Shagbark Mill and Seed Company

The Missing Piece
By Elise Racine

When one goes to a local CSA, farmers market, etc. the consumer expects to find certain products, such as fruits, legumes, vegetables, and even the somewhat more elusive carton of raw milk.  But more significant than what one does find, is what one typically doesn’t – staple foods like grains, beans, and oil seeds.  It is this lack that makes the Shagbark Seed &Mill Company so special and Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian true pioneers in the local food movement. 
The Shagbark Seed & Mill Co.’s journey began with the Appalachian Staple Food Collaborative, a group of Ohioan farmers dedicated to discovering how staple foods could be reintroduced into the Athens area economy.  Traditionally, staple foods were processed and consumed in the same area they were grown.  How else do you explain so many streets and towns named after mills?   This system, however, has disintegrated due largely to the economic pressures facing farmers, as in Southeast Ohio, to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans for livestock feed and corn syrup rather than human dietary purposes.  Such a path is often the only option for independent farmers who struggle to compete with corporate farms within a food system based on mass production.  As a result of this arrangement, however, the majority of Ohio’s crops are exported and processed in other parts of the country while Ohioans import most of their these staple foods food. 
As a part of the project to assess local food opportunities, The Appalachian Staple Food Collaborative (ASFC) strove to fix this problem and add another dimension to the local economy by working with farmers to bring sustainably grown and freshly processed organic staple foods to the local market.  The ASFC was started in response to a grant given to Brandon Jaeger, a local farmer, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SARE program to plant test plots of staple crops.  Experimenting with crops such as millet, meal corn, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, beans, and buckwheat, the collaborative now has over seven acres of crops growing on five local organic farms.   
This success, however, highlighted another problem – the lack of local facilities capable of processing and storing staple foods.  That’s where the Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. comes in.   Started by Jaeger and his partner Michelle Ajamian in Spring 2009, the company processes and cleans seed and grain crops from the ASFC plots and distributes the finished products to local businesses.  Brandon and Michelle anticipate that by including these businesses and developing a local market for such products, more farmers will get involved.  Furthermore, because farmers provide one of the most essential services to our communities but are often poorly compensated, they have committed to paying good prices to their farming partners in the hopes that by rewarding farmers properly, they will also give them the incentive and resources to improve the quality of their lives, soil, and crops.  And since 60-75% of calories, proteins, and necessary fats in healthy diet come from beans, grains, flours, and oil, such superior crops will in turn impact the lives of others in the community. 
Besides being committed to the production of fresh staple foods with superior flavor, aroma, and nutrition, the mill is dedicated to the establishment of a network of farmers, processors, and consumers and to community resilience.  Overall, the collaborative and the company aim to create a healthy food system that enriches the local economy, builds up food security and safety, practices sustainable agriculture, and ultimately leaves a legacy for future generations. Such goals are especially important as we reach peak oil and find ourselves unable to support the unrealistic fuel demands of our current system.       
 As a part of this pioneering movement, Spiritual Food CSA is looking forward to receiving the following products from the Shagbark Seed & Mill Co.: black beans, heirloom corn meal, adzuki beans, and amaranth.  And I must say, from what I’ve tasted it’s delicious.