by Jonathan Wright
Harold Wilken and his son Ross are fifth- and sixth-generation farmers in east-central Illinois. On the 2,500+ certified organic acres of Janie’s Farm, they grow many different crops in a biodiverse rotation. Then at Janie’s Mill, just a few miles up the road, they transform those crops into dozens of delicious, nutrient-dense products.
“Our specialty is diversity! We grow many varieties of wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, corn and other grains—including heirlooms such as Bloody Butcher corn and Turkey Red wheat,” explains Terra Brockman, who handles communications for Janie’s Mill. “We stone-mill these organic grains into over 30 different products, including bread flours, pastry flours, Italian-style pizza flour, cornmeal, grits, cracked wheat, cracked rye and many others.”
A conventional farmer for years, Harold began transitioning to organic in 2003, and quickly realized the benefits of lower input costs and premium prices. Because organic operations are more labor-intensive, he was also able to hire more people—a potential game-changer for rural America. “Organic farming provides the opportunity to bring in a new generation of farmers,” he suggests.
In 2016, Harold and Ross, along with head miller Jill Brockman-Cummings, began to build and operate Janie’s Mill, the first organic stone mill in Illinois. Working closely with artisanal bakers in Chicago to ensure their flours were of the highest quality, the mill quickly became their primary business—attracting national and even international attention as they bridged the gap between commodity production and the local food movement.
When the pandemic hit, the disruption of the global supply chain caused stores around the country to run out of flour. At Janie’s Mill, however, retail sales went through the roof. Though never part of their business plan, they were able to meet this demand practically overnight. And with business booming, they are poised for a banner year in 2021. “We already have many acres of fall-planted wheat in the ground, ready to grow tall and strong with the first warm days of spring,” Brockman explains. “We are also excited about offering some new milled products... but need to keep them a secret for now!” janiesmill.com PM