In Western Washington, a community comes together around a flour mill
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You’re probably aware there’s a flour shortage. We’re out of yeast, too, as headlines and empty shelves and self-satisfied sourdough selfies have made painfully clear. If the pandemic has taught us anything about our food systems, it is of the careful calibrations that grocers and suppliers have made behind the scenes to keep stores stocked in a manner that minimizes food waste (or, at least, maximizes profits).
The calibrations are easily upended. But in Washington’s Skagit Valley, a flour mill and its local supply chain have stepped up to the plate to keep bread on the table. Where bigger operations have struggled to scale up production, Cairnspring Mills and its local growing partners have readily adapted to the new reality.
“I think [the coronavirus] has really stripped away some of the things that I think we thought were important in our daily lives,” says Kevin Morse, owner of Cairnspring. “It’s unfortunate it took a pandemic to get us there — and at the same time, it’s probably a wake up call we needed.”
In our stripped-down world, with their stone mills working overtime, Morse and his team have opened their doors for socially distant curbside flour pick-ups, too. In doing so, the mill is keeping its staff safe, the community’s bakers baking, and local bread boxes full. It’s in this manner that the pandemic is also teaching us about community.
The community is the point. Cairnspring is an operation built by and for local partners: It isn’t trying to be a giant. “There’s plenty of room for another flour mill 40 miles down the road,” says Dave Hedlin, a diversified crop farmer from La Conner, Washington, who grows some of Cairnspring’s wheat. The insulating nature of the local supply chain is good for business, but it’s also good for stitching together the people and places that depend on the flour in one way or another.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, I really think that, at least in America, we’ve lost sight of what really is important,” says Scott Mangold, owner of The Bread Farm in Edison, Washington, a nearby bakery. He thinks the story of Cainspring is less about supply and demand relationships than it is about the ways in which the pandemic has tested the fabrics of communities the world over.
In the Skagit Valley, the bread people have passed the test. And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this corner of western Washington, you can find 50-pound bags of their flour available for pick-up at the mill.
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