Our first hire!

It's been an entire month (plus) since my last post. A few posts ago I vowed to post more often, since I'm finally milling and regular updates seemed the stand up thing to do-- more pictures of bread, reports from the bakers, a bird-eye view of grain to flour-- but carving out the time to tell the story has not been so easy, and the story has not been that simple.
A lot has happened over the last month. At the top of the list is the exciting news that Carolina Ground pulled off its first hire-- Stewart Wedthoff. A journeyman electrician and former employee of the  Square D plant (we are located in the former Square D plant), Stewart offers mechanical insights as well as a desire to learn the craft of milling.
Up to this point it has just been me (other than the council I continue to seek from bakers, farmers, board members, investors, and CFSA staff) running this dog and pony show-- grain to flour, bookkeeping, marketing, outreach, and a goodly amount more. Hiring Stewart has meant Carolina Ground can grow, and not simply in sales, but in substance. Right now we are building our foundation-- we are the bones-- and with our weekly friday sit down meetings we bring to the table not just maintenance schedules, procedural policy, and efficiency in production-- since at this point we are heavily relying on manpower-- but we also recognize that this level of production has enabled us to remain quite intimate with our product. We acknowledge the value of this (or looked at from the other direction-- what do we lose when we become more mechanized?) And of course this begs the bigger question of defining ourselves-- as industry, manufacturing of a wholly different sort, this new wave a manufacturing where quality pulls us forward. The numbers, spreadsheets, actuals and projections make a very clear case for quantity over quality, and as a responsible business person, I cannot discount the value of a viable business. And so, what does this new model look like? Efficiency is key. No argument there.  The larger mills bring in 6 or 9 or lord knows how many truckloads of grain a day to be industrially processed into flour-- highly mechanized, highly efficient, albeit lacking soul or substance. As a burgeoning movement in regional grain production and processing, there are not too many of us out there to compare to. Of the few, I have observed the range from close to a million dollar investment in infrastructure to a few thousand dollars and a case of duct tape. We see ourselves as somewhere in the middle. And so this part of our story is just beginning-- with a focused effort, a thin budget, and Stewart's mechanical intelligence-- we seek to attain a respectable level of efficiency while continuing to preserve the quality that must be the signature of this mill.
There's a lot more to say about the last month of Carolina Ground, but I am told to keep blog posts short-- that people don't like to read. Though I am not sure I believe that or want to contribute to this trend, I do need to get off this computer and call our farmer. We are waiting on lab test results, crossing out fingers that though the yields were low (more on that in a later post), the quality will be good.
But one last a very, very important piece I need to report. Going back to how we pulled off this first hire-- we are excited to report that the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) has award CFSA $25,855 grant for staff support for Carolina Ground. This investment is meant to provide us with the bridge of support as the mill becomes self-sustaining. This funding comes from the foundation's Food and Farming Initiative. Carolina Ground meets several of the goals of CFWNC's Food and Farming Initiative, including revitalizing a NC-based grain economy, supporting the profitability of bakeries and artisan bakers, encouraging the development of a food system that values local food and offers employment opportunities, and promoting and supporting an emerging community-based project.
We are so pleased to be partnering with the Community Foundation of WNC on this project and look forward to achieving our mutual goals.

From the ground up,
Jennifer Lapidus