Folding her hands together, Teresa Paul looks up. In response to my question about whether their family farm is more inclined towards promoting their business or their lifestyle, I’ve asked her to separate two sides of the same coin. As Teresa explains, they’re indivisible, and their family business is a benefit to their great lifestyle. For the Paul family, growing grains without chemicals, milling them into top-quality stone-ground flour, and inviting customers out to their idyllic family farm tucked into the rolling hills of central Iowa are embedded in the fabric of their daily life.
Steve Paul’s parents, Wayne and Betty Paul, started the farm in 1959 just outside of Laurel, situated midway between Marshalltown and Kellogg amongst the rolling row crops of Iowa. Wayne’s education in agriculture from Iowa State University taught him to farm corn and soybeans with chemical-input methods, which he pursued for several years. By 1964, however, with the influence and encouragement of a friend, Wayne felt that “God wanted him to create something less manipulated by man” and turned to chemical-free, organic methods of farming. After implementing crop rotations and applying organic fertilizers and other natural cultivation methods, they were convinced that they had chosen the right path, fulfilling their role as good stewards of the land.
All of their fields and grains are certified organic. Certification expenses made certifying their milling room unfeasible, thus, they promote their organic grains as “Chemical Free.”
2006 brought the opportunity for Steve and Teresa to carry on the family business. Luckily, the family members were, as Teresa tells me, “all created by the Lord with different interests.” Teresa acts as secretary and processes their online orders while her husband Steve mans the bookwork and mechanical jobs around the farm. Of their six children, the eldest daughter Abigail designed and created their website, Susanna mills their grains and also keeps bees and goats, Daniel accomplishes all their field work, and the two younger daughters help with bagging their flours and grains.
Devotion to their customers who depend on them for wholesome Iowa grains motivates their family business. As for their business philosophy, they simply aim, Teresa explains, “to produce a product as natural and wholesome as possible – as close to the unadulterated grain that God originally created – since it is healthier for our bodies.” In a state where the vast majority of crops are inedible to humans before extensive processing (and furthermore are frequently slated for animal feed rather than for human nutrition), the crops the Pauls nurture are unique.
Following their understanding of God’s desires includes improving the lives of their neighbors, as Matthew 23:37-39 insists: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. ” To promote the wellbeing of their fellow neighbors across the country, they feel that “part of loving our neighbor would be to provide products that are wholesome.” Amidst a food system that can be complicated and impersonal, the Paul family shows great respect for both the eater and the land, and promotes the connections between the two.
The family shares a wealth of information on their website, including recipes, photos of the farm, and tips for people with allergies to gluten and other foods. Unlike many businesses with online stores, the Paul family also comes face to face with many of their customers, who stop by the farm to pick up their orders. Surprisingly, about half of their customers place orders over the phone and pick them up themselves, directly from the farm. In this great example of the farm-to-table movement, the Pauls invite their customers onto their own home ground to see for themselves the people and environment that cultivated their food. The grains, raised naturally without chemicals, harvested by real people, milled by real people, packaged and sold by real people, benefit a real family.
The Pauls have a bounty of farmyard animals that children, students, and adults alike love to admire. Chickens, goats, beef cattle, cats, dogs, a dairy cow, and guinea hens flock the family farm. Patience, one of their two dogs, has been trained to herd the stubborn nanny goat, Clarinet, back into her pen after her daily escape. The guineas climb to a precarious roost in the trees every night, and the laying hens retreat into their coop for nighttime protection. Teresa tells me about evenings spent around a bonfire near the guineas’ tree, singing songs backed up by the guineas’ crooning. The lifestyle comes to this family naturally.
Customers also come naturally to Paul’s Grains. The business spends no money on advertising and depends on word-of-mouth to spread their name. Staying a small business is fine – and preferred – by the family: “If you get too busy, then it’s work,” Teresa explains. Although they’ve been encouraged by customers to sell their products at larger grocery stores, the Pauls prefer to maintain their close, personal connection with their loyal customers through their small family business, a situation they feel can only be found by keeping their business small.
Some customers come once a year, some every few weeks. Carloads of college students (such as those from the Grinnell College local foods buying co-op) and families drive to pick up their grains, eager also to visit a diversified family farm. Farms like these have become a rarity.
The demand for their grains has grown over time, through satisfied customers spreading the word to others looking for excellent, local foods. Though many of their original customers were individuals with a desire for a healthier lifestyle stemming from health problems, a more widespread interest in healthy eating is currently spurring the interest of a broader audience. Many come to them looking for food they can trust, unadulterated by chemical practices, from real people.
Return customers are a testament to the quality of their grains. Because their flours are milled-to-order and contain no preservatives, they taste fresher than most grocery store flours. In my own comparison of their whole wheat flour against another organic whole wheat flour from a large company in the Midwest, I found the Paul’s Grains flour truly to be more flavorful. In a raw state, their flour had a nutty flavor, while the other had very little flavor. In bread, their flour added an appealing, earthy taste to the loaves I made with it. In terms of freshness, Paul’s quite obviously has the upper hand.
Flours without preservatives (such as theirs) need to be refrigerated or frozen to maintain the stability of its oil. Flours that can sit around for a year and not go rancid, Teresa explains, probably contain preservatives. Customers, showing their conviction by becoming regulars, also tell the Pauls that they can taste the difference.
On a bit under a hundred acres of certified organic farmland, the Paul family grows spring and winter wheat, spelt, barley, corn, rye, soybeans, and buckwheat. They produce familiar items like cornmeal, pancake mix, oatmeal, and grits, and they offer a very broad variety of whole grains, fresh milled cereals, and fresh milled flours. A steel burr mill cuts their oats – steelcut oats retain more of their nutrients than rolled oats, which must be steamed first – and two stone grinders mill their flours. Their flours are milled to order, heat sealed, and almost immediately picked up or shipped. Combination packs of their hot cereals and their best sellers entice the curious customer. They also offer grains that they can’t meet the demand for or that can’t be raised in an Iowa climate – like rice, quinoa, and unbleached white flour (which must be processed more than whole wheat flour) – from other organic farmers.
In addition to their online store, Paul’s Grains are featured at Gateway Market in Des Moines, Henry’s Village Market in Homestead (near the Amana Colonies), Linn Street Market in Marshalltown, through the Farm to Folk CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share) in Ames, distributed more widely by United Natural Foods, Inc., and brought to the local public through farmers’ markets in Grinnell and Des Moines. Occasionally the family also offers their grains at street markets and craft fairs in central Iowa, posting on their website to inform their customers on where to find them.
The Pauls love the flexibility of their family farm schedule so they can get to know their customers. On their farm daily, amongst the animals, the grain crops, and their family, is a certain place to find them. Its farms like these that Iowa should be known for.
Orders can be placed online at paulsgrains.com or by phone at (641) 476-3373. They appreciate two days notice for pickup orders at the farm, which is located at 2475-B 340th St, Laurel