by Allison Arnold | photography by Two Eagle Marcus
Alisa Crawford has always had a passion for history.
When she was 15, she began a summer apprenticeship at a local historical village where she learned various skills such as spinning, weaving and cooking on a wood stove.
One day when she was working in the bakehouse, she ran out of flour.
“I went over to the mill to get more flour, and I kept on watching that milling process and I was absolutely enthralled,” Crawford said.
She took an apprenticeship with the miller so she could learn the milling trade.
“I came to milling by being a baker first. I went from baker to miller,” Crawford explained. “I wanted to control the flour quality of what I was baking with and what better way to do that than to produce the flour yourself by being a miller. I didn’t pause to think or consider whether it was a job for a girl or not — I was raised to believe that I could grow up and be and do whatever I wanted to do as long as I worked hard.”
Alisa Crawford with the millstone at De Zwaan
In 2002, Crawford began milling at the De Zwaan Windmill in Holland, Michigan. De Zwaan, meaning swan, is a transplant from the Netherlands, the last original windmill allowed to leave the country after the Historic Building and Ancient Monuments Act of 1961 was passed in the Netherlands.
Crawford primarily mills wheat, but also a local, organic non-GMO corn and occasionally mills rye for a local brewery. She mills between 10 and 12 thousand pounds of wheat per year, and works with bakers, chefs, brewers and distillers.
Since the windmill is reliant upon wind in order to run, she only mills on days when there is enough wind to produce a yield.
She has to look ahead and watch the weather, then set up the windmill, which usually takes about two hours.
“The miller has always played a really essential role in the life of a community and the mill was also a place where a lot of people would come not only to have their grains ground, but because while they would wait for that process to happen, they would exchange the news,” Crawford explained. “I think it’s wonderful to still have the working mill and keep those traditions alive.”
“…through my own journey and my choices that I’ve made in life, I can be an example and a role model for other women and young girls; and if I can, then it’s a life well-lived.”
It wasn’t until 2006 when Crawford traveled to the Netherlands, that she decided to further her training as a miller. After much discussion, the Dutch Mill Society approved her to enter its training program. After studying two large books, all in Dutch, she passed the exam, becoming the first Dutch-certified miller in the Americas.
In 2009, a Dutch miller came to Holland, MI to review the DeZwaan mill and determine whether Crawford would be admitted into the Dutch Miller’s Guild.
“I was the first woman to be admitted,” she said. “There were 25 Dutchmen and myself when I was admitted. I think that it takes somebody really special and unique to fully embrace this and really want to do it as a profession, but I hope that we do see a further increase in the future, and maybe in some way, through my own journey and my choices that I’ve made in life, I can be an example and a role model for other women and young girls; and if I can, then it’s a life well-lived.”
This spring Crawford will be releasing volume two of her book, De Zwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill, and also gearing up for the season. De Zwaan is open for tours and flour can be purchased at the mill or via mail order.
Visit windmillisland.org for more information.