Saturday, December 31, 2011

The last mill

Several days ago the Swany White Flour Mill in Freeport, Minnesota, burned to the ground.  To most folks who buy their flour at the grocery store, this news is of no great import.  To those of us who try their best to buy local, small farm food whenever possible, this news is immensely tragic.  Swany was the only independently owned flour mill left in Minnesota.  And now it's gone.  The owner says it would be too costly to rebuild.

I've always loved mills.  Whenever we go on a trip I find myself drawn to them.  Grist mills, water mills, woolen mills.  They are a glimpse into the past, a wonder of workmanship and engineering and optimism.  They were an investment in a community's future, a promise of hope.  From the farmer that grew the wheat to the miller that ground it, to the grocer that sold it to the baker that kneaded it.  The Swany Mill was a piece of living history -- built in 1897, it had been running ever since.

It was a convenient place for us to stop on the way to or from St. Paul.  I loved walking into the sales room, looking at the old flour sacks hanging on the wall, smelling the old wood and the particles of ground grain that hung thick in the air.  The mill sold just about any kind of grain, whole or ground, to be found in the state.  Normally I'd just buy two 25 lb sacks of organic flour, either white or whole wheat.  At my last visit I splurged and bought something else--five pounds of organic barley. 

We drove home from St. Paul on Wednesday, the day after the fire.  We took the Freeport exit and drove past the mill site to pay our tribute.  The only thing standing was the chimney and the old miller's house.  The entire milling structure, all of that lovely grain and flour and wood and history, lay broken in a heap of charred rubble.

Today, New Years Eve, I made stock from leftover holiday turkey bones.  Tomorrow I'll add the turkey meat, some carrots and celery and potatoes from my garden, some herbs and seasonings for a heartwarming pot of turkey soup.  And I will add some Swany White barley, and savor the memory of a lovely old mill gone before its time.

Blow wind, blow!
And go mill, go!
That the miller may grind his corn,
That the baker may take it,
And into bread make it,
And bring us a loaf in the morn.


Freedom Acres Farm said...

OH MY GOSH!!! I JUST called them for some prices on Monday!!!!!!!! This is SO sad!!

Mama Pea said...

Oh, yes, so, so sad to see places like that go. We will never regain the tradition of a business like that. No modern structure will ever hold the homey feelings, smells or memories. Irreplaceable. So sad.

Karen said...

That is so incredibly sad, Jo. I feel like I lost something that I never even knew existed... very tragic. I'm sorry, sis, for you too...

Erin said...

Very sad news, Jo...

margot galt said...

Jo. I too love old mills and grain elevators beside railroad tracks. Every visit to a rural Minnesota town I made as a writer-in-the-schools included a walk downtown to survey the mills and elevators. They are iconic.

This is a big loss to you and lots of others. Thanks for a lovely blog.

Best, Margot

Thistledog said...

What a tragedy. What a loss. Irreplaceable, indeed.