In 2009, Gilbert Williams and his business partner Gary Zimmer, founder of Midwestern BioAg, purchased a cleaning mill in Lone Rock, Wisconsin to process rye cover crop seed. As the news of the operation spread, more farmers brought their grain to be cleaned. Jeremy Lynch, a farmer and Gil’s then employee, now co-owner of Enos Farms, took some wheat and rye home to experiment and, using a coffee grinder, developed the wheat/rye blend that eventually became Lonesome Stone Milling’s most popular product, pancake mix. When the building adjoining the cleaning mill became available, Gil and his wife Judy invested in a 30” stone mill and their business expanded into that space.
You might recall seeing Gil in his classic suspenders and Got Flour? t-shirt in this Farmer Hero video from last summer when FarmAid hosted their festival in East Troy, Wisconsin.
After a decade of stone milling locally grown grain, Gil has built close relationships with the network of area grain farmers with whom he works, offering a market for their grain as well as “toll” milling, or processing grain under an individual farm’s own label for a fee. Gil was an early adopter to the concept of “identify preservation” and has advocated for the farmer partners he works with, starting by listing them on his website, packaging, and other promotional materials. In turn, that advocacy has built closer connections between consumers and the farmers growing their grain and told the story of the important role they play in stewarding the beautiful landscapes and rich soil that make Wisconsin’s Driftless Region so special.
And now, a new chapter begins for the Wisconsin local grain community as Gil transitions into retirement. Lonesome Stone has been toll milling grain for Meadowlark Organics, a farm in nearby Ridgeway, Wisconsin owned by Paul Bickford and Halee and John Wepking, for four years. Halee and John are currently in the process of building a mill on their farm to expand on the foundation Gil built. The goal of the new Meadowlark Community Mill is to strengthen relationships and markets for organic farmers throughout Wisconsin’s Driftless Region with the hope of connecting an even greater number of consumers, area businesses, and institutions with locally produced, organic stone ground grain. Gil will advise Halee and John on setting up their mill, which will open this summer.
From left to right: Paul Bickford, Larry Dammen, Dennis Dochnahl, Gilbert Williams, Dave Dolan, and John Wepking, at Lonesome Stone Milling in 2017.
Once the new mill is operational, Lonesome Stone will close its doors. As a homage to Lonesome Stone, Meadowlark Community Mill will continue to sell their own version of the wheat/rye blend pancake mix that so many consumers across the Upper Midwest have grown to love over the past decade. And the local grains family in Wisconsin is growing, as Meadowlark Community Mill welcomes Rink DaVee, long time local food advocate and farmer, to the team as head miller. Rink has years of experience growing, cooking, and distributing local food, and has a passion for baking and connecting consumers with their foods’ origin.
Tortilleria Zepeda, another grain-based business Gil has been working with in recent years, will be taking over the lease and storefront Lonesome Stone has occupied in Lone Rock. A passion project run by husband-wife team Heidi and Julian Zepeda, Tortilleria Zepeda offers locally-sourced blue, yellow, and white corn tortillas — learn more about them below.
Gil says he hopes to continue to act as a resource on regenerative agriculture, local processing, and grain marketing in his retirement, supporting the next generation of regional grain advocates. Please join us in thanking and congratulating Gil for his achievements, insights, and leadership over the past decade as a community miller and local grain evangelist. You can read a note from Gil on the mill’s transition plan on the Lonesome Stone Milling homepage. And for more on Lonesome Stone, check out this episode of Wisconsin Foodie from January 2015.