What’s a Gristmill?

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Mills grind grain into flour and were historically important to communities. They were powered by cattle, slaves, water or windmills and typically located near a power source. Farmers bring in clean grain for milling and the miller takes a portion of the proceeds. Some communities still have working mills for local use or tourism.

A mill is a structure designed to grind grain into flour. Historically, gristmills were often a very important part of the community, with peasants bringing in the grit to be milled in exchange for a fee from the miller. Millers often earned their taxes in trade, selling or exchanging grain and flour with other villages and turning their mills into shops stocked with these goods. A handful of communities around the world continue to have working mills that are used on a local scale, even though most of the grain destined for flour goes to vast commercial facilities with high-tech milling equipment.

Flour mills have been around for centuries, since people have been using flour for a long time. The first flour mills were powered by cattle, slaves, water or windmills. Whatever method of power was used, the mill would have housed a huge millstone onto which grain would have been poured for the purpose of grinding it into flour. Typically, a mill would be cited near a power source such as a river.

The structures of a mill, ancient or modern, are designed to house clean grain, also known as grain. The wheat has been threshed to remove its outer shell and sieved to remove the chaff, meaning every part of the grain is edible. In some cases, a mill has facilities to clean grain, but typically farmers are required to clean their own grain, bringing in prepared grain for milling. For modern businesses, this significantly reduces shipping costs, as there is no reason to ship useless straw along with usable grain, although some mills clean the grain on site and burn the chaff to fuel the mill.

Flour mills are also known as corn mills and flour mills, referring to their primary function. Depending on the community, flour mills historically could handle a wide variety of grains, including wheat, corn, and rye. Once the grain had been ground into flour, the miller would take a portion of the proceeds, leaving the farmer to take the rest; some farmers have chosen to sell their flour through the miller, giving him a percentage of the proceeds in exchange for handling the transaction.

In communities where there are working old mills, tours are commonly offered to people who would like to explore. Such mills may be used commercially or for tourist demonstrations only, with staff who can provide historical information and discuss how the mill’s equipment works. Visiting the site of a mill, even when it is not in operation, can be very interesting, as such sites offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

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