Farmer Direct Foods

(Jim Shroyer) Good morning, folks. Welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and we’re in luck because we are going to be touring the Farmer Direct Foods Mill in New Cambria, Kansas, which is in Saline County. We’re going to be talking to the President and CEO, Mark Fowler, about the mill, the mill operation and the products that he has. Stay tuned. We’ll right back after these words from out sponsors. See you in a minute.

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(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, and with us, we have Mark Fowler, the President and CEO of Farmer Direct in New Cambria. Mark is going to tell us all about that mill over there and what it does and why we need it. Mark, give us a little history of Farmer Direct, the mill there. (Mark Fowler) Well, thank you, Jim. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about Farmer Direct Foods. Farmer Direct Foods was started as American White Wheat Producers back in around 1989 by a group of certified seed producers that were looking to promote the new varieties of hard white wheat grown in Kansas and grow the demand for the new varieties, the new class of hard white wheat. As the company evolved in around 2003, American White Wheat Producers acquired the mill from Pete Roberts, the Homestead Mill from Pete Roberts, and changed our name into Farmer Direct Foods, Incorporated. We entered the farmland business. I joined the company just about 15 months ago. In August of 2015, we transitioned leadership from Kent Symns. Kent was one of the people that initiated American White Wheat Producers and started the company, but we are now a miller of stone ground, whole wheat, flour, as well as teff where we get our wheat from our producers. We are farmer-owned cooperative, which I feel is very important because we sell our product on a couple of critical paths. One is that we are a farmer-owned cooperative, so we have complete traceability of our product from the farm level all the way through to the bag on the grocery store shelf. (Jim) That’s becoming more and more important. (Mark) It is. I’m not an expert in marketing, but I do look at the trends. You have lots of different trends in food right now, from organic to natural. I think one of the growing trends is local. Not everyone can have local flour because wheat does not grow efficiently in every state of the nation. But, what our company does is bring that knowledge of where the wheat is coming from. Identity Assured is one of our trademarks that we have. Every bag of flour that we ship out of our product, we can trace back to that farm level producer that allows us to have that farm to shelf traceability of our product. (Jim) Okay, I got you sidetracked. What was the second path then? (Mark) Okay, the second path is that we are 100% stone ground. We are one of the few mills that have 100% stone-ground processing. We do have a brand finisher that gives us an extra fine granulation. We are 100% stone-ground versus that conventional mill that has steel rollers that do the primary grinding. (Jim) Mark, hang on there, we’ve got to take a break here. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer. Mark Fowler, the president and CEO of Farmer Direct Foods in New Cambria didn’t run off during the break and I’m glad you didn’t either, folks. Mark, tell us a little bit about the process. (Mark) Okay, with our process, with a stone-ground flour process, it’s a very simplified process compared to a conventional mill. Our Identity Assured process, we start at the farm level. All of our producers, when they plant, we plant very specific varieties. We have a short list of preferred varieties that our producers grow. We now grow both white varieties and red varieties depending on which the producer prefers. As you know specifically, there are certain varieties that are better in certain areas of the state. We tried to pick varieties that are best for the areas that our producers grow. We bring our producers’ grain into our elevator in Kipp, Kansas. Kipp is our elevator that we are able to bring in the grain at harvest. Then we blend the producers’ grains to a consistent quality. Even though our producers do use specific varieties, they are grown in different regions of the state so there is a bit of variance in the quality. We blend once we get our harvest completed. We know the quality of the wheat that our pool has available to us that year. We bring it into Kipp. We blend it so we can have a consistent product throughout the year for our customers. Once the wheat’s blended, we bring it over to our mill in New Cambria where we clean it, remove all the impurities, etcetera. Then after it’s cleaned, we bring it to the mill. We have a very simple two-step process for our milling. Our primary milling and the majority of our milling in done on our stone mills. We have Meadows Mills that are based in North Carolina, but Meadow, we have literally granite stones that are grinding our wheat into flour and some of the advantages of stone ground milling is simply we like to keep it at a lower temperature. We try to keep the temperature of our stones below 100 degrees or right around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s a natural reduction of the grain into flour. Our product, being a stone-ground product, the advantage there is simply lower temperatures and it’s a more homogeneous grinding. The attributes or the parts of the grain are never separated, it’s all milled together into one homogeneous flour. (Jim) Mark, we got to take another break. Folks, stay with us, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors. See you in a second.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. Mark Fowler, the President and CEO Farmer Direct Foods is with us and Mark, let’s pick it up from those interesting granite millstones. I’m still hung up on those. I like that. (Mark) All right, well, as I said, our mill is 100% stone-ground mill, so 100% of our wheat is ground through the stones and we mill two unique granulations of a product. One that’s a more traditional stone-ground, slightly more coarse product, more coarse flour, and then we have a finer— (Jim) And that’s an either red or white? (Mark) Yes, this grinding is more of our red flour, red wheat flour. The fine grind is more for our white wheat flour. We find that consumers that like the white wheat, the whole white wheat, want a finer grind, so when they make their products, their consumers, their kids, or the people who eat that product don’t want to know they’re eating a whole wheat product. They like to see that texture. (Jim) Sneak it into the diet. (Mark) Sneaking that whole-wheat product, but from the stones, we take to a sifter. With the sifter, we sift out the wheat and the different ground product and the different granulations. The product that meets the granulation specifications goes straight to the flour bin. The coarse product that needs to be reground then goes to another attrition mill to where we will grind that finer than the stone mill will allow. So that’s the second step of our process, but the primary grinding that’s close to 70% of our granulation. 70% of our grinding is done with the stone mills. (Jim) Just that. (Mark) So from the stones, it goes to the sifter. From the sifter it goes back to attrition mill or into the flour bin and then we have a finished product. I like to tell people our mill; we’re too big to be small, and too small to be big. In our flour mill we’re about 200,000 weights, so in a 24-hour period, we would produce about four truckloads of flour. We are small enough to be reactive to our customers and be able to trace the product through it, but we’re large enough to meet the needs of several major customers. (Jim) Mark, hang on, we got to take a break. Folks, stay with us, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s my Farm. Mark, let’s continue the process here, but before we do, you said your mill could put out in a 24-hour period, four truckloads, so about how many pounds of flour is that? (Mark) Our mill basically, depending on the hardness of the wheat, our mill will process anywhere from eight to 10,000 pounds an hour, so on a day, if we were to run 24 hours, we’d produce about 200,000 pounds of flour in a day. Most of the time we only run two shifts, so we’re only running 16 hours a day but we, on average, will produce- (Jim) Push comes to the shove. (Mark) Yes, if we have to run 24 hours, we will, but on a general basis, we’re running 16 hours, and in that 16 hour period, we’ll produce anywhere from 125 to 150,000 pounds of flour. (Jim) That’s quite a bit. (Mark) It’s like I said, we’re too big to be small, and too small to be big, but we’re a very good manageable size for our custom products and a customer focused business. (Jim) Okay. Continue the process; let’s get to the packaging. (Mark) Well, at our mill we do produce two unique granulations of flour, and we actually have three different types of flour that we produce, and I just have two bags with me today, but we produce stone-ground flour from hard red wheat, and then we also have hard white wheat. We started as American White Wheat Producers; one of our signature brands is the natural sweet white whole-wheat flour. I’ll always get confused with the consumers that it’s not white flour, it is whole-wheat flour but it’s made out of white wheat. It’s not white flour, it’s– (Jim) That can be confusing, I can see where that could be confusing. (Mark) You can go with white whole wheat or you can go with whole white wheat, but it’s a white whole wheat flour made out of– and it is very comparable to an all-purpose flour, it’s a whole wheat product, but as we’ve done our testing and as we talked to consumers, you can replace this almost one for one with an all-purpose flour in your baking at home, from cakes to, it makes excellent pie crust by the way, but it’s a great alternative to all-purpose flour in your recipes. Then we also have a red whole wheat that we have Prairie Select, which is a traditional red whole wheat flour, but then one of the things we’re rolling out this year is our heirloom blend of whole wheat made out of 100% Turkey Red wheat. As you know from your background, you know what Turkey Red Wheat is, but to a lot of our customers we’re working on the education. A lot of consumers like heritage products, whether it’s heritage tomatoes, whether it’s heirloom squash, and all sorts of — from apples to zucchini, to whatever they’re wanting to have the original heirloom heritage varieties of grains. (Jim) That Turkey Red is definitely it. (Mark) As you know and you can probably give the history of Turkey Red better than I can but this is — we have a producer up and near Clay Center, Kansas that planted some acres of Turkey Red Wheat. It was the original hard red winter wheat brought to Kansas by the Mennonites in the 1800s, I believe it was. (Jim) ’72-’73, somewhere in that ballpark. (Mark) There you go. It is the heritage heirloom variety of hard red winter wheat from Kansas. We have a limited supply of the heirloom blend this year and we’re making it available to consumers. This is our first time that Farmer Direct Foods– Farmer Direct Foods has been around since 2003 but this is the first time that we have put our own product in our own five-pound bags. We’re very happy to have this out and available to the consumers here in Kansas. (Jim) Mark, thanks. We’ve got to take a quick break here. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors. See you in a minute.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm, I’m Jim Shroyer. Mark Fowler, the president and CEO of Farmer Direct Foods is with us in this last segment here. Mark, you convinced me. I’m ready to go buy some, I’m ready to go get some Turkey Red and some naturally sweet flour. How are you placing these and how can producers — or how can consumers find out more about where they can get this flour? (Jim) All of our information is available on our website at Definitely, visit our website. We have an online store where you can order the product. You can call us up on our website; our information is on the website. You can call us and if you’re in the neighborhood, you can stop in to our office in New Cambria, which is just outside Salina for those people who don’t know where New Cambria is at. We’re seven miles east of Salina on Old Highway 40. But we have the product available at our mill. We’re also working very hard to get it distributed to local grocery stores. We’re in a few stores surrounding Salina right now. We’re continuing to work to get into more grocery stores. Definitely, if you’re interested in our product, ask your local grocer to stock Pride of the Prairie Flour. If you can’t find it, if you can’t convince your local grocer to stock it, come to our website, come to our mill, and we’d be happy to hook you up with some high quality flour from Kansas. (Jim) But on the website, you have a list of where produces currently can– (Mark) We are working on keeping our locations available, up-to-date on the website. We are tweeting about our product. We have a young crew at our group that is very adept at social media. I still have my– (Jim) [Laughs] Makes you feel old, doesn’t it? (Mark) This makes me feel old. I still have my old Twitter handle, KSUWheatMiller. That’s my following, but you can follow Farmer Direct Foods on Facebook, we’re on Twitter, we’re on Pinterest, so follow us and as we add stores to our distribution list, that’ll be the first place, you’ll know it very quickly through Twitter and Facebook. (Jim) Mark, I want to thank you for taking time and showing us the products that you have and about Farmer Direct Foods. I think that’s a really important thing you have going there. Don’t forget, folks, this time next week, we’ll have another episode of That’s My Farm. See you then.

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