In the first episode of the new season of Bold Types, Boston Globe business reporter Janelle Nanos spoke with Andrea Stanley, a local small business owner building her own ecosystem.
As the co-founder of Valley Malt malthouse and Ground Up Grain flour mill in Holyoke, she supplies local brewers, bakers, and distillers with grains grown throughout the Northeast. Her work has allowed farmers in the region to devote more of their precious acreage to grains, helping to create a more local and sustainable supply chain.
Stanley started Valley Malt in 2010 after learning that local breweries were sourcing malt — a key ingredient in beer — from overseas. She and her husband Christian started sprouting malt for breweries in their basement, and eventually took over an old potato and onion barn in their hometown of Hadley. They began milling flour a few years later, running that operation under the name Ground Up Grain. Both businesses were seeing steady growth until the pandemic hit, upending global supply chains. Suddenly, the demand for locally-sourced products spiked, and their team went into overdrive. “We were ready for it,” she said.
The Stanleys had been looking to expand their operations, and found an old paper mill in Holyoke that suited their needs. The facility sits on the Connecticut River and runs on hydroelectric power, a renewable energy source that will keep the company’s electricity bills stable and matches the Stanleys’ sustainability ethos. The couple tapped Small Business Administration loans to help fund buildout, and when they open it this April, they’ll be able to store and process 1 million pounds of locally-grown grains at a time.
“It’s about being that middle person to really provide the farmer a market for what they can grow, but to also provide craft breweries to tell a story that’s not just about the stainless steel and the beer that they make, but that it’s part of a bigger ecology of supporting local farms,” Stanley said. “The money that they spend with Valley Malt is part of a more circular economy, where everything is staying and being reinvested.”
The new facility will increase the company’s production capacity, and local farmers have already begun planting more barley, rye, winter wheat, and oats in anticipation. It’s all part of the greater mission of Valley Malt and Ground Up, which is to not just help the local economy, but local ecology as well.
Growing local grains is not only an additional source of income for farmers, it helps fight erosion and keeps nitrogen in the soil so it won’t leach into water systems. And by operating within a smaller distribution area, it means fewer greenhouse gases are emitted during deliveries. Once the facility is up and running, the Stanleys plan to deploy a fleet of electric delivery vehicles to distribute their grains throughout the region.
“Agriculture in the Northeast is different from agriculture in the rest of the United States. We don’t have a lot of land, but we have a lot of rich land, and we have to learn to create markets for farmers to grow things that are profitable for them, but also contribute to more regenerative practices,” Andrea Stanley said. “It’s great to be able to look at something like a beer and know that all of our hands touched that thing, and to be able to know that part of their story is what we were able to provide, in our little piece of the ingredient.”