Vendor Profile: Ground Up
Andrea and Christian Stanley harvested their first malt barley from a small field in Hadley in 2010. Little did they know it was only the beginning of their venture into the grain industry—a path that eventually inspired them to found their own flour mill, Ground Up Grain. After nearly a decade in business, their mission remains the same: to produce fresh and nutritious flour for a sustainable and resilient local food system.
Collaboration is a key contributor to Ground Up’s success story, allowing them to pursue their goals and maintain a clear vision for the future. They work with farms across the region, such as Plainville Farm in Hadley, Clover Hill Farm in Gilbertville and Oechsner Farm in Newfield, NY. These partnerships guarantee they not only have access to the highest quality grains, but also the ability to keep their business locally focused and locally driven. Plainville Farm, located in a beautiful spot in Hadley, is a diversified vegetable farm that provides the mill with Warthog Wheat. They also source from Prouty’s farm, which grows winter and spring wheat varieties, as well as Oechsner Farm, whose owner Thor grows all-organic hard red winter wheat, glenn hard red spring wheat, danko rye and buckwheat.
When Andrea and Christian started their first company, Valley Malt, they would lay out their grain to dry on tarps in a two-car garage. They had little money, no location, and no infrastructure for drying or storing grain, but their determination helped establish themselves as a permanent fixture in the local food industry. Today, they work alongside some of the most established farmers in the region, producing and distributing local flour to bakeries, grocery stores and other markets. With careful attention on selecting the best varieties of grains, Ground Up is able to create flours that perform consistently for your breads, cakes, pizzas, and special family cookie recipes. They take quality to a higher level by Stone Milling with their New American Mill to preserve the freshness and flavor from each kernel of grain.
What made you decide to turn your family farm into a flour mill?
Christian and I have been running Valley Malt for ten years. During our field day in 2018, a local baker asked us if we would be interested in starting a mill to help supply them with flour. Because we already knew grain farmers and had a lot of the infrastructure to work with grains, we decided it would be a good way to grow our business. Continuing to grow a local grain economy is our purpose and adding a mill to our operation was the next natural step for us.
What are the benefits of buying local grains and how can customers tell the difference in quality?
Local grains are not a commodity. The growers we work with grow grains for malting and baking and together we have found varieties that are the best in terms of yield and flavor. For instance, our rye is a Polish heirloom called Danko, know for an excellent mild spice and bready flavor. The kernels are very plump and have lots of starch. Since last year we have been testing our flour with bakers from all over the Northeast to come up with products that perform well consistently and taste great.
How do you know when to harvest/pick your grain so it looks fresh and vibrant at the market?
Most of our grains are planted in the fall and harvested in late June through mid-July. These cover crops help build soil while preventing erosion and leaching of nutrients into watersheds. Greening grain fields are beautiful to walk around and look at, especially when the wind blows. It’s like watching waves of grain. When the plant ripens, it starts to dry up and turn golden. We walk the fields daily and take moisture samples to determine the best time to harvest, which is when the grain seeds are at about 15% moisture.
What is your drying and milling process like?
Our mill is a 48” New American Mill, made from VT granite by a miller and baker in Vermont. Most commercial flour is made from roller mills, stone milling is ancient and we believe it creates the most nutritional and flavorful flour. Once the grains have been harvested with a combine, dried with air and cleaned to take out straw and chaff, tested for food safety, it then goes into our mill. The mill has a stationary bottom stone and a “runner" top stone which moves at a specific rate for each type of flour and at a specific pressure to properly grind up the grain. The stones have been scored to allow the grains to travel through channels and be properly crushed. What comes out is whole wheat flour. Our process is unique in that we have a french style bolter that sifts the whole wheat. Bolting is the classic French style of sifting flour. We use a traditional horizontal screen style “Bolting Box” that takes in our whole flour and separates the high-extraction flour from middling and bran. The process produces a sifted flour that is high in starch content found in the grain endosperm without the bran and germ, which are present in the whole flour. In lay terms, this is equivalent to what you think of as “white flour,” but still high in nutritional value and without any additional additives or preservatives.
How does your local flour vendor strengthen the rural economy in Western Massachusetts?
We may see picturesque views of farmlands while imagining the lifestyle of the American family farmer, but the reality is much different. Most farms today are facing untold challenges. In order to be resilient and face those challenges, farmers need to be diversified and look for new markets and new crops to grow. Traditionally, farms in the Northeast grew wheat, barley, and rye for food, animal feed, and straw. Over the last half of the 20th century, grains started to disappear from the Northeast. We are part of a movement to bring grain production back to a local level by supporting a supply chain that gives back and does not extract from the community. We partner with our growers to provide seed, equipment and storage, all of us taking on an equal amount of risk. We pay a price that is not based on a commodity market that fluctuates but a steady price that is fair and helps farms stay profitable while also growing crops that are good for the land.
Approximately 60% of our diets are grain-based - this has been true for untold generations. If we can all start moving toward supporting local grains instead of commodity grains we will help strengthen farm viability, build soil, protect watersheds and create new jobs, all while enjoying baked goods that are much healthier and tastier.