Miller Time

I’ve never planted anything as early as April.

We’ve had twice our average rainfall this season.

Often enough I’ve meant to plant as early as May – but never have. What usually happens is I plan to start prepping fields in April for planting in May. Then, we end up having a wetter spring than will accommodate my last-minute tight timing (which some would refer to as procrastination). That means not doing field prep until whenever the May showers dry out and then, usually, planting in the first week of June. Some people are finished with their gardens by then.

Good for them!

I’ve never cared about being first, or even early. I’d rather get comfortably past last frost before even fixin’ to get ready to think about planting. The growing season where I am is very forgiving, and planting late has never mattered. I’ve only planted summer crops in the past. The only thing planting later has ever meant was harvesting in the hottest parts of August instead of the cooler mid to late July. I never expected this to be easy though, so…

Disking Fields
The difference a 9′ disk makes – after 3 passes…

As of today I have just over two acres planted in wheat. I don’t know what to do with myself. That is as much as I’ve ever planted in produce and I’m only half finished. The goal was/is to plant just over 5 acres in all. When I finish that, I’ll have a little more than twice as much as the most I’ve ever planted, and right at four times as much as my more normal annual acre and a half.

Half of the whole was all I could get planted before this weekend’s rain. First there was a pigeon seed mishap that ran me short of seed. Then, there was a disruptive step into good fortune of the sort that has become serendipitously routine around here.

Can you spot the two bags of pigeon seed mixed in with the brown bags? I was a whole bag in before I did.

There were supposed to be fourteen 50lb bags of wheat. I did, in fact, bring home fourteen 50lb bags. However, two of them turned out to be full of pigeon seed, not wheat. It’ll be fun to see what all comes up in those first couple of rows on the long side of the triangular middle field. There should be some millet, a couple kinds of peas, buckwheat, regular wheat, and a couple of other mystery ingredients I don’t recall by name from the miller’s description.

Yes, I ended up talking with the owner of the mill that supplies the distribution hub that supplies the local store where I buy my seed. That was the disruptive step into good fortune that put me off my original plan of running to town for more seed to finish the other 2.5 acres before this weekend’s rain. But, it was worth it.

My local seed store was out of wheat because I bought all they had when I brought home the almost-enough fourteen bags last week. When I called to see if they’d re-stocked yet, they hadn’t. Since I was in a hurry against the rain, they referred me to the mill where they get the seed they sell. It’s only an hour away – in a town where I used to work as interim pastor – so it’s not an unfamiliar trip. If I’d just go up there to get seed, I might still be able to get on with my plan finishing planting by evening. If you’ve been following along here at all over the last decade, you know good and well that most of the plans I make end up including a few more twists and turns than I anticipate – but stuff usually works out. This day played out true to form.

Yeah, this is where all the pigeon seed ended up.

Turns out the mill I was referred to is just a distribution hub for ANOTHER mill about an hour away from me in another direction. The woman running the distribution office assured me they could get what I needed but said I’d need to talk with the owner to work out the timing – and he was on his way to the other mill. I left my name and number

If I wanted to maintain any hope of staying on my plant-in-the-afternoon schedule, I had decisions to make. I could drive to the farther away mill where they actually grind the grain and meet the owner there, or I could wait for the owner to make the trip back with seed to the slightly closer distribution hub. The only difference was that I’m pretty keen to see an actual mill in action – since I’m about to get into the milling business myself making flour out of wheat. Then again, I really wanted to get back to finish planting and didn’t have time – today – to dawdle watching a new fascination.

While I was lacing my boots and debating the options with myself, the phone rang. It was the Miller calling me back.

This was the disruptive part.

The owner began, “Don, this is … you may not remember me, and you may not want to talk to me but, I’m a member of the First Baptist Church.”

I’d only heard the first name before when I was talking with his assistant and hadn’t made the connection. When he called back and said his full name I did remember it – from about a year before when I’d had a less than pleasant parting from an interim pastor gig after being lied about and lied to before being fired. Let’s just say it wasn’t hard to disconnect and move on like a good interim is supposed to do. I hadn’t known this particular man well, but I did remember him as one of the regular members I hadn’t had time to get to know as an out of town, part-time, interim pastor.

I’m looking forward to seeing where those two random kernels of corn end up… It’s always an adventure over here!

What came next was a warm and disarmingly genuine paragraph that landed somewhere between confession of regret and apology. The Miller didn’t have anything to apologize to me for personally, but he was the only who happened to be available to stand in as proxy for a situation we’d both been involved in for which he knew I was owed – something. It was enough.

We went on to have a delightfully collegial and helpful conversation. He offered a guided tour of the mill operation – which he didn’t have time to give today any more than I had time to indulge. He welcomed me to shadow the operator who does most of the grinding at his mill. Perhaps most importantly, he led me to a local manufacturer who has been making large and small stone grinding mills for over a century. That was a magnificent piece of information. In all my googling I hadn’t found a supplier of a quality stone grinding grain mill closer than Austria. That’s been distressing because stone grinding grain mills are HEAVY. The shipping on a mill from Austria was going to be as much as the mill – and that ain’t cheap to begin with!

We hung up after agreeing to meet at his distribution hub after he’d had time to go to the mill and return with seed. My afternoon planting window had slammed shut, but the whole wide world of milling had just opened up and I was way cool with the trade.

I came home with the six more bags of wheat I needed – AND a solution to one of the biggest problems I’m facing this season. By the time the seed I’ve planted is ready to harvest I have to have a way to grind it into flour and put it into 5lb bags to give away. When I left home to get the rest of the seed I was going to plant, I had no idea how I’d be able to get that grinding done, but I was on my way to talk to a Miller.

I’ve spent 20 years as a professional not-for-profit fundraiser. I spent the drive to the distribution hub thinking of questions I could ask to open up the possibility of him offering to grind the wheat I still had no way to grind. The mill I need will cost north of $3,000. So far I’m holding one gift of $250 toward that goal. You do the math. With seed in the ground, there’s a hard deadline for finding a solution to grind the harvest.

Before I could say anything persuasive or clever – or anything at all – the Miller said, “You know, after we were talking earlier, I got to thinkin’. If you’d like me to grind your wheat for you, I’d be glad to do it for free any time you want or need me to.”

If you look close, you can see the seed flying…

Earlier on the phone, I’d already described how much I was looking forward to having milling days with volunteers. That’s still the best long term plan – and will require solving the problem of getting a mill. Until then though, having a solid “plan B” from a mill that’s been in operation for over a hundred years feels pretty good.

… and generally my generation
wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man
and generally I agree with them
trouble is you gotta have yourself an alternate plan …

Not a Pretty Girl” by Ani DiFranco

Not gonna hide it. The way it happened was gratifying as well. I told the Miller that I appreciated his generosity – of both tangible and intangible gifts. Since there was a brief period of time when I was his pastor I decided I owed him a moment of transparency – if only as an example of what it looks like when take just a moment to say the important part out loud. I left my work as his pastor with rather pronounced hard feelings. Though his gesture is only tangentially and symbolically related to all of that, he deserved to know how grateful I was for how far his gesture went in helping me set those feelings aside. And, that needed to happen.

The Miller’s generosity was gratifying well beyond that personal point though. At no point in the last ten years has there ever been a time when I knew very far ahead of time from whence most of what I needed to do this work would come. There’s also never been a time I didn’t end up having what I needed within reasonable proximity to when I needed it. Sometimes even far enough ahead not to worry myself near to death – because I can’t resist the temptation to worry.

Really, that’s been the experiment here all along:

  • Is the ability to be generous dependent on having a lot?
  • Or, does it result from making a commitment to generosity, no matter what you have to work with, and trusting others to respond and participate with generosity of their own?

I can put over ten year’s direct, personal experience on the table that proves well enough to me that making a commitment to living out of abundant generosity is the only necessary ingredient for being able to be generous – no matter how much you have in the way of tangible resources when you get started. I’ve watched it play out like this without fail – despite my too often too feeble efforts – every time I’ve put seed in the ground without knowing how I’d get the help I needed to harvest their abundance. Every. Time. And, often in the most unexpected ways.

There are advantages and privileges I’ve had along the way from my previous professional experiences and networks that others might not have had. At some level, those privileges and advantages are functions of my race and gender. Those things can’t go unsaid.

Still, I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky, easy, name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity theology where you sew seeds of faith and reap bountiful blessings. There’s not much about the path I’ve followed that I would describe as “bountiful” – except the crops from time to time.

All I’m saying is that I’ve come to have faith in the fact that making a commitment to live out a generous posture in the world has consistently invited exactly the kinds of reciprocal generosity that makes the old Quaker saying true:

I’ll lift you and you lift me, we’ll both ascend together.

John Greenleaf Whittier

Every. Single. Time.

7 thoughts on “Miller Time”

  1. Your statements and explanations of generosity could use a much wider audience, hearing, banner, billboard, etc.
    Well done!

  2. Go, watch, learn. So that with next year’s harvest you’ll be ready to mill your own wheat with your own mill. I believe your faith, like our faith in you, will be rewarded.

    • Absolutely John!
      I’m looking forward to a nice bike ride up to the mill to spend some time soaking in whatever more than a century of cumulative memory has to teach me. I’ll try to keep my wits about me enough to take a few pics and maybe some video…
      Thanks for all your participatory encouragement along the way.


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