The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Buying grains in bulk

Bulk grainsOur first foray into buying in bulk was only approximately 50% successful.  We saved a bundle on bulk cocoa and had no trouble using it up in good time, but the flours were more problematic.  Whole wheat flour (and other processed whole grains, like brown rice) are only good for six months, or considerably less if you live in a hot, humid climate like ours.  If you save 10% on the flour but have to give 25% of it to the chickens, that's a net loss.

I'm currently considering going a bit higher tech, buying wheat in its unprocessed form and a grain grinder.  (We do have a hand grinder, but I know that I wouldn't grind much wheat if it was my only option.  It's terrible on my wrists.)  The good thing about this option is that you end up with much higher quality flour since grains start to degrade as soon as they're ground.  In addition, untouched hard grains (like wheat and corn) can easily last a decade, and I'm pretty sure we could manage to go through 45 pounds in that time period.  (Soft grains, such as barley and oats will last at least six years.)

I suspect that many of you have already tried this out, and I'd love to hear your experiences.  Here are my primary questions, but feel free to ramble on about other things that are moderately relevant:

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It's closed now, but I used to buy clean wheat from the flour mill down from the library for 13 cents a pound. There should be a local flour mill still running. (When I bought the wheat for 13 cents healt food stores were charging 50 cents. Our local bulk store sells wheat grain in quantities up to a large sack or other container.
Comment by Errol Sun Dec 4 08:51:07 2011

We did a lot of bulk foods that we kept in a big rubbermaid container. We had beans, rice, etc. I'd buy the bags in bulk or smaller bags here and there and just toss them in the container. It worked really well for a couple of years, then we got weevils. I didn't heed warnings to make the container bug proof and I regret that. The bugs must have started in one of the sacks of flour, but they were all throughout the beans and rice by the time we discovered them. This was after we had relaxed on our use of bulk dry goods, so they had some time to reproduce undiscovered.

If we do bulk again, and I'm sure we will, the first thing I will invest in will be good containers for everything. For us, it's not only the bugs but the 3-year old who will get into stuff and have beans scattered all over the house in a matter of minutes... and/or strange substances poured into the containers.

Aside from good containers, I would need a good place to process everything. I like the idea of getting the least processed form and doing the processing myself, for exactly the reason you mentioned. Our kitchen is still very poorly equipped for any kind of food processing, even regular cooking, so I've been working on a new design. We've got quite a few projects in the way of us really investing in bulk foods again.

As for our source, the only place to get bulk grains here is the farmer's market or whole foods (about an hour away). Neither options give a really good discount (10% off isn't that great when you're paying whole foods prices, but it does come out a little better than regular grocery prices), but it still seemed more convenient to buy in bulk and have the stuff on hand. Sam's would be great. I've gotten some flour from Sam's from my mother in law... but the weevils popped up very soon after. Not making any accusations there, but now I do have concerns about making sure we get uncontaminated food from the beginning.

Some of the very best bulk storage info I have come across is from survivalists. If you haven't already consulted the survivalist literature out there, I recommend that you do. They usually go into specifics about storing for bug/moisture control, reducing exposure to oxygen and light, and just about everything else you would want to know. The only problem I had was that I didn't really listen to their advice :)

Comment by Sara Sun Dec 4 09:17:59 2011

Bicycle drivetrain parts are easy to come by. Your legs are generally much more powerful than your arms. They're also more suited to perform during longer periods. And it will definitely keep you warm. :-)

A cadence at the cranks of 30-60 rpm is comfortable, while sport cyclist usually do between 70-110 rpm. If you measure the speed of the handle of the grain mill (count revolutions for a minute) you'll know what gear ratio you need. It shouldn't be that difficult to add a derailer drivetrain so you can even vary the ratio.

It might be worthwhile to contemplate a drivetrain that can power both the grain mill and the oil expeller?

Don't be tempted to go for a v-belt drivetrain. They work via friction and always slip a little, so efficiency will suffer a lot, which is important when you're working with a limited power budget. A toothed belt would be OK, though.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Dec 4 12:27:26 2011
By far the cheapest place to get staples (wheat, oats, rice, beans) is your local LDS (Mormon) cannery. You don't have to be a Mormon to use these. You just call to make an appointment, and they will help you go "shopping" in the warehouse for bulk grains, set you up with #10 cans and oxygen absorbers, and show you how to use the canning machine. Their prices are more than 50% cheaper than any of the online suppliers (Emergency Essentials, Pleasant Hill Grains, Walden, Survival Acres, etc.). Look up the phone number for your local Church of Latter Day Saints and ask them about using the cannery. By the way, they don't proselytize at all.
Comment by radardeb Sun Dec 4 15:02:46 2011

Daddy --- I did get grain from White's Mill in Abingdon once a few years ago, but they're really a tourist spot, not an operational mill. I can't remember how much I paid then....

Sara --- Sounds a lot like our experience with buying in bulk --- that's why I want to do it better this time! I have read a lot of survivalist literature, but the problem with it is that most of them are planning for an apocalypse and don't really practice what they preach now. (Or, rather, they might store a bunch of food, but they don't use it, which means they don't have real hands-on advice I can learn from.)

Good point with the weevil problem. The stuff at Sam's club is marketed to the survivalist crowd and is sealed in a bucket, which might mean that it doesn't have weevils, but who knows?!

Roland --- I had pondered trying to get a mill that could be converted to bicycle power if we ever needed it to. Our current mill isn't really worth converting --- it doesn't grind that well. But right now, we wouldn't have room for a bicycle-powered appliance in the house....

Comment by anna Sun Dec 4 15:06:08 2011
radardeb --- I had read about that, but the internet was unclear on whether the stores were open to non-Mormons. I was considering checking it out, but then found the Sam's Club prices were identical for wheat. Good to hear the LDS stores are an option, though!
Comment by anna Sun Dec 4 15:13:37 2011

You're right about most of the survivalist stuff. I have a friend who has tons of bulk stuff in his nuclear bunker... some of it's probably thirty years old by now :)

On the other hand, there is a decent group of folks who have learned to have a rotating pantry that allows them to keep bulk supplies but to actually use it all. "Buy what you eat, eat what you buy," is the mantra I remember. I'll have to try to look that source up again, because it was actually pretty good advice from what I recall.

As far as meal rotations and large pantry planning, I have to say I like to peruse the reports from mothers with large families (like 8+ kids). They have usually hammered out a pretty good system for planning and buying what you are going to use, using what you buy, and getting it all pretty darn cheap. Maybe less of an emphasis on storage there. That may be more than what you're looking for (sometimes you have to read a lot of political/religious opinions to get to the good stuff), but if I find any good advice I will pass it along.

Comment by Sara Sun Dec 4 16:29:08 2011
We buy alot in bulk and then rotate it through the freezer for about a week. This seems to kill the bugs and eggs that are in all such products. Then into well sealed buckets and even in stuff several years old we have not had any bugs.
Comment by BJ Sun Dec 4 16:41:39 2011

Sara --- I know there are some folks out there who walk the walk, I just haven't found them yet! My favorite blogger/author on the subject is Sharon Astyk, but she's more hardcore than me and wouldn't use an electric grain grinder. (Well, actually, she says the reason she doesn't is because she has four boys under the age of 12, so it's easy to find suckers to grind by hand... :-) ) I'd love to be pointed in the right direction if you come up with any links/books.

BJ --- Good tip. I've been meaning to rotate my seed beans through the freezer for the same reason --- last year, I had bad germination by the end of the summer because of weevils. Our freezer's chock full right now, but I could see working that into my yearly cycle, buying grain when the freezer is much less full.

Comment by anna Sun Dec 4 17:59:49 2011
If you have straw in the area you probably have a local farmer selling wheat seed. It needs more cleaning but it is often cheaper and fresher. We often grind a small amount of wheat kernels to beef up the nutrition of our bulk flour purchase. But we go through 20 pounds of flour every few months!
Comment by fostermamas Sun Dec 4 23:05:19 2011

I am currently researching the for the same items. As for the wheat, Ive found the LDS in Richmond is really cheap. But because I live in Virginia Beach, the cost of gas offsets my going. I have found another place. Go to They do monthly deliveries in several places, they are cheap compared to Honeyville, Emergency Essentials, ect. As for wheat mills I'm going to invest in the Wondermill Jr. deluxe. It does all the grains plus has a seperate burr to make nut butters with. If you check on ebay you can find a pulley (after market) that attaches to this mill that you could attach a motor or bike to. Im going with the hand mill because 1) the obvious reason is power loss 2) if your looking for the best nutrisionally, the slower you grind (less friction and heat) the more nutrision is retained. There seems to be something I read about overheating grains causes some loss.

By the way I absolutely am in love with your blog. its the first one in the morning and has inspired me start my own "homestead" till I can get there. Maybe neighbors someday. I grew up not to far from there and plan on going back someday

Comment by A Roberts Mon Dec 5 05:42:39 2011

I use the Junior Grain Mill, not much to say, I really like it! Its worth the price for sure.....

I grow my own purslane and amaranth for seed. It does a very nice job of making those small seeds into flour...

Comment by Grain for T Tue Dec 6 00:56:09 2011

Fostermamas --- Excellent point about getting wheat from the same place we get our straw! Don't know why I didn't think of that....

A Roberts --- I love their delivery map --- makes it so simple to know where they'll bring their wares! Unfortunately, they don't seem to come to our area, but if you live in eastern Virginia (or Maryland or Delaware), they might be a good choice.

I'm afraid the Wondermill won't fit the bill for us since it's a micronizer. You're on track, though, with retaining nutrition. The stone ground mills I'm looking at slow it down enough that the wheat stays at 100 Fahrenheit or below.

Thanks for your kind words about the blog! I hope we do end up being neighbors. :-)

Grain for T --- I'm impressed that you stick with a hand mill. Some days I wish I was that good, but other days I know that I'm just too lazy and a hand mill would mean I buy flour in the store. :-)

I'd be curious to hear what you do with your amaranth flour. We grew amaranth year before last and enjoyed it, but I didn't get around to growing it this year because I didn't learn the best ways to use it.

Comment by anna Tue Dec 6 11:20:30 2011

How do you tell if a mill is a micronizer?...........

Anyway, I only grind what I'm going to be using for the day, so I do not mind going at it by hand. I also seem to have a drop of preppers blood in me, maybe living in FL in 04 did it, because I tend to go for nonelectric.....

I'm not a baker, I don't measure things.:) I add it to all of the things I bake, sometimes doing up to 50% replacement of wheat flour. I even put it in my oatmeal, I toast it first, then I grind it. Really has a nice flavor... My favorite thing to do though is make little butter snaps with it! The flour, butter, sugar some eggs.... Some people say its rather bland, but I think it has a very very nutty flavor, Its got the taste grains just don't have. It gos everywhere and in everything though.....

By the way, I mostly grow Giant gold, it produces massive amounts of seed, around 2-21/2 lbs. After the main head is cut its shoots up like crazy.

Comment by micronizer>T smashed germ? Wed Dec 7 02:31:42 2011

I think that if you look at the technical specs of each mill, it will usually tell you if it uses a metal or stone wheel. If the answer is neither, it's probably a micronizer. I think all of the hand mills are not micronizers.

Wow about your amaranth! I'll have to get my hands on some Giant gold seeds!!

Comment by anna Thu Dec 8 07:26:19 2011
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