Business

Cochran woman turned milling her own wheat into business

The foundation of Ginger Butts’ company, Back to the Basics 101, came from wanting to improve her children’s health.

The heart of the small business is grinding whole wheat into flour for a natural product which she sells to the public, schools and restaurants. Butts also teaches others how to bake with whole grains, and she sells mills, mixers and other supplies for whole-grain baking.

She runs the business from her home outside Cochran where her husband, Johnny, and his father farm about 750 acres of wheat, soybeans and cotton.

Back to the Basics 101 is about three years old but got its start about 15 years ago.

“When my boys, Cody and Kyle, were younger, they were both diagnosed with asthma and they were on heavy duty meds, steroids, and I just couldn’t stand it,” said Butts, 50. “As a follower of Christ, I looked to the Lord for answers. I cried out to God asking for wisdom and basically he gave me wisdom to treat them nutritionally, and that’s when I began milling grain.”

She began making healthier food choices for her family and making her own baked goods.

“We ... didn’t do any dyes, any sugars. Nothing was processed. Everything was back to the basics, and God healed them,” she said.

She quit her job at Robins Air Force Base in 1998, when her boys were 2 and 4, to be at home with her children and to home school them. She began learning ways to better feed her family by “eating something from plants instead of something made in a plant,” she said.

“I would drive to an organic farm in Irwinton, 70 miles round trip. I would pick the produce and I would come home, clean it and prepare it. It was an all-day job. I don’t do anything a little bit. It’s a blessing and curse.”

Butts met people at home-school conferences who sold grains and learned how to use a residential mill.

She also has learned a lot about wheat, such as the fact that whole wheat grain is comprised of the bran, middlings, wheat germ and wheat germ oil.

The wheat her husband grows is soft, red wheat like what is planted from Georgia to Ohio. It has low protein and is good for pastries, muffins, brownies, waffles, pancakes and cookies. She said her wheat flour can be used in recipes in place of all-purpose flour, cup for cup.

But bread needs to rise, so it needs high-protein wheat, which is grown in the Northwest. So Butts orders that wheat for other people who mill their wheat or for her business customers who want the higher-protein flour she mills.

Business includes classes

Butts had the name of her business before she had the business. She had selected Back to the Basics, partly because she felt that’s what she was doing -- going back to the way bread was originally prepared without additives.

However, that name was taken by another company, so a friend suggested adding “101” since part of her business is teaching others about a healthier lifestyle with whole grains.

For example, Butts explains bread and flour labels are often deceptive.

“When we say ours is whole wheat, this is the true virgin form of whole wheat flour, unaltered,” she said. You can’t get that in the grocery store wheat flour. If you really truly find 100 percent whole wheat, you should be looking in the refrigerator or freezer” because it has no preservatives.

Butts will give private consultations in her home about milling and baking with whole wheat, and also she teaches classes through Mossy Creek Soap Studio in Perry. The next class is Aug. 23.

She sells her flour and other products every Thursday at the International Farmers Market in Warner Robins. People can learn more about the classes or about buying whole wheat grains or flour by contacting Butts at Gingerb@backtothebasics101.com.

Butts keeps her business separate from her husband’s farm business and actually purchases wheat from him, so he’s one of her suppliers. Her sons, now 20 and 17, also are involved. Cody helps with the farmers market when he’s home from college and Kyle usually does the milling and delivery year round because “he’s got the flexibility being home schooled,” she said.

Wheat flour used at Schools, restaurant

Butts’ business really got going when Kathy Peavy, the nutrition director for Bleckley County schools, contacted Butts about using her wheat flour to make rolls for school lunches as part of a new initiative using locally grown products.

Bleckley County Elementary School was one of three Georgia schools chosen in the 2011-12 school year for a new Feed My School program sponsored by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

As part of the Feed My School program, during one week in the spring all lunches served in the school cafeteria would consist of 75 to 100 percent of Georgia Grown food. The Georgia Grown program is a marketing and economic development program developed by the state’s Department of Agriculture to help bring together producers, processors, suppliers and others with consumers to help agribusinesses grow. Butts became a member of the Georgia Grown program.

The schools also were asked to feature at least 30 to 50 percent of Georgia Grown food items for a month and encouraged to begin serving some of the same local food items in other schools in their districts.

Peavy knew Butts was grinding wheat for her family and contacted her about possibly providing it as an option for the school. The school sent out bid requests as required, but “no one else in Georgia responded,” Peavy said. “Ginger was it. ... We still place our food bids, and Ginger is the source. ... She has to compete for it. ... But she has found a niche. Other districts are purchasing from her now.”

The Bleckley school arrangement with Butts has included field trips to the farm so children can see wheat growing in the field. They can pick a stalk of wheat “and Oh, here’s a cookie made with her wheat flour,” Peavy said.

“I continue to purchase the flour from Ginger,” she said. “We make all our homemade yeast rolls with her flour. It’s a much healthier option.”

The arrangement has worked out well.

“It’s been a good fit,” Peavy said. “A business was formed that helps Georgia’s economy, it helps the school district and it helps the students.”

Butts’ flour also is helping a north Georgia restaurant and its customers.

Chef Austin Rocconi at Le Vigne restaurant at Mon- taluce Winery & Estates in Dahlonega uses her product now in nearly everything that requires flour.

Rocconi was attending a farmer’s showcase with the winery’s gardener about seven months ago in Atlanta, and someone dropped off a sample of Back to the Basics 101 wheat flour, he said.

“We played around with it and made some pasta and bread and got back in touch with her and placed an order,” Rocconi said. “We use it for cookies, biscuits (and) every sort of bread we make we use that flour in it. We’ve even used it for cakes, and we use it in conjunction with other flours, depending on the application we are using it for.”

He’s still using flour from the first order, “but from here on we’ll probably do 100 to 150 pounds a month,” he said.

“Ginger definitely found herself a niche doing the fresh flour, and it’s a great product,” he said. “She mills it right when you order it, so it’s only a couple of days old when it gets to you. It’s great.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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