From humble beginnings, Speerville Flour Mill is now a home-grown success
Many companies like to say their commitment to the environment and social values is as important as the bottom line, but few manage to actually achieve that balance. Speerville Flour Mill, located in New Brunswick’s St. John River Valley, near the village of Debec, is proving that being successful while doing the right thing is not just a trendy talking point—it is an attainable reality.
I recently spoke with Richard Wetmore, assistant to the managing director at Speerville; it didn’t take long to hear his passion and enthusiasm for their milling operation and the company’s exciting line of products.
First, some background on the company: The mill was built in the mid-1970s by Murray Hubbard and a group of like-minded individuals. They built it as a cord wood structure to house an old set of millstones saved from an abandoned gristmill in Kirkland, NB. By 1978, the mill was operational but doing only minimal business—until the winter of 1982 when they got a load of high quality milling wheat from Grand Falls that had been slated to become feed. The order was milled and shipped to buyers, leading to more orders and the birth of the Speerville Flour Milling Co-operative. Starting with just one product, the operation grew to two, then five— now more than 30 years later Speerville Flour Mill has 150 products, of which 65 are milled.
With the exception of kamut and organic brown flax—which are grown in Western Canada—Speerville’s milled products are grown by a group of 24 farmers scattered throughout Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick. These farmers grow organic foods and operate on a five- to seven-year rotation, to preserve soil quality and produce high-grade grains. Within this rotation farmers plant one season of grain, with a guarantee they will profit from its sale to Speerville. In any given season, anywhere from eight to 12 of those 24 farmers are growing between 800 to 1,200 acres of organic grains for Speerville, resulting in 300 long tons or 660,000 pounds of grain. This system ensures that supply and demand is always met.
I expected flour would be Speerville’s most popular product, but was surprised to find out that honour goes to something that, until now, I had never heard of: Hulless oats. Hulless oats are sometimes called naked oats and they are a nutritional powerhouse. Similar to a common oat, they have nearly 16 per cent protein—beating both rice and quinoa, at just half the cost of rice and one-third the cost of quinoa. It was Speerville’s vegan customers who first requested the nutritional information on hulless oats and to this day they remain an active part of their buying market.
That Speerville is willing to work so closely with their buying public is another key to their success; they currently have more than 200 home-based buying groups throughout Atlantic Canada—consisting of individuals who get together to buy in bulk. For these buying groups, Speerville will not charge shipping costs for orders of more than 300 pounds. Knowing that some of the groups consist of individuals for whom a daily, or even weekly, trip to the grocery store is difficult, Speerville decided to add other items to their product list, including healthy lines of pasta, dried fruits, nut butters and a selection of environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. The company also has a buying program in place for restaurants and chefs.
For many, the most recognizable of Speerville’s products is their line of flours. My absolute favourite is their Stone Ground Whole White Flour, a product exclusive to Speerville. A sifted stone ground flour with a light texture, this flour is not bleached, and perfect for baking as it can be substituted cup for cup with regular flour. Most modern facilities use steel rollers to mill their flours; this removes much of the fibre and nutrients from the grain. Stone grinding retains the full nutrition of the whole grain because it uses the entire kernel. The result is a nutritious whole grain flour that’s high in fibre; it still contains its bran and wheat germ.
Other Atlantic Canadian flours milled by Speerville include spelt, rye, rice and cornmeal.
Speerville's website (speervilleflourmill.ca) has a full product listing; products can be found in many stores throughout Atlantic Canada. Contact Speerville directly for information on starting, or joining, a buying group.