Producer Spotlight: Cairnspring Mills
Putting the Soul Back into Flour Milling
Modern isn’t always better, and when it comes to grains, nobody is more conscious of this fact than Kevin Morse, CEO and Co-founder of Cairnspring Mills. Kevin is revolutionizing flour, “going back to the old ways of milling, but with a modern twist.” He is a self-taught miller who has taken technology from different parts of the world—tempering silos from Italy, roller mills from South Africa, stone grinding from Ethiopia, traditional milling systems from Denmark, sifters from Poland—and combined it to create a product that is sustainable, nutritious, and well-worth the added premium.
They Just Don’t Make Bread Like They Used To!
The face of the milling industry has changed dramatically over the last century. A hundred years ago, there were 24,000 mills around the United States; today there are only 166. When the modern mill was created in the late 1800s, it allowed producers to process grains faster and cheaper by refining them, eliminating the need for so many mills.
Modern mills have the capacity to produce three million pounds of flour per day. This flour is stripped of all its nutritional value and most of its flavor. The low nutritional value of these refined grains has been linked to various health problems affecting today’s society. Furthermore, it has created a commodity market in which some farmers are as likely to lose money as they are to make it by growing grains.
For Cairnspring Mills, it is a point of pride to produce less in a year than what a modern mill produces in a day (they produced 2.2. million pounds of flour in 2019). This disregard for maximizing outputs allows them to deliver a product that is far superior in both value and nutritional content.
The people behind Cairnspring Mills are not trying to be a big business; they’re trying to do things right!
They want to bring the soul back into the milling trade. They want to nourish people. And they want to pay farmers a fair price so they can, “actually make money for doing what is right!”
Refined Grains vs. Whole Grains
It is no secret that whole grains can help us stay healthy, while refined grains do the opposite. Whole grains help us raise HDL cholesterol (aka “good cholesterol”) and lower LDL cholesterol (aka “bad cholesterol”). According to a Harvard study, people who eat whole grains on a daily basis (about 70 grams) have a 23% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of dying from cancer compared to people who don’t eat many whole grains.
Why are whole grains so much better for our health? Whole grains are the entire seed of a plant—the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber. The germ also contains B vitamins, as well as protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm contains starchy carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. When a grain is refined, it is stripped of one or more of these key parts, along with the nutritional value that they provide.
“The highly refined flours found on grocery shelves today are made from the cheapest grain possible and have such high extraction rates (the amount of flour squeezed out from a grain) that all but a trace of the nutrients is stripped from the final product. To maintain such a massive supply, management practices have included dripping insecticide into ship holds to preserve traveling grain and using the controversial herbicide Roundup. “We’ve been eating a polluted food source,” Morse says. “The only people it’s good for are the people who are making money from the flour.”
Looking to the Past As We Move Forward
As I mentioned earlier, Cairnspring Mills is going back to the old days, when mills were commercial hubs where people came together to do commerce and develop personal relationships. For Kevin Morse, milling is about community. He compares it to an “old-fashioned barn raising” where everybody pitches in. He believes that a good business can be grown around the core values of sustainability, good food, and community.
Cairnspring Mills is proof. They support farmers who care for the land and aim to leave it better than they found it. The company mills responsibly-grown, sustainable, small-batch whole grains. And, they maintain close relationships with the bakers who buy their flour, a flour that is used within a few days or weeks of being milled rather than sitting on a shelf for months or weeks.
Cairnspring Mills is truly an inspiring example of how a business can thrive for all the right reasons.