Dusted head to toe in flour, Nigel Moon is a white apparition as he scuttles up and down wooden ladders, keeping his windmill whirring to feed a growing appetite for flour made the old way.
The windmill, on the edge of Whissendine village in the undulating countryside of Rutland in central England, was built nearly two centuries ago but had stood abandoned since 1922 until Moon resurrected it about a decade ago.
He is part of a movement to make flour the traditional way: powered by wind, ground by stone. A miller for more than 30 years, he says business has never been so good.
Mounting demand for goods produced sustainably and a taste for food free of additives or preservatives are bringing traditional milling back into vogue.
“People are buying it not as a novelty but as part of their daily lives, it’s completely changed,” he said.
“Years ago it was a souvenir bag, it was just sort of a novelty on a Sunday afternoon. But now you get people coming in and they’re baking regularly. This morning I sold seven sacks of flour just like that.”
His mill turns out about two tons of flour, in a wide range from white to wholemeal, each week. Prices are higher than the mass-produced equivalent from grocery stores—for example, 1.5 kg (three lb) of strong bread flour costs 1.15 pounds ($2.30) at the Whissendine windmill versus 63 pence at supermarket Tesco.
The thousands of windmills active in 19th-century Britain dwindled after the First World War, replaced by roller technology and imported flour from the United States, said Nick Jones, chairman of Britain’s Traditional Cornmillers’ Guild.
The guild, established in 1987, now lists 28 members as people restore old mills and put them back in business.
“Traditional mills are picking up, both wind and water,” Jones said. “There is a renewed interest in the end product.”
Moon said for every 32 kg of flour made in a factory about half a kg of carbon dioxide emissions are generated.
Pollution from his mill will be negligible when it is fully powered by the wind, but at the moment he still relies on a small motor as he continues the refurbishment begun in 1996.
Although environmental concerns are important for Moon, they were not his original motivation to go into milling.
“Why climb mountains? It’s just one of those things,” he said. “I always wanted to run a windmill.”
A poem about windmills by 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is tacked up on a wall near Moon’s entrance:
Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.
Moon nods approval: “It sums it up to a tee. I’ve known it since I was a child. It was the only bit of poetry I could stand.”