When my cousin asked me if I remembered the old flour mill where our grandparents used to buy flour, it brought back a flood of memories. We both wondered if it was still in business and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before we were headed back to Greenfield Mills. It is located just outside of Howe, Indiana, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere.
When we were kids, our grandparents would make a trip down there once or twice each month to buy the “New Rinkel” flour that made everything Grandma baked taste out-of-this-world. What we especially remembered was the buckwheat pancakes. You haven’t tasted pancakes until you have tried them.
Greenfield Mills has been in the Rinkel family for more than 100 years, and we had the pleasure of meeting Dave Rinkel, the fourth generation of the family to run the mill. At one time small wheat mills dotted the countryside, but today there are only a handful left in the country.
Then we were treated to a tour of the old mill and got to meet the rest of the crew. His wife, Mary, takes care of the office, his son James runs the mill, his daughter Amanda handles the publicity, and Dave takes care of the marketing, delivering, and just about anything else that needs done. This is truly a family affair.
The mill is the oldest commercial water-powered mill in Indiana and is one of the smallest electric companies in existence. First, Dave showed us the generator and explained that it produces enough power to run two mills and 11 homes. Dave reads the meters, maintains the lines, sends out the bills, and he is also the one they call when the power goes out. When everything is going great, they have extra power they sell to the grid, but when they are down they have to buy from the grid.
The mill consists of four floors and is actually three mills in one, producing white flour, wheat flour and buckwheat flour. The flour is guaranteed fresh as there is never any inventory except what is in the store. It is milled one week and delivered the following Monday, with Dave doing all the deliveries himself.
Things were looking up as we learned we could still buy our buckwheat flour. Imagine our surprise, though, when we learned that buckwheat really isn’t wheat but comes from grinding seeds of a flowering plant. Besides tasting great, it is naturally gluten-free and is a natural antibiotic. Something that tastes good is actually good for us!
The mill boasts some impressive construction. Some of the sheeting boards measure 32 inches in width and are anchored with square nails and wooden pegs. Some timbers used in the construction weigh close to five tons and required a 40-pound mallet to pound the pegs in place.
On the third floor, five 50-foot, hand-hewn white oak beams support the roof. Each level has different hardwood floors and the fourth floor has had many uses over the years. It was a dance hall on Friday nights, a basketball court on Saturday nights and served as a church on Sundays.
Then we got a tour of the new mill, just down the road from the old mill. It produces the same amount of flour in one large room that the old mill produces on four floors. Until the late 1980s, this mill ran full time producing flour to bread Kentucky Fried Chicken. After Colonel Sanders’ death, the recipe was changed and no longer used the soft winter wheat flour milled there. Today it is certified organic and only organic flour is ground here.
Like everyone else, the Rinkel family tries to find a niche to put them one step ahead of the competition. In 2004, they started making flavored pancake mixes made with whole wheat flour. They currently have nine flavors and an electric griddle sets right beside the new machine so they can taste-test every batch. What a tough job that would be!
Before we left there was one nagging question I had to ask: Why did they call it “New Rinkel” flour instead of just “Rinkel”? No one knows for sure but Dave told us the two theories. The first reasoning was when Dave’s great-great-grandfather bought the business there was a new wrinkle in the flour business and the second explanation goes that a great aunt was born at the same time and there was a new Rinkel in the family. Either way, the “new” stuck.
Dave and his family have witnessed a lot of changes through the years. Being so close to the Michigan line, the mill has been in two states and two counties even though the mill has never physically moved. It all depended on what political party was in office at a given time.
As for my cousin and myself, we walked away with a warm feeling. We had visited a place in our past that was still a viable family business producing a wholesome product. We could already taste those buckwheat pancakes for breakfast.
10505 East 750 North
Howe, IN 46746