Dear friends, I’m thrilled to announce that the Mobile Mill is complete and road-tested! It travelled all the way to Austin, Texas this summer for its debut at the Episcopal General Convention, with four thousand people in attendance. At 1,700 miles each way, it was quite a first trip! Bringing this dream to life has been an incredible journey. I wanted to write to thank our key supporters—including you!—and to share the mill’s story so far.
We’re on a mission to bring good grains to our congregations and communities, and we built our mobile mill as a grassroots solution (literally!) to a structural challenge we have encountered in our work. Agriculture is increasingly concentrated in the hands of large corporations, and in addition to a host of negative health and environmental outcomes, this consolidation has nearly wiped out small-scale grain infrastructure. There used to be more than 23,000 stone mills dotted around the country, but now there are just a handful. For example, the closest stone mill we had access to at the start of our project was 100 miles away in Ukiah! Fresh-milled flour is more nutritious and vastly more flavorful than highly-processed conventional flour, but traveling that far to get it is neither realistic nor sustainable. The infrastructure we needed to do the kind of work we wanted to do simply didn’t exist.
Our work was cut out for us. In November 2016 we launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring our vision of a mobile stone mill to life. By the end of the month we’d raised over $50,000, meeting our goal and then some.
Even with the funding, we wouldn’t have gotten far without great architects, and we were lucky to find them in the team at Kuth Ranieri Architects. They were some of the first colleagues I went to for help, and without pause they agreed to work pro-bono to create a plan for the mill.
Once we’d drafted plans, we knew we would need someone to oversee construction. I called on Adam Willner, a fellow parent at my children’s school and a trusted colleague. Adam’s experience building and operating successful restaurants led me to believe he would be the perfect man for the job. Through our weekly meetings, Adam’s steady and enthusiastic help gave me peace of mind that the mill would be both functional and beautiful.
We also worked with master farmer and miller, Doug Mosel, master baker Mike Zakowsky, who mills and bakes whole grain breads in Sonoma and skilled carpenter Sean O’Connell. These experts helped us understand the considerations and adaptations we’d need to have a functioning mobile stone mill.
At this point we had funding and we had a great design team, but we still had to find a way to build it. To our knowledge the mobile mill is the first of its kind; there were literally no blueprints for us to follow. We explored a few options, but we kept hitting dead ends. Until we met Brian Sullivan. From the moment we walked into Brian’s custom building warehouse in Emeryville and saw the incredible vehicles he’d built for his Burning Man clients, we knew he could handle our request. Brian got to work.
Before we knew it, we were test-milling our first flours at our sneak peek party alongside our millwright Roger Jansen and his team Larry and Chris Jansen. One of our interns, Jordan Boudreau, also designed a beautiful wooden donor plaque, which hangs proudly in the mobile mill to honor our Kickstarter donors, the people who first supported our vision. Thank you founding donors!
It was time for our maiden voyage. We knew we wanted to take the stone mill on a test-drive up to Ukiah before this year’s Episcopal convention, but the trailer wasn’t quite ready for the task. So we rented a U-Haul, tied down our 700+-pound mill inside, and departed on a 100-degree day in June. When we opened the truck at our destination, our faces fell. The poor mill had broken a restraining strap and fallen on its side, crushing some of its casing. We spent the next hour righting the mill and securing it for the trip home, only for it to fall again by the time we’d arrived back at Brian’s warehouse. That was a long day.
As usual, failure was a good teacher. We developed a much more robust tie-down system (thanks to Doug, Adam, and Brian), and the next week the mill departed for Austin. It was there that we saw firsthand how impactful our hands-on mobile mill could be, particularly when we hosted children for a milling lesson. Seeing grain flow through the mill and transform into flour draws a tangible connection between a stalk of wheat and a loaf of bread. With stark clarity it reveals how creation nourishes us, and how we must care for it in return.
Modern milling processes all the nutrition and character out of wheat, transforming it into flavorless white powder. The public health problems that have resulted have given bread itself a bad name. Sometimes we have to look to the past to solve today’s problems. It turns out that old-fashioned stone milling allows flour to maintain its flavor and the nutrients that literally sustained human civilization for millennia. Bread was once the symbol of all life, and we hope that our mobile mill will have a hand, however small, in restoring its reputation—and in restoring our relationship to the earth that gives us our daily bread.
The mill is now back home in the Bay Area, and we’re looking forward to driving it up north for a Women in Grain event at the Healdsburg SHED on October 20th. You can learn more and sign up here. Be sure to follow the Mobile Mill on Instagram to see where we’ve been and where we’re going!
Just as we have relied on you, our community, to get this far, we are looking to you to influence our future. We welcome you to share your ideas with us: Where would you like to see the Mobile Mill go next?