Friday was a big day for Bill Koucky. In the morning, he was one of five success-story speakers at the February 26, 2016 Farm Route to Prosperity Summit. In the afternoon, Bill was surprised to receive the NW MI Food and Farming Network Chapman Award, “Given each year to the person that shows unerring dedication, enduring fortitude, and embodies the exceptional pioneering spirit that is remaking American agriculture right here in Northwest Michigan.”
Here’s Bill’s story told in his own words earlier in the day:
“Good morning, my name is William Koucky and I am the owner of Grand Traverse Culinary Oils (GTCO) and Flours. About ten years ago I started growing canola for fuel production. I sold an old collector car that I had just restored and bought a tractor and combine. My kids were thrilled with the trade! I planted 20 acres and struggled to produce several tons of canola. I didn’t have a truck so I augered the canola from the combine through the sunroof of my VW station wagon. Made a mess but I had canola! I made it into oil and then biodiesel and put the biodiesel back into my tractor completing the circle. I learned that I needed to leave the farming to the professionals!!
Three years ago we opened GTCO making food oil and today we produce sunflower oil as well as the canola. We grew about 75 acres of canola last year and we used about 100 acres of sunflower. We grow and buy only non GMO seeds and the only canola we can process is canola we work directly with the farmers to produce since non GMO canola is not available on the market. Sunflowers are more readily available since there is no GM sunflowers and sunflowers are more widely grown in Michigan. Our canola oil and sunflower oil is 100% Pure Michigan grown in NW Michigan. They are available for sale in Meijer and soon, Whole Foods statewide.
This next year we will be looking to expand production with the launch of our refinery. Currently we only produce unrefined oil, the healthiest oil but it retains guns and waxes that make it inappropriate for some markets including the fryer oil market. We are excited to enter these new markets this coming year as our refinery launches.
We also produce stone ground flour. Currently we produce soft white pastry, buckwheat, corn, and emmer flour but our most important is the hard red spring which is a bread flour. We went against advice of all the experts and planted 20 acres two years ago as an experiment and rotation for the canola. We were told we wouldn’t be able to product the wheat with the characteristics that were required, high protein and a lower moisture. When I couldn’t find a naysayer that had actually experienced failure, we went ahead and gave it a shot. We produced very high quality grains, protein was above 14% and we had no issues with disease associated with moisture, I think this is due to the sandy soil and the dryer summers. We planted about 100 acres of wheat last year including 10 acres of emmer, an ancient wheat and Abenaki Calais Flint corn for milling which is a native American variety. We started with one brave farmer and now we are up to about ten. Our flour is now being used is several local restaurants and bakeries including 9 Bean Rows, Breadworks in Petoskey and the Culinary Institute here today. Frank Corola, owner of Zingerman’s Bakehouse just placed their first order. Sales have been very slow with the flour but on a recent visit to Detroit and the folks at the Eastern Market the prospects are looking better for our survival.
Lastly, we have been starting to work as a middleman for the new barley/malting industry. Since we have cleaning capacity we have acted as a contract cleaner for several farmers since the maltsters require clean, debearded barley and typically farmers don’t have this ability. That is where we stepped in and helped out this year and will in the future and will expand that service. We are also looking to get into the distillery industry more directly since stone ground flour to distill into whiskey is new to the artisan distillery industry but is getting much attention. We are also running tests on our own distillery using our grains for beverage use. We are licensed to produce ethanol as a fuel and are looking to convert the license to beverage this year. We are looking forward to working with our farmers to increase production of barley, rye, wheat, and corn for the distillery industry.
Springtime is always an optimistic time and we are excited to see how our winter crops are doing and look forward to planting in April.
Finally, I wanted to invite you all to our Grain Day sponsored by Crosshatch and hosted at my facility. The date is March 19th and we will be talking about building the grain economy in northern Michigan with several talks and a tour of the milling operation.”–Bill Koucky, 2/26/16