly!

Suddenly the flour from our 12th century mill was in such demand. I spoke to my Dad who had never know such an unprecedented demand for the flour in his 40 years of milling. And all the time we heard the same thing “we just can’t get flour anywhere”. We were too busy to question too much, and with the added demand for our flour came the added pressure on our long-standing suppliers of grain, hauliers, and packaging. Fortunately, we only use four family-run British farms who were able to provide us with an almost constant re-supply of grain to fulfil the demand. Our local haulage companies had continued to work throughout the pandemic, so moving the grain quickly from the farms to the mill posed no problem. One call I made to the packaging company, the same one my father had first-started using over 20 years ago was heartening; “Yes we will supply you with the extra packaging you need, we are only able to supply our long term customers, calls for our bags and sacks have gone through the roof, it’s lucky you’ve always used us or we would have had to turn you away”. Having long-standing relationships with local and British suppliers truly proved invaluable at a time of national crisis.

Despite everything being frantic, our ancient old wheel could keep turning in its old familiar way, the water driving the mill stones to slowly grind the grain into the delicious stoneground flour. The Tortoise and the Hare story kept coming to mind!! It was evident that the local picture was playing out at a national level, with our fellow millers in the Traditional Cornmillers Guild facing the same demands. Suddenly, all the time it had taken them and us to develop the personal relationships with our growers and suppliers meant we were all able to continue to respond rapidly and flexibly to help provide for our local communities. Across the UK, the old, time-honoured methods were both uniquely beautiful, and invaluable in responding where the large industrial mills could not!

With the upsurge in home baking, and with people unable to travel or not wishing to go to supermarkets, local producers and small convenience stores found new ways to collaborate to meet the needs of our local community, banding together to provide home deliveries to those self-isolating. Providing this staple ingredient offered much more than just good nutritional value, it provided social health benefits by allowing people to explore often forgotten ways of cooking or baking with families and children – it was more than just fulfilling a basic human need. Suddenly the mill was no longer an old historic building, it was revitalised and back at the heart of the community.

Many weeks later, the situation is calming down. The phone doesn’t ring quite as often, the emails are slowing, and the customers are returning to the mill which we have re-opened in a new and “socially-distant” way. Are people’s memories so short they will forget who provided them with their staple foods throughout the pandemic, will they go back to the “old” ways of supermarkets and mail order or will they as they said they would “Never forget what we have done for them throughout the dark days”. Only time will tell.

Going forward it would be good to think that traditional mills have a place alongside larger, commercial mills that supply the supermarkets. During the pandemic, the smaller mills have been able to respond to the heightened demand and the capacity to adapt to change more rapidly than the large industrial-scale producers. It would be a fitting reward to retain the many “new” customers who have bought our flour during the pandemic.

Even though our contribution has been relatively small scale, there is a real satisfaction in knowing that this has been possible and that our contribution has been so well received within our local community. It confirms our belief that a slower, more diverse food system is best for us all. One in which local producers and growers are valued and supported, where we all work together for the good of the community, and contributes to more social and economic resilience.

Emma Williams, Miller,

Y Felin