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HVADC Client Spotlight: Wild Hive Farm

Oct 15, 2019

The Hudson Valley kitchen table is said to have an overflowing cornucopia; abundant with fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and so much more… but not so much access to grains.

The Hudson Valley kitchen table is said to have an overflowing cornucopia; abundant with fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and so much more… but not so much access to grains. Enter Don Lewis—owner of Wild Hive Farm Community Grain Project in Dutchess County. Lewis has been working for almost a decade with HVADC consultants to bring high quality grain products from the Hudson Valley region where they are grown, to various markets. Wild Hive stone-grinds organic and heritage grains in small batches to provide fresh wholegrain products with a mission to create a sustainable regional “grain based” food system. 

Wild Hive Farm’s mission is to “promote sustainable agriculture in our region by promoting grain-based local agriculture. This mission is born out of  the local food movement and Wild Hive is committed to the production of locally grown and milled high quality flour. Wild Hive operates a flour mill using traditional stone grinding equipment. Wild Hive has received considerable recognition for its flour, which is milled in small batches from organic grain purchased from local and regional farmers. Wild Hive is significantly different from other flours in that it is fresher, with a taste and quality difference is appreciable and is highly regarded by top chefs and ‘locavores’ who prefer to cook and eat high quality locally sourced ingredients.” 

Organizations such as Cornell University Small Grains Breeding & Genetics have been working steadily to develop innovative approaches to refine plant genetics and breeding to produce superior crop varieties —however for the average consumer or even food producer wanting to incorporate those grains are challenged by how to obtain them. Lewis said he has been working closely with Cornell for the past five years and has enjoyed true success in developing several superior new wheat varieties.  

For more than two decades Wild Hive has been sourcing, testing, growing and milling regional grains to offer an impressive range of products from polenta to wheatberry to spelt dark flour, and more; whole live oats, farrow and a variety of beans and lentils. Wild Hive flours and products can be found in shops throughout the Hudson Valley for home baking, as well as ordered off his website. 

When Lewis engaged HVADC nearly a decade ago, he owned Wild Hive Farm Restaurant and Bakery in Clinton Corners, where he explained, he used to “showcase” the quality baked goods produced from the flours of his mill and local grains. Word of Lewis’ superior flour production began to circulate, and in 2009, Eataly, a large format/footprint Italian marketplace (food hall) in New York City comprised of a variety of restaurants, food and beverage counters, bakery, retail items, and a cooking school with locations all around the world, approached Lewis to test his flour products for their baked goods. “I found the right grains that were being grown in the region which I had access to and milled them appropriately to make the flours they needed to emulate the bread products from their “mother store” in Torrino, Italy,” said Lewis. “American flour wouldn’t produce that for them, and they looked at all the flour in the northeast but couldn’t find a product to do that. Someone remembered meeting me-- a wild crazy guy outspoken with a mill-- and found me. Later they accepted my test runs for the flour and were accepted at the bakery in Italy and that started our relationship.” Lewis began milling for Eataly’s many bakery locations.  

After working with HVADC consultant bakery Brian Zweig, founder and principal of founder of Business Opportunities Management Consulting in Rensslaer County, Lewis realized that he had an opportunity to close the restaurant and bakery in order to focus on fulltime flour production, which was his true passion and mission.  “I could see the public interest in local foods and a concept of local and regional grain-based food system – this was the main mission of the grain project.”  

“[Zweig] helped me a lot in creating appropriate business plans and helped me get direction into my priorities,” said Lewis. 

Lewis leveraged success and new knowledge from working with Eataly and has been applying it to new projects, such as his current project: producing specialty flour for producing bakery items for school systems in New York State, starting with the Buffalo school system.  

“[Zweig] is helping me with a close focus in the transition of securing capital for renovation for the mill– trying to relocate and renovate, and build-up a new plant floating in or around Dutchess County,” said Lewis. “The relationship with HVADC has been long lasting and been a tremendous help. [Zweig] is keeping a close watch on my numbers;  it’s really very important because it enables me to do more production, sales, and networking.” 

“HVADC has worked with Lewis to refine his business model that allowed the business to become profitable and pay off debt that had been accumulated in previous years.  One of the key components of this plan included changing the way he provided flour to his biggest customer, Eataly.  Eataly had just opened its first location in New York City and had plans to grow significantly.  It was impractical for [Lewis] to try to keep up with the demand for local flour with his limited milling capacity that was mostly manual.  Instead, he contracted with a new and modern mill to process the flour, with [Lewis] using his expertise to arrange for purchase of local grain, and had the flour produced to specifications that [Lewis] determined.  This allowed [Lewis] to ramp up production without a big investment so he could keep pace with demand,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson.

Since this is a change in Wild Hive’s business model, Zweig explained that he has been working with Lewis to monitor his financials on a regular basis. “[Lewis’]  plan was to leverage the steady and growing revenue from Eataly with new customers that are interested in using local flour in their products,” said Zweig. “… I have been working with [Lewis] to help him grow sales to new customers and secure an investment to provide the funding needed to keep the business running and support sales growth.” 

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Logo Source: Wild Hive Farm

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