Progress 2013: Still grinding, 30 U.S. presidents and six owners later
Vance County’s oldest company still in operation changed hands six times before Daryl Spencer’s family got it 60 years ago.
Considering the beginning date for Buffaloe Milling Company in Kittrell was 1854, nearly a decade before the Civil War and with Franklin Pierce as the nation’s 14th president, six changes doesn’t seem like a lot.
The gristmill was originally built by S.R. Hunt to produce a reliable food source for survival.
According to Spencer, his grandfather, Johnnie Moss, had no idea how to run a mill when it was first offered to him by Gene Huff.
Moss and Huff were college friends, so after a year of working on the job Moss purchased the mill in 1950.
Twenty-nine years later the mill was sold to Moss’ daughter and son-in-law. They sold it to their son, Daryl, in 1989. Having worked full-time at the gristmill since 1972, a number of changes were made when he took over the business.
“When I came here, there were only four employees,” Spencer said.
Today Buffaloe Milling employs 37 people working in manufacturing, sales and delivery.
Spencer began by abolishing the once common milling practice of tolling (keeping a portion, up to 25 percent, of the finished product as payment for grinding crops), a tradition that had continued even under his father’s management.
After adding four electric grind stones to his machinery, he began expanding the number of products made. Rather than selling three kinds of corn mill and a single hushpuppy mix, Buffaloe Milling branched out to make four varieties of hushpuppies, corn mill, breaders and mixes, in addition to customized products for various restaurants.
The process for making each of these products is very similar.
For corn mill products, Buffaloe Milling buys the corn from four local farmers. The corn is inspected upon arrival and stored in silos.
The crop will go through two separate cleaning processes to screen out farming materials. Neither process involves water. Spencer explained that the goal is to have nothing left but a whole kernel.
The kernels are sent under a magnet to insure no metal has fallen in with the corn. The corn is then ground into mill by one of the six electric grinding stones. The corn mill is then sifted to take out any coarse bran (hard outer shells).
Spencer estimated that the gristmill grinds 200 bushels of corn a day.
Next the corn mill goes through a mixer to add enriching vitamins to the product. The mill is mixed a second time to add specific measurements of the 15 available ingredients required to meet an order’s recipe. Ingredients can include anything from eggs to spices to onions.
“Most people buy it ‘made’, meaning they just add water,” Spencer said.
In the early 1990s, Buffaloe Milling began to deliver, but not manufacture, dog foods and flour on the side.
“They came to me for help,” Spencer said. “It helps with fuel bills and pays the drivers.”
The various products are distributed to 11 major grocery chains and various independent stores.
Typically Buffaloe Milling has five of its 10 trucks out averaging 20 stops a day, making 100 to 150 deliveries. They primarily distribute to the Carolinas and Virginia.
The milling products seem to have a shelf life of one to three months, although they can last for six months to a year.
Spencer said that when he had purchased the company he dreamed of expansion but now Buffaloe Milling is selling even farther than he had hoped.
“If you stay real small, you’ll get gobbled up and bullied by bigger companies,” Spencer said. “I hope that we provide a good product. Our goal is to satisfy our customers.”
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