Bulk grain is a classic preparedness storage food because it has a great shelf. Whether you're buying quinoa, rice or other gluten free grains, or stocking up on wheat berries for delicious homemade bread, buying grain in bulk is a great way to save money, too. Food prices are only likely to increase and bad weather and increasing demand put more pressure on food supplies, so stocking up your pantry now makes sense.
I originally wrote this back in 2011 after organizing a very large bulk grain buy directly from the mill. This is a great option if you have a large group that you can pull together for a grain buy, and don't have a buying club in that already includes bulk grain, or would simply like to take advantage of the best bulk grain pricing.
To make this a little more user friendly for those who are in a hurry, I'll start out with my top 10 “lessons learned/things to avoid” when organizing a bulk grain buy, tips for bulk grain storage and a short list of companies that I or friends have ordered bulk grain from at one time or another. Then I share the crazy grain buying saga for those who want to know all the details.
12 Tips for Ordering Bulk Grain
- Check out your supplier, and make sure they are reputable.
- Get shipping estimates, and check weights, and make sure they know you are a residential delivery. This seemed to be a HUGE problem area for my shipment.
- Have folks prepay for their order, even if you don't deposit the checks until the grain is received. I let one person skip prepaying, and I barely got the check in time to cover the credit card payment for the order.
- Try to get folks to submit their orders in a format that matches the order form that you will need to fill in. If possible, get everyone ordering from whatever order form is used by the company.
- Put individual orders in a spreadsheet, and check off payments as they come in.
- Get a copy of your invoice ASAP, as soon as you submit your order to the company, before the products ship, to confirm that you actually got what you ordered.
- Double and triple check with the shipping compan(ies) to confirm order date and time.
- Print out a master list of all items on the order and have it on hand when unloading to confirm that every thing has shipped.
- Print out two copies of individual orders, one to pack with the sorted order, and one to keep in reserve for you to check off orders as they are picked up.
- Plan for storage of your grain and other items. First, for the entire order when it comes in, then for long term storage of your items.
- You may want to charge a nominal fee for your time spent coordinating the order. This ate up a lot of hours, and I really wish I had known in advance how much time it would take. You may also end up eating extra costs, depending on who you order with, so just know what you're getting into.
- If you allow people to split larger quantities (share a 25# bag of dried peas, for instance), don't be surprised if you end up with odds and ends to fill out those splits. either that, or be willing to talk someone else into taking them, or tell people they can't have what they want, which makes them grumpy.
How to Store Bulk Grain
Grain and other dry goods keep best cool and dry, between 45 and 65 degrees F in tightly sealed containers. Organic Gardening and Homesteading offers good storage guidelines:
Try to keep your grain away from areas that are high in humidity. If you plan on storing your grains in the garage or a shed, set your containers on boards so they won't be in direct contact with concrete or the ground.
Also, keep your grains away from bright lights.
Food Storage Tip on Keeping the Bugs Out
Sorry, but it's true: All wheat has tiny insect eggs that – if left untreated – will eventually hatch into insects that will eat you out of your food supply. When storing bulk grain and other dried foods, you will need to keep the oxygen out to keep the insects from growing. Store your grain in buckets with new lids and seals. It will keep the insects from growing. You will also need to take further steps to kill all insect life in your grain. There are three good ways to do this:
Before storing bulk grain, first fill most of your 5-gallon container and place a section of a brown paper bag on the grain. On top of that, set one fourth of a pound of dry ice. Press the lid gently down on the container so that some of the air can escape. When the dry ice has completely evaporated, remove the brown paper and seal the container. The carbon dioxide released from the dry ice should kill all animal life in the container.
When storing bulk grain, keep it in your freezer and it will kill all the live insects. Unfortunately, it won't kill the eggs, so freeze your wheat and then leave it out at room temperature for 30 days. Then refreeze your wheat. This should kill any insects that have hatched since the last freeze.
I love this stuff. It's simply amazing to use when storing bulk grain. Diatomaceous earth won't hurt people or animals who ingest it, but for bugs it's like eating a steady diet razor blades. The little guys internally bleed to death and die. Okay, let's hear one loud, collective ewww! But heck, the little critters are so small, you'll never notice them anyway, and this is a safe, simple and organic way to get rid of bugs when storing bulk grain. It's also a good way to clear your system of parasites, so eating a little of it not only won't hurt you, it might also be good for you! (Just don't breathe it!)
For each 5-gallon container, put one and one fourth cup of diatomaceous earth. Then seal the container and roll it around until the dust is evenly distributed.
For smaller quantities, I also employ vacuum sealing in five pound increments. No air = no bugs. Please do take steps to prevent infestation – it is not pleasant. I lost the first bulk grains that I ever purchased to weevils. Ugh!
It is generally much less expensive to buy your grain in bulk and repack it yourself in food grade buckets. For extended storage, you want grain with a moisture content of 10% or less. Freshly threshed “field grade” grain has a moisture content of 14-16% and must be dried. Natural Way Mills specifically dries their grains for extended shelf life (as will most quality bulk food suppliers). Adding oxygen absorbers to your bulk food storage will also extend shelf-life, as oxygen leads to rancidity. No oxygen = no oxidation.
- Vacuum Sealer
- Oxygen Absorbers
- 5 Gallon Storage Buckets
- Gamma Lids – These are the bomb for easy opening and closing of 5 or 6 gallon buckets
- Mylar Storage Bags
Emergency Essentials offers excellent prices on storage buckets, oxygen absorbers and just about everything else you need for long term food storage. I checked them out and compared them with other preparedness sites, and their prices and selection are some of the best I found, so I decided to join their affiliate program, which means I get a small finder's fee if you click through my links to purchase at their site.
Bulk Grain Suppliers That I Have Purchased from in the Past
BePrepared.com – Shipping charges of between $6-12 to ship anywhere in the lower 48 states. Order what you want, when you want it, delivered to your door.
UNFI – United Natural Foods – must order through a buying club. Shipping charge based on total order volume.
Country Life Natural Foods – Free delivery on their trucks to established routes in Michigan, Northwest Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. MINIMUM ORDER REQUIREMENTS: There is a $400.00 minimum order ($500.00 for certain routes where indicated). Special arrangements for orders of $350.00 (or $450.00 for designated routes) can be made but will be charged a $20.00 surcharge. Orders smaller than $350.00 ($450.00) cannot be delivered by their trucks.
Azure Standard – 8.5% shipping charges, monthly drop offs at predetermined locations around the U.S.
You may also be interested in:
- Prepping Food Storage – Top 10 Foods to Stockpile
- Getting Started With a Home Grain Mill
- Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out
Organizing a Bulk Grain Buy – My Experience
Several friends were interested in getting in on a bulk grain order, but no one really had an urge to organize it, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I've never done this before, and I'm going to admit, after this experience, I'm not in a rush to do it again. That said, it is indeed a bit like giving birth. It was painful at times and the bad parts seemed to last forever when they were happening, but now the “baby” is here and is good, the bad memories are fading, and the good ones are taking their place.
It all started back in May with discussions about where to order. I decided to try Natural Way Mills due to their product quality (everything is organic), pricing (even with shipping, the price was good), and a strong recommendation from a friend who had been a part of another bulk order group about an hour from here that had purchased from them for some time.
The first thing I did was to send out a general information email with a link to the site I intended to order from, asking if people I know would be interested in a bulk purchase. To get bulk rate shipping, you need to fill a pallet, which is 2500 or 2400 pounds, depending on where it is delivered (more on this later). I had a lot of people respond that they were interested who never ordered (don't count on orders until the money is in). The majority of my orders came from friends who had said in advance that they would order, and friends of friends with large families who had heard about the order through the grapevine. I based my decision to order on the large number of people who responded that they were interested, but without the “friends of friends” we never would have filled a pallet, let alone two. Based on the recommendation of the friend who had previous experience with Natural Mills, I set the shipping rate at 12 cents per pound.
On June 13, I sent out the following email:
Their prices are listed here: http://www.naturalwaymills.com/pdf/nwmills2011.pdf. Shipping will cost an additional 12 cents per pound. (chart with charges)Orders will be accepted until Friday, June 24, 2011 and must be prepaid.If you wish to place an order, please submit your check to me for the amount of grain/seed plus S&H by June 24. I was planning on having the checks payable to me (Laurie Neverman), and then paying for the order by credit card, to speed up the processing. Once the order is placed (probably June 27th) it will arrive in one to two weeks. I will hold the grain for pickup at my home. I figured this will give more flexibility in pick up times than trying to coordinate with a business. (Lead time is typically around 2 weeks, but it may ship in a week. Once our order is placed they will be able to check inventory and confirm delivery estimate.)Prices are current unless they need to get more stock in of something and there is a dramatic price jump. If there is a major price change up or down, I will contact you directly with the information.We are aiming for just under 2500 pounds total. This is the amount that can ship on one pallet, and will keep the shipping costs in line with the listed charge.My home address is: ####Home phone is: ###This is my first time coordinating one of these, so bear with me. You may contact me or Natural Mills with any questions. (contact info for Natural Way Mills)
In retrospect, I should have included a preferred order format that matched the order form on the Natural Way Mills website, so it would have been easier to cut and paste orders into the spreadsheet I used to track them in as they came in. I spent a lot of time sorting and retyping. In a few instances, names and product numbers didn't match, so I needed to contact and confirm the order. I found out that buckets did count for shipping weight, and they were stacked on top of a pallet. Natural Way Mills was very prompt in their responses to my inquiries. They said that needed two weeks lead time for orders, but often shipped in under a week. They said that the current cost per pallet to my area was $225 as of 6/13/11. Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly…
And then it got a little more complicated….
People only wanted part of bag, not an entire bag, so could I arrange splits? It was a dear neighbor who first asked, so of course I agreed, but, like everything else, it took extra time. Organizing this order took A LOT OF TIME. It literally consumed hours, sometimes entire days. As we crept closer to the order deadline, I decided to double check the shipping as it looked like we were going to go over the pallet amount, and I hadn't even put my order in. It's a good thing I did, because two significant price changes came up that had not come up before. Here's the quote:
The first quote is: 2,400# $144.52 + $140.75 for residential/lift gate= $285.27, then if there is an extra pallet it would be $145.00 after those fees – so for 2 pallets it would be $430.27.
for 2,500# I received a quote for $412.00
for 5,000# I received a quote for $582.52
Notice – “residential/lift gate” is only 2400#, not 2500#. This had never been mentioned before. At this point, I already had over 2400#, without my order or the orders of a couple of close friends who I knew wanted to order but had just been delayed with family issues. Both quotes were higher than the initial quote, even though gas prices had gone down at this point. The second price quote was a lot higher, so there was no way we'd come in under budget with the S&H I had added to people's initial order. I decided to push to fill a second pallet to cover the shipping so everyone could get their order in. After a wild weekend, we ended up with an order 3544 pounds of grain, flour, sugar, salt and other items that was submitted on Tuesday, June 28, 2011.
One question came in from Natural Way Mills – Could we take 50# of quinoa instead of 45? Sure. They confirmed the total cost of the order and I paid by credit card on 6/30/11, but they didn't send a copy of the final invoice. Hmmmmmm…I had asked to be contacted when the order shipped, but it was a week later and I still hadn't heard anything, so I contacted them on 7/6/11. Why yes, the order had shipped the day before.
Hello, it did go out yesterday and the pro# is ###### – it shipped with Miracle Express -their phone # is 1-800-642-4618.
I would imagine it will be there tomorrow, but you can call them and have them give you a better estimate on time.
Around this time I start double checking my numbers versus the final bill from Natural Way Mills, and I realize things aren't adding up. There's around $80 in extra cost that I can't account for. I contact those who have ordered, and let them know there were additional costs and that the order was expected the next day. Most people were fine with paying a little extra if needed, but some were unpleasant. Half a dozen people planned to show up to help with the unloading. I contacted Natural Way Mills and asked for a copy of their invoice, to see if I could track down the price discrepancy. They started emailing it a page at a time – and then part way through realized some major errors had been made and stopped sending. The next day they sent a new copy. I then realized where the mistakes had been made.
My original order had 5 pounds of 216 Southern Wild Rice Blend at $3/lb. The invoice lists 25 lbs shipped for $75. My original order had 6 pounds of 612 Redmond salt at $1.45 per pound. This invoice listed 12 pounds of salt for $17.40. The response from Natural Way Mills:
If you notice on your original order that you turned in – you have QTY and SIZE – then TOTAL WGT – we do not have 1# bags of certain items – it is 2# or more on most of these – so as an example – you have 5 for QTY Southern Wild Rice Blend and then in total weight 5#, which was assumed that you wanted 5/5# – it should have said 1 in QTY and then 5# in SIZE/LB, then total weight as you have it. Same with the salt – we do not sell it in 1# – we sell it in 2# – – so you will receive 6/2#.
I challenge you to decipher this from their pdf price listing. We certainly didn't. How this justifies five 5# bags of rice I have no idea. (I did send a detailed note to Natural Way Mills offering suggestions on how to make their order form clearer to new customers.) Anyway, I started emailing to find homes for the excess while I waited for the truck – which never showed up that day. Emails and phone calls were coming in from people expecting to help sort or pick up their grain, and no truck. I had called the shipping company on Wednesday and they had said to expect it between 8am and noon on Thursday. Around 11am Thursday, I called them again, and they gave me the number of the subcontractor that they had transferred the load to, N&M Shipping. I called N&M Shipping, and was informed rather rudely that they only had a limited number of lift-gate trucks for residential deliveries, so I should have never been promised a delivery that day. She transferred me to appointments, where I left a message with my name, pro number and phone number.
I called again at 1:45 and once again got the answering service, which told me they were in the office from 8:00 am to 5:00pm (but apparently don't answer their phones or check messages). Now, here's where I admit my one major screw up – I put the wrong phone number in one email, and of course that's the one that ended up on the order. So I'm told that the shipping company had been trying to reach me since late morning, but couldn't get through. Of course, when appointments finally checked their messages after 4pm, they found the correct number that I had left three times and were able to reach me. When I finally spoke with the reasonably pleasant lady from appointments, she told me that even if they had been able to make contact earlier in the day, they simply didn't have any trucks available until Monday, so the grain would have to sit in the warehouse in Neenah until then. She assures me that the driver will call when he leaves the warehouse, so I have time to contact the people who are coming to unload.
Okay. Lots of phone calls and emails, and I've got people lined up to help unload Monday morning in the 90+F heat with high humidity. Monday comes, I'm waiting for the call…and waiting, and starting to get nervous. Finally, the phone rings. It's the driver, and he's in Stangelville, which is all of about two minutes from my house. ARgh! Two quick phone calls to the closest friends, one quick email to everyone else, and I'm out waving him into the driveway. He just now noticed the instructions to call ahead.
Would you like a healthy dose of irony? Please check out the writing on the side of the truck.
It says, “On time. We guarantee it.” errr…sort of…unless there's a miscommunication and we don't actually have a truck available.
The driver backs up and prepares to unload, and the closest friend shows up with her awesome kids, ready to help. (Thanks, Lisa!) Here's our two pallets, one full of grain, the other with grain, buckets, etc. Here's “the big one” – roughly 2400#.
Lisa stepped in and got the kids sorting right away (confession: my boys got overwhelmed with all the commotion and had no idea what to do).
Important note: If there is any damage to the product when it arrives, you must have the driver note the damage on the Bill of Lading (BOL) before they leave, otherwise you will not be reimbursed for any damaged product. (Even with the notes the driver made and photos, this is still questionable. I submitted a copy of the FOB, plus photos, plus weights of the damaged packages, and still have yet to hear anything positive back other than, “We will submit the claim.”) We could see grain and flour leaking as the pallet was unloaded.
One bag had been taped with duct tape – I'm not kidding.
The freight company said it had come from the mill this way, the mill said they never would have shipped that. All I know is that this is what it looked like when it arrived, and I've got a dozen witnesses to prove it.
We had to tape a bag of wheatberries that lost about five pounds all over the truck and my garage floor.
While Lisa and the kids and another “dropped off son” (thank you, Joe) sorted in the garage, my friend, Tami, and I started on the splits inside. What we found to work best was measuring in my gallon pitcher and then pouring into containers. Here's Tami, hard at it.
Soon nearly every available surface was filled with grains and legumes.
Lisa had to run for another appointment, but Joe continued sorting in the garage while Tami and I kept packing inside. We then discovered another interesting tidbit. Although they said they had shipped five 5# bags of wild rice blend (25# total), only six pounds arrived. At $3/lb, that's a significant difference. I contacted Natural Way Mills and that was corrected on the invoice. We also discovered that we had received 50 pounds of rye grits and 50 pounds of barley grits, when only 25 pounds of each had been ordered. I found home for 10 pounds of the barley, but am still debating what to do with the rest. I was told they didn't have 25 pounders available when they were loading the pallet, so they just threw on 50's but didn't charge extra. We're up north and most people don't eat grits around here.
Here are a couple of the larger orders. I think the biggest one was 660#.
My order was a little more modest – just over 200# – buckets, quinoa, flour, hard red wheat berries, hard white wheat berries and crystallized cane juice.
In spite of all the glitches with Natural Way Mills, they do have good products at good prices. About a week after the shipment, I received independent third party organic verification on the order, which I wasn't expecting. I would just offer this advice to NWM: excuses are like armpits – everyone has them, and most are stinky at some point. A simple apology would have been much more pleasant than the surfeit of excuses I was given for the errors that occurred.
So, that's my saga of the Great Grain Order. I hope you can learn from my mistakes, and perhaps consider stocking up for your family if you can, as unfortunately prices are likely to continue rising.
For more details on bulk food storage, consider the book “Crisis Preparedness” by Jack Spigarelli.
Originally published July 2011, updated March 2016.