In Search of the Right Stuff (Part 2): Lonesome Stone Milling

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A few post ago, my search for the right stuff took me to the industrial corridor of Chicago for honey. Wheat flour and cornmeal drove me across state lines to the quiet village of Lone Rock, Wisconsin. A solo drive through a snowstorm to a new place in the name of cereal? Count me in.

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The drive up was a cinch. I rented a car from O’Hare, set my smartphone for a map, and motored my way on I-90W to Madison and beyond. I felt a wonderful little tug in my stomach with my hands on the steering wheel. I may as well have been Dylan revisiting Highway 61. Call it pioneering spirit or Midwest Manifest Destiny. Such a tug proved there was still room for simple adventure in my little corner of the hyper-mediated macrocosm of the twenty-first century. There was no computer, no blog (!), no chatter–just the rumble of the miles passing from city to town to country.

And soon village.

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Lone Rock came at the end of a string of rural hamlets by the name of Arena, Coon Rock, and Spring Green. The flurries started as soon as I parked my car off Oak Street, next to the Lonesome Stone Milling storefront proper. I snapped a few photos of the water tower behind the milling machinery. The black lacquer letters on it grayed, whited out, and came back again like a mirage. I sure felt lonely right then– a winter stage set with me as the only actor. From the bustle of Chicago, the feeling was cold and crisp and good.

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Gilbert Williams, the man behind the mill, met me at the front corner of the store. I had been in correspondence with him for a few weeks, and his emails had been precise to the point of curtness. I expected a hardened countryman with a piece of straw (or, more likely, wheat) clenched in his teeth, ready to eschew any artistic nonsense I had conjured up to waste his grains.

Oh, the stereotypes ingrained in city boys.

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In reality, Gil was a fiery ball of articulated energy, gabbing about the molecular properties of wheat and rye, the practice of kissing mill stones to achieve a certain refinement of cornmeal, and even my cereal recipe. His background was in chemistry, and he spoke at length of the pros and cons of my use of butter over vegetable oil in A Simple Cereal. Had I thought of the antibacterial properties of the Co-Op Honey as a natural cereal preservative?

No, I had not. I majored in Creative Writing in college.

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Gilbert’s eloquence and enthusiasm for all things related to grain (i.e. everything) explained his business acumen and palate-pleasing flours and mixes from Lonesome Stone. The mill is a local, small-time venture attracting farmers and grain producers like iron filings to a magnet. Gil’s goal, he told me, was to have local products delivered with the farmer’s name attached. It was the only way to promote his mill and those who provided the good, raw ingredients to create Lonesome products (such as the amazing pancake mix).

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Here, I found a viable example of what A Simple Cereal strove to be: a hard-working mediator between producers and customers, collaborating and creating healthy food for a greater community. I was awestruck.

Here, in the seeming middle of nowhere. Here, in Lone Rock.

I purchased a hundred pounds of wheat flour, and a dozen pounds of cornmeal. Gil suggested a wheat-rye flour mixture (on the house) to try in my cereal for research and development. I expected him, in his scientific manner, to ask me for a lab report of my findings by the end of the week. We hauled the sacks of grain on our shoulders to my car as the snow came down. We shook hands and he was off again, making a bee-line back to his machines and scales and grains. He was gone like the water tower behind a veil of snow.

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It was a long drive back to Chicago. The snow persisted past the border into Illinois, following me like a white shadow. It did give me time to think, though. I thought about people and my perceptions of them; I thought about communities and my definitions of them. I thought about how art isn’t made in a studio, but between people outside in places you’ve never been. That little tug drove me back to the city I had known…but with a little melancholy for the place I had just discovered.