Foss: Old mill brought back to life

'With the steady increase of tons, we'll be hiring more people'
Mark Zimcik radios the grain silo at the Central Bridge feed mill.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mark Zimcik radios the grain silo at the Central Bridge feed mill.

Central Bridge is a quiet little community. 

But if you turn onto South Main Street, you’ll hear the humming and buzzing of machinery, the sounds of manufacturing and industry. 

A Schoharie County feed mill that was dormant for years has reopened and is steadily ramping up production and growing its customer base. Perhaps most importantly, it has brought new investment to the area — new jobs, tax revenue and opportunity. 

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At a time when American agriculture is struggling — when feed mills are more likely to close down than open up — the resurgence of activity in Central Bridge is something to celebrate. 

“I never dreamed in a million years that this place would be a feed mill again,” Mark Zemcik, a Central Bridge farmer who works at the mill part time, told me. 

This is Zemcik’s second stint at the mill — he worked there in the 2000s, and said he loves being back. He expects to be employed full time very soon, a happy result of the mill’s steady increase in production. In July, the mill produced 555 tons of bulk feed; in August, 658 tons.  

“With the steady increase of tons, we’ll be hiring more people,” said Colby Foland, the 30-year-old Carlisle resident who serves as the mill’s manager. 

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Which is great news for a county where local jobs are scarce and many residents commute to other Capital Region communities for work. 

Prior to becoming the mill’s manager, Foland worked as a utility technician for the agribusiness company Cargill Inc., driving back and forth to the Port of Albany. 

The mill was purchased and put back into service by the Gordonville, Pennsylvania-based company Hoober Feeds, and the facility has enabled the company to expand services to farmers in western Massachusetts, western Connecticut and southwestern Vermont.

It has also created jobs for Schoharie County residents — the mill employs about nine people — and new services for local farmers. 

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The mill tries to buy all of the corn used in its feed from local farmers, and many of the farms purchasing feed are locally based. 

“The community has been very supportive,” Foland said. “People like the idea of a local mill.” 

When the mill shut down in 2009, it was owned by the New Hampshire-based Blue Seal Feeds, which purchased the facility from the I.L. Richer Co. in 2008. 

Though popular with local farmers, “pressures on the dairy industry coupled with an abundance of locations forced a decision to shut down the Central Bridge location,” according to a 2009 Daily Gazette article on the closure. 

The mill reopened in January and has been manufacturing custom feed — feed made for a specific farmer, to suit his needs — ever since.

On Wednesday I walked around the property, taking in the stacks of feed bags in the warehouse and the large pipes through which the various ingredients of the feed travel. These pipes lead to a scale, where the ingredients are weighed and then sent to a mixer. 

We watched Zemcik operate the control panel for a few minutes, and then went upstairs to get a glimpse of the finished product dropping from the mash loadout bin into the Hoober Feeds truck below. The inside of the bin smelled sweet, and Foland explained that one of the key ingredients in the feed being readied for delivery was molasses. 

The Hoober Feeds mill is quite an operation, and it’s bringing new life to an area that could use it. 

As Zemcik observed, feed mills that have gone out of business are far too common, and until recently the facility in Central Bridge was just another shuttered feed mill. 

Now it’s an example of private investment creating new opportunities in Schoharie County and beyond, and with any luck we’ll see more of the type of thing in the years to come.   

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

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