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Fresh Milled Corn Finds A Market
Erin Sweet has bagged the fresh ground corn market in northern California. Armed with a gristmill and a steady supply of #1 non-GMO yellow corn, she's producing corn meal, cracked corn and a number of quick mixes. Everything's packaged in bags under her Ridgecut Gristmill label.
"I went through 600 lbs. the first year, three tons the second and about 6 tons this past year," says Sweet. "A local farmer raises the corn and sells it to me in small batches."
Sweet sells her corn and other products at food coops, farmer's markets and to local restaurants. She also has a website, though it represents the smallest segment of her sales. Her straight cornmeal is priced at $4 with mixes at $7. Most are 16 oz. packages, though cracked corn is 24 oz.
"The website pays for itself and makes my products accessible to tourists who pick up my products at a farmers market," says Sweet. "When they go home, they order from my website. Others just find it and order."
Once people try her products, they're hooked, Sweet says. The freshness of the milled corn is what makes the difference.
When a friend told her about the instant pancake mix she grew up with, Sweet saw opportunity. She began mixing and packing cornbread and pancake mixes that only require water. Eggs and other ingredients are already in the mix.
"I'm the only one in this region who makes mixes that only require water," says Sweet. "Once you taste it, you're sold. It's the fact that they're fresh and stone ground, and you can taste the corn."
She assigns credit for her success to the "story" she tells. The local, fresh milled corn is part of the story. Another part is the packaging, which promotes what's inside. For example, she uses sea salt in all mixes.
"My ingredient list on the back is laid out like a recipe," says Sweet. "All you see is food in the ingredients - dry eggs, dry butter, sea salt, corn and others. No artificial ingredients."
Sweet would be eager to consult with those in other areas who want to start their own corn milling business. Meanwhile she's looking at other grains and products to add to her mix, such as masa for tortillas and heritage grains.
"I had a local farmer bring in some heritage wheat, an older variety, and it made the most beautiful flour I've ever seen," she says. "I also hope to get to the point where I can have someone grow five to six acres of heirloom corn."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Ridgecut Gristmills, 317 Fifth St., P.O. Box 862, Arbuckle, Calif. 95912 (ph 530 476-3576; ridgecutgristmills@yahoo.com; www.ridgecut.com).

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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #3