The concept of farm to table is well known across the land, but farm to oven?
That’s the mission of Cairnspring Mills, a small craft flour miller in Burlington, Washington. Opened in 2017, the stone milling company is a step back in time to a pre-industrial era when nutrient-dense grains were the choice of discerning bakers.
Before wheat was turned into a mass-produced commodity during the Industrial Revolution, more than 20,000 local grain mills operated across the United States. Local farmers sold their grain directly to the mill in the nearest town, so flour was naturally hyperlocal.
As demand outstripped supply, big corporations started scooping mills up and, along with them, a ready supply chain of thousands of farms needing to sell their grain to an increasingly lowest bidder, the conglomerates. This gave rise (this story kneaded a bread pun) to the all-purpose, bleached flour we know today.
For Kevin Morse, this looked like a market opportunity. As he drove through the Skagit Valley each day, Kevin couldn’t help but wonder if there was an untapped market for local flour, one that prized the flavor and nutrients found in the bran and germ that was stripped away in commercial mills.
Along with a growing number of boutique mills across the county, Cairnspring flipped the business model upside down. Instead of encouraging farmers to grow the cheapest wheat possible, Morse paid his growers an above commodity price for producing high-quality grain and committing to regenerative agricultural practices that create sustainable crops and rich soil.
All he needed now was farmers. The grains the mill purchases are transported less than 200 miles for processing. Most of the supply comes from three farmers in Eastern Washington and nearly a dozen in Skagit County. One of the Skagit farms is owned by a third-generation farmer, Dave Hedlin, in La Conner. He has 30 acres of rye that he sells to Cairnspring. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the flour we produce,” he says. “There are fewer things better than eating local.”
Local is the operative word when it comes to Morse’s mill. Local farmers engage in organic farming practices, and the resulting grains are rich in protein, other nutrients and the most crucial thing, flavor.
Unlike store-bought flour, Cairnspring’s product line has a shelf life of only 10 months because it’s fresh and not intended to sit in warehouses and store shelves for months on end. But if you’re not a big flour user, take heart. You can freeze it to increase its shelf life.
While you can purchase all-purpose flour from the mill, you may want to venture beyond the ordinary and try the extraordinary, such as Cairnspring’s aromatic Trainblazer Bread variety that uses Yecora Rojo or their Organic Expresso with its earthy flavor profile, perfect for rustic bread.
And if you want to enjoy a fresh loaf of bread using these flours, stop by Cottage Bakery in Edmonds. Every morning, they make a selection of rustic bread with Cairnspring’s flour. Just another step in the farm-to-table movement that makes a quick stop at a local mill.
You can learn more about Cairnspring Mills and order products online at cairnspring.com
You can also use their Store Locator to find a store near you.
Read all about Cairnspring and the Cottage Bakery in Edmonds, which uses the mill’s products to create their amazing bread.