By JOE HIGGINS Messenger editor Jun 7, 2015
What is Shagbark Seed & Mill? In short, it’s the realization of a dream.
Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger had a goal of impacting the local food system and economy in a positive manner. They wanted to help create a sustainable food economy through the use of grains and beans and they wanted to impact Athens and beyond.
Shagbark Seed & Mill is efforting that dream by processing raw food materials into products that can be marketed. In just a few short years, Shagbark has branded itself as a key name in regionally grown and produced bean and grain products that are high in nutrition and certified organic.
“We came here from different places, met and decided what was really important in our local food system is grains and beans because grains and beans account for the lion’s share — 94 million acres of corn are grown in the USA — of agriculture,” Ajamian said. “When we started, nobody was doing this as a local food system.”
This month, Shagbark Seed & Mill’s tortillas are being featured as the Product of the Month — a partnership created between the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks and The Messenger. The Product of the Month is sponsored by Ric Wasserman and The Pigskin. Wasserman is a big fan of Shagbark’s tortilla chips and is a former client of ACEnet as well as a current board member of ACEnet.
Shagbark’s tortillas are available for purchase at the Athens Farmers Market each Saturday. Those same tortillas are used in products at Casa Nueva, Village Bakery, Sol Restaurant and several food buggies in the area as well as a number of restaurants in Columbus.
The processing facility generates around two dozen products that can be found all around Athens and the Appalachian region. Prior to Shagbark, the production of organic pinto beans, popcorn and black beans was not happening on a regular basis, if at all. Shagbark created a market and a reason for farmers to grow different beans and grains by having a facility dedicated to the product, distributing the product and marketing the product.
More than 140 acres of land are cultivated to generate the raw materials needed to process the various products.
Although it’s meant a lot of hard work for Jaeger and Ajamian, the reward of seeing the company grow and have a positive economic impact in the region has been worth the effort.
Shagbark’s affiliation with ACEnet came as Jaeger and Ajamian were looking for space to test the machinery for the processing plant. It came also in the information and consultation they received from ACEnet personnel.
“As two people not only having no experience in starting a business let alone a food manufacturing business, let alone a mill in this kind of industry, we have needed a lot of technical assistance in understanding and learning business management and ACEnet has been one of the organizations in town to come to our aid,” said Jaeger.
Shagbark is considered a graduate of ACEnet now but it still returns to those roots now and then.
The information gained through time with ACEnet has helped Shagbark in its mission to affect the local food economy in a positive manner such as providing farmers with real returns on their work. Ajamian noted that some of the farmers have even been able to taste the fruits of their labor in Shagbark products and “that’s pretty cool.”