SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

July 4, 2013

Local-grown, need – supply

 CHRIS RUSSELL DISPATCH PHOTOS Ian Schwartz hand-cuts a plot of hard red winter wheat on                  his farm. He and his wife produce chemical-free, stone-milled flours.

B A C K     T O   T H E    F U T U R E

Farm family hopes to build a heritage based on chemical-free flours sold to local consumers


Using a grain cradle, Ian Schwartz gently sweeps standing stalks of wheat, leaving a small pile of cut stems at the end of each stroke. His wife, Meghan Schwartz, and their friend Erin Harvey gather the stalks into bundles, tying them mid-stem with much longer stalks of rye and standing them on end to dry in the muggy morning sunlight.

For the first time this year, the Schwartzes are harvesting by hand some of the chemical-free grain for their I.J. Schwartz & Family stone-milled flours, the way their great-grandparents did.

Erin Harvey, left, and Meghan Schwartz tie wheat shocks with rye stalks at the Schwartzes’ farm near Somerset,Ohio

“I enjoy the old styles, the more connected act of hand harvesting,” said Schwartz, who grew up on a modern Ohio grain farm that uses combines as big as military tanks to harvest wheat and other grains.

As a teenager, however, Schwartz had lost interest in farming, especially after his father convinced him “there was no money in farming anymore.” So he, along with his brother, left the farm.

But after having a tough time punching a time clock, Schwartz started helping his father, John Schwartz, again about five years ago.

“I was trying to figure out what to do,” the younger Schwartz said. “Then it dawned on me: Maybe there’s a better way to make a living at farming.”

While he was away from the farm, a movement characterized by local farmers growing and selling whole foods directly to consumers had sprung up.

CHRIS RUSSELL DISPATCH PHOTOS In a scene seemingly from long ago, Ian Schwartz rests his grain cradle to drink water as wife Meghan Schwartz ties wheat shocks.

The local-food movement has become big business. Sales of locally made products at farmers markets, community-supported farms and farm stands, as well as supermarkets, restaurants and institutions, are about $5 billion a year, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Ian Schwartz sharpens his tools by hand. He’s hoping to build his chemical-free products into a legacy for his children.

In a 2012 survey of grocery-store customers, global management-consulting firm A.T. Kearney discovered that a majority of grocery shoppers are willing to pay a premium for local food.

A.T. Kearney also found that not only did wealthy urban households have no problem paying more for local foods, but a majority of lower-income shoppers said they, too, would pay more.

Ian and Meghan Schwartz grew 17 acres of chemical-free wheat and rye at their family’s grain farm in Fairfield County near Carroll this year, using an old-fashioned stone burr mill to turn out up to 4,000 pounds of whole-grain flour and pancake mix.

The Schwartzes sell their whole-grain wheat and rye flours, whole-wheat pastry flour and buttermilk-pancake mix to consumers at the Granville Farmers Market, Ross Granville IGA and Going Green Store in Granville, and at two Hills Markets and the Greener Grocer in Columbus.

The flours and mix come in 1-pound, 2-pound and 5-pound broadcloth bags sealed with wax. The family sells its three sizes of flour at Granville Farmers Market for $3, $5 and $10, respectively, Schwartz said. The pancake mix sells for $4, $7 and $15, he said.

“We love this flour,” said Jill Moorhead, marketing director for Hills Market. “The packaging is beautiful. People are interested in it as an artisanal product. It’s the only locally produced flour we have right now.”

Hills Market is willing to take the time to deal directly with farmers such as Schwartz, whose supply can be inconsistent and who not only make their products, but market and distribute them, too.

Schwartz also sells some flour in bulk to individuals and bakers. He sells his rye seed to a neighboring farmer, who plants it as a cover crop.

  • Schwartz believes his slow, cool method of milling flour with stones creates a more-nutritious product than modern, high-speed milling that smashes the grain. He also believes allowing wheat to ferment for a few weeks in the field makes the gluten in his flour more easily digested.

About two years ago, the Schwartzes bought a 50-acre farm that includes 20 acres of tillable land near Somerset, a Perry County town southwest of Zanesville.

This year, the couple planted 2 acres of hard red winter wheat at their new family farm. Schwartz, who is a full-time farmer and miller, hopes to plant Turkey Red Heritage wheat next year. Meghan Schwartz also is a second-grade teacher in Newark.

The two would like to use a team of horses to plant and harvest all the grain for their flour business.

Eventually, the goal is to produce more than 30,000 pounds of retail flour a year to support their family.

It could take at least a decade to one day pass along a viable family business to their daughters, Bridget, 5, and Elenore, 1 1/2.

“On paper, it can work,” Schwartz said. “I’ve spent countless hours doing the math. But it’s going to take a long time, and sacrifice on my and my family’s part.”


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