Editor’s Note: Our monthly local-grain-love-fest with Amy Halloran is back with the 8th installment in her Scaling Up The Northeast Grain System series. You can read her previous seven pieces here. In this installment, Amy comes full circle and visits the mill & bakery where her gain-love began. -Christina
I went to Wild Hive to tour the mill last week. Located in the Hudson Valley, the place marks the beginning of my intersections with local grains. The silly Proustian tale I tell is that my husband went to Connecticut and all I got was a lousy cookie. Only the cookie was not at all lousy and it opened up the whole door to my future, not a remembrance of things past.
Let’s start with that cookie. Jack was hanging lights in trees for landscape lighting designers on estates in Greenwich, CT, and as he took the Taconic Parkway home, he stopped at a bakery. Knowing my love for all things oats, he bought me an oatmeal ganache bar. He also took a pamphlet that told how the grains were locally grown.
When he gave me the bakery bag, I begrudgingly bit into the cookie. No matter how sweet the gifts our mates give us are, we always want bigger ones. Okay, maybe some of you are nicer than I am, but I am a bad recipient. What I wanted instead was a few days break from the menagerie of kids and chickens, a few days working away from home and away from the cat who never got enough love, and being known in the world. Not that I can climb trees, but I wanted the writerly equivalent. And eventually, that single baked good gave me that. Exploring grains has put me, my curiosity and my words out in the world.
Back to that first precipitous bite: the oats were wildly flavorful, jumping up and down for attention against some really good chocolate. Trying to slow down, I savored the sweet as I read the info. Wild Hive milled the flour and rolled the oats in what I was eating. These grains were grown in the Hudson Valley. Hmm. This thing tasted great and thought right, too.
I already had a fondness for grains and their history, since I’m a baker and I romance the past. All flour used to be local, by necessity. I knew that flour was milled on the Poestenkill in Troy. Prowling the grungy gorge, I saw grist stones that looked the right size for flour mills, too far downhill for anyone to haul them off for lawn decorations.
The next time we went to New York City, Jack and I stopped at Wild Hive, and I bought flour and snacks. The café served lunchy stuff and I had to get another oatmeal bar.
So going to NOFA-NY’s field day at Wild Hive was a homecoming for me. I got a great tour of the mill last year in July, at a field day organized by NY Farm to Bakery, a project that was pairing bakers from New York City with upstate millers and farmers. (The field days I go to are agricultural in nature, and not competitive, but a chance for people producing food to show how they do it.)
Don Lewis is the miller and baker at Wild Hive. Outside the converted Dutch barn that houses his mill, he discussed his journey, which began with chicken feed. He went to Lightning Tree Farm to get organic chicken feed from Alton Earnhart and saw a bin of flour. Don was a baker, and his products featured his own honey, so of course he was intrigued by a farmer’s flour.
This was in the late 1990s, and Don began to incorporate local flour into all of his products, increasing the percentage as the availability grew. This grew first through Lightning Tree Farm. Don asked Alton to grow more each year. All the time, he educated consumers in nose to nose sales at Greenmarket in NYC and other venues.
Organic flour had a bad rap at the time, Don says, because some bakers didn’t understand how to make unleaden loaves from whole grain products. He counteracted the reputation that by offering samples, and avoiding the tainted term.
Wild Hive’s labeling highlighted instead the term local, and he kept a list on the table at sales spots and demos highlighting the names of the local producers, and the list of local ingredients.
Six years ago, Don began to run the bakery entirely on his own flour, and was using 20 tons of locally grown grain annually. He was milling in a storage trailer at his home, and baking in a certified kitchen at home too. Four years ago he moved the bakery in the back of a storefront in Clinton Corners, and shortly afterwards, moved the mill to the barn.
The flour dusted rooms of this barn have exquisite finishings. The building was restored as a home prior to seeking proper permits, so the mill has some fine surroundings: a trophy kitchen and marble bathroom, hardwood floors, and cathedral ceilings.
Amping up his milling capacity at this facility helped amp up farmer production, and consumer demand. Eataly NYC pursued him and doubled the flour production at Wild Hive; their bakery makes 1000 loaves a day with Wild Hive flour, including a special grind for Ciabatta’s Don mastered under guidance from Italian bakers.
Don’s decided to close the café in order to focus on the larger project of Wild Hive, which is rebuilding the grains piece of a local food system. This is the last week that the café in Clinton Corners is open, so if you’re in the mood for a road trip, go down the Taconic and see what cookie, or dinner, or bread, might be the ticket to your next life. Or the ticket to bettering the flours that gracefully dust your current one.