One of the most difficult and frustrating things about starting to eat local is all the work involved in trying to find out what local products are available from who and especially searching out some of the staples that should be available but are not easily found. I figured that for the first week of the Dark Days Challenge I would focus on my most perplexing ingredient, local flour. The lack of small mills is not surprising in given the ease of quick, cheap world wide shipping. Mills generally operate on the principle of economy of scale. The more grain they can convert to flour and other milled products the less expensive it is for them to operate and the cheaper they can offer their products to consumers. Therefore it is natural for larger mills to locate closer to the mid-west's prime growing areas and near railways where the cheapest grain can be shipped in, converted and shipped out at the lowest cost. A few small operations continue to function but I have found that they are often historical mills which operate on a small scale mostly for demonstrations to tourists and not to produce enough quantity for locavore consumption. One disappointing feature of some of these smaller mills is that while the grinding is done locally, they may ship in the raw grain from other regions.
At first this realization made me sad. After all, northern Virginia was home to many of the agriculturally minded founding fathers and I distinctly remember the pride of this fact displayed prominently as I toured Washington's Mt. Vernon on the Potomac back in the 7th grade. Many of the historically minded locations in the DC region mention mills of old and describe the trials of taking grain to be milled. I found one example of this while flipping through some tourism material I have laying around as I prepare to host guests at Christmas. It is a map (link is to a pdf file) of the grounds at the the living history Claude Moore Colonial Farm and the closest mill is 3 days one way on foot. Still slightly disappointed I turned to google and began searching in earnest.
For those closer to PA there are several readily available options in the Lancaster area and I'm sure a few more that I didn't find because I wasn't looking up there. McGreary Organics' Daisy Flour brand fit my preferences as did the spelt wheat flours from Small Valley Milling but both are just at my 150 mile (driving distance not crow flight) limits. I continued my search for something closer, or at least in my own state and somewhere I might have a chance of visiting someday soon. I located a few more small mills in Maryland and Virginia that offered either limited quantity or not enough online information for me to justify a trip to try their flour. Just as I was giving up hope, I stumbled onto Wade's Mill, located in Raphine.
Wade's Mill has a nice website and even offers online ordering, in addition to a 1-800 number and its catalogue. They have a wide variety of milled grains, flours, baking mixes in addition to jams, syrups, hams and gift baskets. Family owned for a long time and now run my Jim and Georgina Young this mill, while still over my 100 mile preferred distance was worth making an exception at 163 miles. Not 1 day after I had decided to order some flour and give the mill a try I got my monthly email from the Virginia Tourism people and saw a picture of the Young's and a link to a video featuring them talking about their mill and their products. I was sold. I ordered a 30 lbs of flour and some maple syrup immediately. The box arrived quickly, was carefully packed and as I put each pack of flour away I smiled, knowing that I had achieved my goal and would soon be enjoying the fruits of local labor.
I've created a google map of the sources I found during my search: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=105998941988210614683.00045baf78e917bcac07a
I welcome comments and additions and will be updating if I find out any now information.