By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Sometimes it just takes reading what someone else is doing to get the gears turning. That is how it began for Angela Devitt who is now the creator, owner, marketer, miller, designer and packager of Stone Bridge Flour in Kincardine.
“I was looking for something to create a small business that would be more flexible for my family's needs,” remembers Angela, who was teaching elementary school at the time. With two young children involved in many activities, and a busy husband, she needed both a job and more time.
“I read an article about a woman who was milling beans that grew on the family farm and I realized, ‘hey, we grow our own wheat!’” remembers Angela. “What if I milled our own wheat into flour?” The idea was exciting, especially since Angela realized it could be her way to be part of the family farm. Husband Tyson was the primary farmer, sharing machinery with his parents and brother, in their cash crop operation. Angela, however, had not grown up a farmer. In fact, she was a prop maker who had designed and created props for the Stratford Festival Theatre before working in banking and teaching.
Angela loved the idea of being able to use her creativity while making a value-added product with wheat grown on their farm. The idea took root and research began…what would it take to start financially? What kind of mill was needed? What kind of flour should she make? Where should she sell it?
“I researched the business for a year and half,” remembers Angela. First, was location. Having moved off the farm into Kincardine to try city living, the couple did have a garden shed in the backyard that, while small, actually made for an efficient floor plan for a flour mill. The imagination wants to conjure a giant apparatus with a water wheel moving two large stones, but today’s mills are quite small and efficient. Angela ordered a Danish-made Engsko mill from an Alberta distributor. It uses two stones to grind the seeds and incorporates a sifter to separate the wheat germ, endosperm and bran, the three parts of a wheat seed.
The endosperm is about 83 per cent of the wheat seed and is the source of flour. The wheat germ and bran are removed allowing Angela to create different kinds of flours by adding them back in different percentages. Angela makes four types of flours: Cake and Pastry, Bread, Everyday (all-purpose) and Whole Grain. She says adding back the germ and bran make the flour tasty as well as benefiting from the natural nutrients.
Large flour companies remove the germ and bran because long shelf life is a primary concern for them. The germ and bran can make flour go rancid because they contain oils present in the wheat seed. When shelf life becomes a priority, commercial flours can lack taste and nutrients. That’s why you will see some flour listed as “enriched” because companies have added vitamins back in.
“I don’t have to enrich my flour because my customers are getting flour the way it was meant to be,” she says. “I can control my own formulas,” she says.
As such, Stone Bridge Flour is an artisanal flour and is noted for its freshness, flavour and nutrients. Full of the natural elements of the seed, it does have a shorter shelf life. Angela recommends six months which can be extended to 12 months if the flour is stored in the freezer.
Angela doesn’t just grind wheat into flour. She has a rye and spelt flour as well. Pulling her flour canisters out of the cupboard, she shows they aren’t even labeled. She can differentiate the flours by colour — spelt flour has a pinkish tinge while rye is greyer compared to the wheat flours. Stone Bridge also produces a whole range of baking mixes including whole wheat hot cereal, chocolate chip cookie mix, cheese and garlic biscuit mix, fish fry batter and pancake/waffle mix.
Baking with stone-milled flour is a little different than using commerical flour. “They are thirstier because of the bran and germ,” she said. Angela recommends adding a little more water than the recipe calls for or checking out her website for recipes she calls “tried and tested” using her flour. Also, her flour is a little darker so your baking will come out a little darker.
The farm grows a soft, red winter wheat for her business. Hard red wheat, spelt and rye grains are purchased from other grain producers.
Tyson explains that the grain is run through a seed cleaner and during this process, the seed is also sized. “We prefer a large size seed because it has more endosperm and better milling quality,” he explains. Seed is bagged and then stored in the mill room where it undergoes further drying because the stone mill works better when seeds are at 11 per cent moisture or less.
While the mill does the hard work of grinding the seed, it requires constant monitoring. Angela chose a stone mill because it does not generate as much heat as other grinding methods. Still, the process does generate heat and heat can kill nutrients so Angela is constantly checking temperature to prevent this from happening. “There is no setting on the mill so I mill by sounds, smell and feel,” she explains.
She did a “tonne of test baking” in the early days, a task she really enjoys. It invokes memories of time spent in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. Describing herself as a “hands-on” person, even the tasks of designing the labels, sticking them on, and sewing the bags for that “authentic” look is something Angela really enjoys. While she feels she should imagine a grand flour empire someday, she admits that right now, being a sole proprietor and employee is very rewarding and satisfying.
“I really want to enjoy this part of the journey,” she says. “The first part was all research plus trial and error.”
Another part of the puzzle is being part of the local food-creating web that is growing across Ontario. She is thrilled when selling at specialty markets at Christmas to meet her customers and hear how they use her flours.Two local bakeries made good use of her flour as well. Farro and Rye in Kincardine, Crust and Crackle in Sauble Beach and The Tusk restaurant (also in Kincardine) all use her flour in their baked goods.
Finally, the business has allowed her to meet her goals of making money while also having more time for her children. Right now, it is full-time with a part-time income but the hours are flexible and she is able to work while the children are in school, and can stockpile a certain amount of bagged flour when it is time for the family to go on vacation. Her kids help with moving and stocking but at age 12 (Bryna) and 8 (Blake) making flour isn’t high on their fun list.
Stone Bridge flour is sold at The Market Stand in Kincardine along with other specialty stores like Beefway, Edgar Feed and Seeds, Eat Local Huron, Maitland Market near Goderich and others. She also ships her products from her online store. Shipping is $20 or free with an order over $99. ◊