Former sawmill restored as artisan milling operation; expansion considered
LONG VALLEY — Hidden in the old residential area at the foot of Schooley’s Mountain is a small red barn with a lot happening inside.
Red Barn Kitchen is a commercial kitchen, but it’s also an artisan mill.
Ironically, just across East Mill Road from the new mill is the old mill for which the road is named. The Obadiah LaTourette Grist and Saw Mill was built in 1750 by Philip Weise.
Owned by the Washington Township Land Trust since 1991, it is now being restored.
But its smaller neighbor is very busy.
Three millers, all with other “day jobs” operate two small mills in the Red Barn on Tuesday evenings under their company name, River Valley Community Grains.
On a recent Tuesday, Laurence Mahmarian and Len Bussanich were hard at work rolling oats and packaging the product for one of their clients.
They have an oat roller that rolls 50 pounds in 35 minutes.
They bought it in January 2019 and figured out for themselves how to properly control the speed.
A client from Princeton needed 200 pounds of rolled oats, Mahmarian said as Bussanich packaged the oats in the client’s bags.
The Como mill will process 33 pounds an hour of warthog wheat and up to 50 pounds an hour of smaller grains between its two stones, Mahmarian said.
A third partner, Michael Hoza, makes up the trio.
They have about a half-dozen farmers they work with, but are hoping to expand.
Part of that expansion could actually be a new location.
Ruthie Perretti, a restauranteur in Montclair, has family property in Frelinghuysen Township, Warren County. A local farmer grows grain on that property and Perretti is a client of River Valley.
She and Mahmarian and Bussanich attended a recent county Economic Development Commission meeting to present a proposal for opening a mill in Marksboro, a hamlet in Frelinghuysen.
An empty building, once a farm equipment repair shop, is available, Perrietti told the commission.
Perretti attended the 2018 Northeast Organic Farming Association–New Jersey Winter Conference and heard a talk by Elizabeth Dyck of Crimson and Clover Farm in Florence, Mass. This inspired her to plant winter wheat and got her on the road to production, on a small scale.
Perretti noted more people are eating whole grains
She got involved with NOFA-NJ through Sr. Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm, just down the road from her farm, in Marksboro, she said.
Dyck came out to Frelinghuysen Township and encouraged Perretti with her project.
“We spoke extensively about equipment, storage and other issues,” she said.
Also interested in the Marksboro project is Kendrya Close, executive director of the Foodshed Alliance. Close said the alliance is seeking a grant to create a food hub. FA wants to provide families in food deserts, starting in Newark, with fresh food and educational programs. She considers a new mill in Warren County a welcome part of that initiative.
Corey Tierney, director of Land Preservation in Warren County told the economic development commission the county has land at the White Lake County Park that could be used for grain production.
He is working with the Foodshed Alliance and is also in favor of a mill in Marksboro.
Commissioner Chris Maier of Hope, who farms and owns a family amusement park, said he lost two small millers because of rising electrical costs, “so I bought a grinder and hooked it to a tractor.”
He likes the idea of a mill nearby, he said.
Maier asked how Perretti intended to approach other farmers about a local mill.
He suggested working through the county Extension office.
Commissioner Mitchell Jones, who was chairing the meeting, asked if Perretti envisions all organic product.
She said she wants exclusively organic wheat.
Perretti said there is a market just in Montclair and surrounding towns between restaurants and bakeries.
The commissioners were enthusiastic about Perretti’s ideas and offered to work with her whenever possible.
The building has been vacant for some time and will require inspections and restoration before it can be used.
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