Based in Totnes, South Devon – Fresh Flour are an innovative, sustainable and regenerative company producing fresh organic flours which are milled on-site and then sent out to amazing bakeries or made into products onsite; dried pasta, crackers and biscuits.
We were delighted to catch up with visionary owner Andrew Gilhespy to discuss Fresh Flour, their products, their aims and ambitions, and where the future will be taking them.
How did you get started?
I have an MSc in Sustainable Agriculture. I studied the Grain Industry in the UK and asked the question ‘is it possible to make or grow bread-making or bread-quality grain in the South West?’ It was my hypothesis that you could, so I grew some Heritage Grain from John Letts (Oxfordshire) in an acre, which I processed and made bread from.
That’s what started me on this journey – it was also pushed by the fact that 85% of all seed, including wheat, is owned by only 5 companies globally.
I don’t really consider myself a scientist – because I’m much more about intuitive nature, and the intuitive side and feelings – that really interests me, rather than the production side.
I want to create something which has different values, which is about intuition and feeling, which is about sustainable, gentle living and kindness.
Our journey since then has been looking for the right co-operative or co-operative partners; this isn’t something I want to do on my own; it’s not about getting rich – what I really want to do is improve nutrition for people, to improve the nutritional content of the flour, and to add value – making sure that the Farmers involved are paid a decent wage for their produce.
How did you decide on Devon as the location for your business?
Schumacher College are based in Dartington and they’re world leaders in Sustainability. They’ve got amazing teachers, and their course coincided with a few things going on in my life. We were looking to get out of London and because we’re Bohemians and open thinkers, Totnes was a really great place to be – it’s very welcoming, and that’s why we’re here.
Is Sustainability important to Fresh Flour as a business?
Sustainability is really, really important.
If you flip it on its head and say, “Is your business unsustainable?” people might ask what you mean, but well – if it’s not sustainable, then it’s unsustainable. The language really hits home hard because we don’t want to be unsustainable, we want to live a long life as possible!
Everything we do is either reused or recycled – we use paper sacks for our flour that are recycled, even the glue on the labels for our newest pasta range (Bucatini) is the most environmentally friendly glue you can buy. At the moment, the only thing we’re not doing, which we’re conscious of, is generating our own electricity – but we’re working on that as a group to get sustainable electric.
Our flour and pasta are vegan – we don’t use any animal products, it’s all plant-based and mainly local. We’re talking about quality, a connection to the soil – we’re talking about farmers, their livelihoods, psychological and physiological wellbeing, and making sure to make our business as sustainable as possible.
When you say, ‘a connection to the soil’, what do you mean?
The soil is really integral and important – it’s the most important thing we can focus on in the food industry.
Taste is paramount to the product – that taste comes from the quality of the soil and the gentleness of the processing, and the freshness of the flour. If we improve the quality of the soil by improving the quality of the farmer’s lives, giving them more time to improve the quality of the soil, then that will imbue better more nuanced flavours into the products.
We’re helping farmers improve the value of their products by making products that are consumer-friendly and really unique. We pay all our farmers £450 a tonne – farmers are the key to the quality of our soil and therefore the taste and quality of our plants and grain.
Tell us a bit more about the flour you produce
We only mill single estate grain, so the provenance is paramount to us. We know Lynne and John Perkins who farm for us at the Dartington Estate very well, we’re down there all the time looking at the grain, looking at the soil. We invested in a Grain Cleaner for them – we are trying to support the food network and the agricultural industry by paying decent money and making really good products.
Our flour is made from 100% naturally grown non-synthetic grain, and all our products are organic (or in Organic conversion as of September 2020) and Vegan. We like to make sure it’s as fresh as it gets – stone ground, bagged and sent for delivery within 12 hours.
We mainly sell our flour as a product wholesale to restaurants and bakers, we work with Michelin star venues, including the Casamia in Bristol and deliver flour to them that’s particular to their needs.
As well as flour, you also produce pasta – can you tell us a bit more about that.
Durum Wheat is the traditional Italian wheat used in pasta making – but it happens that Emmer wheat has similar proteins, and Einkorn (this year’s star wheat) tastes amazing in dried pasta, that’s why we use them – they also have much higher levels of minerality and nutrition, than modern Durum wheat-based pasta.
Our pasta is unique – it’s not entirely unique in what we’re making it from, but the whole process is unique. We’re growing Einkorn and Emmer wheat, we mill that here on the premises, then we’re walking literally 4 meters and putting that fresh flour into the pasta machine and extruding the pasta from here. No one else in the UK is doing that.
What are the newest additions to your range, and where do you expect you’ll be taking it next?
We are making sourdough crackers with Kadode Kampot pepper and Biscuits – digestives and chocolate digestives.
All our products are born out of making sense of the grain system. We only use the wheat germ and bran in both the crackers (Totnes Honey, salt and olive oil) and biscuits (palm flower sugar, salt, butter and Sharpahm eggs (our only animal products). We will be taking it all to delis around the southwest.
Where would you like to see Fresh Flour in a years’ time?
Surviving and employing people who are struggling because our system doesn’t suit them.
We are working on some fermented products that I think will complement what we are doing, I’m really excited about that.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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