Pedal Power Flour

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I made my first pedal power flour mill in 2001 while living in a big group house in college. I first bought a hand-grind flour mill simply because I thought it would be poetic and lovely to watch whole grains turn into flour. Flour is such a ubiquitous food item, and yet plenty of folks don't have any idea where it comes from.

We did so much baking in that house--from bread to pie to pizza dough--that I could often hear the mill grinding while I was busy in my room studying Rousseau, Marx, or Thoreau. In fact, one day in the kitchen I noticed that someone's Karl Marx Reader found its way onto the cook book shelf, which made for quite the entertaining image. Would anyone like some revolution for dinner?

The second bicycle mill I made was for The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA. And the third was bartered away in exchange for lovely accommodations at an artist retreat.

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Conversion to Pedal Power

The conversion of a flour mill from hand-power to bicycle-power is not as complicated as it may seem. I had a machinist make a pulley, which he then mounted to the wheel. Next, I added a v-belt and built a wooden base for tension and stability.

If you want to take a crack at making a bicycle-powered flour mill yourself, this DIY article by Jack Jenkins is a must read. The mill I used is the Country Living Grain Mill and it's great for converting to bike use because it already has a large iron wheel with a groove for the v-belt. It's also available via Amazon.com with free shipping. There is also a wooden handle you can attach to the wheel to grind by hand.

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Special Flour Sacks

When I'm not grinding flour at home to bake cookies, I sometimes take the bicycle mill out for demonstrations around town. It appeared at the Velocipede Mania show at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland, CA way back in 2007. I designed a special cotton flour sack on the occasion of that exhibit and folks ground their own flour and took it home in one of our hand-silkscreened sacks.

Flour sack reuse has a wonderful history, which you can read a bit more about via our Changing Clothes project. The original "pedal power" sack design was inspired by the vintage sack (see photos below) in my collection. After a 1930s mom used up all the flour, she would cut out the doll pattern and stitch a toy for her child to play with. My sack makes a little stuffed bicycle about four inches long. A lego man could ride it, or it makes a great pin cushion.

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Cookies with Spokes

For a special one-night art show, I also exhibited bicycle wheel cookies that I made with flour from the pedal powered grain mill. Fresh flour has much more flavor than store-bought flour--even if it's the whole wheat variety--so it's wonderful for baked goods. Thanks to Anastasia from Indie Cakes in Berkeley for giving me a quick tutorial on icing piping!

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Lea Redmond is always looking for the poem hiding inside things: a salt shaker, a clothes tag, a hand gesture, a cloud. She is infinitely intrigued by the way experiences can slip from the ordinary to the extraordinary and she endeavors to design things that hold this possibility. Leafcutter Designs, her creative studio in Berkeley, CA, makes the world more playful and peaceful one little experience at a time.

2 Comments

  1. Sylis Weaver

    April 19, 2014 at 3:20 am

    Your web page is so awesome, it is warming my heart..
    I coordinate the kitchen at a Summer Solstice gathering near Collingwood Ontario, Canada. We feed about 1200 for a week and this year I want to add a bicycle powered mill to our kitchen. We are planning on making thousands of energy balls this year to offer as a perpetual snack you can have between meals. Can you tell me the average cost of building a Bike powered grain mill? Are you based in the U.S?

    Best Regards,
    Sylis Weaver

    • Lea Redmond

      May 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Hi there – thousands of energy balls, wow! That sounds amazing. It’s fairly simple to convert a Country Living Grain Mill to bicycle power. The mill will cost you between $300-$430 depending on whether you find a used one on eBay like I did, purchase a “blemished” imperfect one from Country Living (send an email to ask if they have any), or purchase one brand sparkly new. Then find an old exercise bike, maybe $50 USD on craigslist or at a yard sale like I did. Then I think I paid a machinist about $50 or so to make the pulley and mount it to the front wheel. The V-belt is $10 or something like that. Hope this helps – good luck! If you built one, I’d love a photo!

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