Frank Ford: Founder of Arrowhead Mills

In the following interview, Arrowhead Mills founder Frank Ford discusses his years-long struggle to establish a successful company, the early years of the natural foods movement, and the future prospects of organic agriculture.

| September/October 1974

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    After eight lean years, demand for Ford's stone ground flour began to grow significantly in 1968.
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    Frank Ford founded Arrowhead Mills in 1960.
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    In 1973 a religious experience helped Ford overcome a severe personal depression.
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    Arrowhead Mills now distributes at least 150 different food items.

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The story of Frank Ford and Arrowhead Mills is one of a man who is successfully swimming against a noxious tide. During the past 30 years, the legendary small family farm in the United States has been gobbled up by "progress" and transformed into something called agribiz, a mindless junkie with an ever-increasing need for an ever stronger chemical fix. This has generally been done in the name of efficiency and "cheap" food. 

Cheap, yes. Inexpensive, no. For—although the trade was made, at least on the surface, to seem reasonable when it began—the hidden costs of the bargain are now becoming all too apparent. 

In the poisoning of animals and people by excessive nitrate runoff from drugged fields. In the genetic damage still being caused by DDT residues. In the harm to farm workers and consumers from chemical pesticides and herbicides such as parathion and malathion. In the waste of five tons of coal to produce a single ton of concentrated, "hot" nitrogen fertilizer (while mountains of animal manure are used only to pollute streams and overload purification plants). In the attempts of the large petrochemical companies and other giant corporations to completely dominate agriculture in the United States and the rest of the world. 

A few "organic" farmers and health food "nuts", it is true, resisted the chemical industry's panzer attack from the beginning. But their outposts of reason were soon overrun and, for years, they were forced to steadily retreat and retrench. It is to their credit, however, that the toughest of these individuals continued to stand as much ground as they could ... even during the early 1960's, when all the big "smart" money was betting that the agribiz interests had won the war. 

Well, they hadn't. As we now know, a whole new generation—tired of watching our natural resources being raped, fed up with tasteless plastic food and suspicious of power concentrated in a few hands—has rushed to reinforce those few holdouts for the "organic" way of life. And it is altogether fitting that this surge of support has lifted some of those guardians of the natural ways of growing and processing food to a level of success usually only dreamed of by the money-grubbing agribizzers. 

And that's Ford's life story in a nutshell.

Fourteen years ago—when the chemical method of farming seemed destined to inherit the world—Ford began growing wheat on the high plains of Deaf Smith County in the northern panhandle of Texas. Deaf Smith had long been famous for its fertile soil, abundant trace minerals, and the general good health of its people. Frank, however, soon found that he could improve even Deaf Smith County grains if he grew them using "organic" methods.  

Ford also had his own ideas about how his grain should be processed. So he and a friend bought a mill and began stone grinding the wheat he raised and selling the resulting flour whole, with all the bran and wheat germ left in.  

Well, taking a stand for naturally grown and processed food was easy. Making such a stand economically viable was something else. The life that Frank had marked out for himself was rough going for the first six or seven years. He farmed in the summer from four in the morning until ten at night, and took construction jobs during the winter just to pay the bills and keep his tiny operation from going under.  

During that formative period, Ford personally did most of the growing, grinding, sacking, trucking, warehousing, shipping, bookkeeping and other work around the struggling company he had named Arrowhead Mills. Slowly, the investment of time, money and energy began to pay off.  

Today, Arrowhead Mills has blossomed into the country's largest natural foods wholesaler. Its four large warehouses—containing over 30,000 square feet of storage space—hold tons of food for shipment to a nationwide network of distributors. And the company continues to grow, faster than ever.  

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