Lonesome Stone Milling
By Mary Bergin | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
Shortly after lunch, the UPS driver delivers 50-pound containers of baking powder and salt in downtown Lone Rock, population 888. “You keep me busy, man,” he jokes with customer Gilbert Williams. “Where you want ’er?”
For years, the lives of these two men have intersected briefly but often. Pickups and deliveries involved boxes of cheese, rennet and starter cultures when Williams’s job was to oversee quality control and wastewater recycling at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, 15 miles northeast of here.
Since 2009 he has operated Lonesome Stone Milling, whose near-dozen organic and conventional flour products are made with grains—wheat, corn and rye—harvested from nearby farms. Think “breaking bread,” “amber waves of grain” and “the staff of life.” Within agriculture are many iconic images of the raw product and its influence on the American diet. “We’re taking on a pretty mundane product—flour—but it’s a big part of us,” Williams acknowledges. “Bread is something we eat almost every day.”
The work of turning grains into whole wheat flour, pancake mix, cornbread mix and more commences in and near a 1912 building that began as a general store, then assumed other identities. Before Lonesome Stone moved in, the building was home to Gorman’s Meat Locker, which once processed organic meat.
“So this place is built to be food safe; it’s up to USDA standards, and it has coolers,” Williams explains, and all are important in his quest to produce quality merchandise for farmers markets, grocers and bakers.
The enterprise also addresses a practical need.
“There was a hole in the [local flour] market that you could drive a combine through,” he deadpans. His nearest major competitor is Great River Flour Mill in La Crosse. A smattering of farm-based businesses also produces organic products from locally-grown grains, but on a much smaller scale.
Williams, whose grandparents cultivated 200 acres in New Jersey, was fascinated with farming as a kid. He learned about growing potatoes, raising chickens and living off the land around the same time Earl Butz, the Nixon-Ford ag secretary, began his 1970s preaching that farmers should “get big or get out” so Americans could stay well-fed at a reasonable price.