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Lonesome Stone Milling Brings Grains From the Driftless Region to Milwaukee

Aug. 22, 2017
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Out in the town of Lone Rock, Wis., population 888, Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling has been hard at work with farmers of Wisconsin’s Driftless region to obtain grains such as wheat and rye for milling into all-purpose flours, pancake mixes, hot cereal and more for retail and wholesale markets. His regular customers include Outpost Natural Foods, which uses Lonesome Stone Milling’s all-purpose flour in their bakery, and sells the flour in the bulk food bins.

A native of Maryland, Williams has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in agronomy. He worked for the United States Department of Agriculture and later moved to Wisconsin to work in the pesticide department at Hazelton Laboratories (now Covance). He’s since had a number of environment-related jobs.

When Williams and his wife moved to Sauk County in 2000, he held quality control positions at Cedar Grove Cheese and Richland Hills apple orchard. Those experiences helped him learn the ins and outs of operating a food business. While working as a gardener, Williams met Gary Zimmer, who was interested in purchasing the soon-to-close Lone Rock Milling seed mill. Williams and Zimmer went in on the business and changed the name to Lonesome Stone Milling—Lonesome Stone being the humorous nickname for Lone Rock, Williams said. 

Williams operates in a historic building that was once a general store. “We set up the business for small grains,” Williams said. “A young guy who was working for me part-time said the grains make great pancakes.” That suggestion led to the wheat and rye mix that is now Lonesome Stone Milling’s popular pancake mix.

Williams and the farmers in his network focus on crops that naturally grow well in Wisconsin. Employing Williams’ vast knowledge of soil health and agribusiness, the farmers use sustainable measures such as rotating crops of legumes and grasses to minimize erosion, which results in healthier plants that resist disease and produce flavorful grains. By the end of 2016, Williams had harvested grains from 14 farmers.

Using a 30-inch Meadows stone mill, Williams processes grains into flour the traditional way. He said their higher-quality wheat and the stone milling process results in a healthier product: “We use locally grown wheat, and not dry lands high plains wheat. Our protein content tends to be lower, so the gluten will be lower. Secondly, with the commercial milling process of white bread flour, the wheat germ is removed. When you’re taking out the wheat germ, you’re taking out the flavor agent that also has the nutrients.”

He notes Lonesome Stone Milling’s flours are often used for artisan baking that involves slow fermentation: a biological process that partially digests the gluten, so it’s more tolerable for a gluten-sensitive person. Stone-milled wheat retains the fiber, which is digested slower, so there’s no glycemic spike.

Since forming Lonesome Stone Milling, Williams has skillfully balanced nutritional science, the environmental aspects of sustainable farming and the challenges of expanding a small business. He’s seeking investors and hopes to expand to a larger grain facility. This past spring, Lonesome Stone Milling received a Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant to help with marketing.

Lonesome Stone Milling’s products can be ordered online. Their flour is sold in the bulk foods section at Outpost. In addition to supplying area bakeries like Outpost and Rocket Baby Bakery, Williams said one of his farmers is providing rye for Twisted Path Distillery.

For more information, visit lonesomestonemilling.com.

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