Working with the grain

The only authentic working Dutch windmill outside of the Netherlands strives to be more than just a tourist attraction.

Alisa Crawford seeks locally sourced grain to mill at the famous DeZwaan in Holland, Michigan.
Alisa Crawford seeks locally sourced grain to mill at the famous DeZwaan in Holland, Michigan.

Recently I got the opportunity to sit down with Alisa Crawford, the miller at the historical De Zwaan windmill in Holland, Michigan. I found her story to be fascinating and inspiring as she strives to break barriers and bring prominence to the famous monument.

AM: Share with me the history of the De Zwaan windmill.

AC: This windmill was the last authentic Dutch windmill to leave the Netherlands, back in 1964. It was rebuilt in Holland and dedicated in 1965. We recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Three millers preceded me at this post. I am very proud of the commitment the City of Holland has made to keep this a functioning mill.

AM: Alisa, how did you become involved?

AC: I began milling at a very young age, 17, and started at a water-powered mill in Michigan. Although I’ve spent some time out of state, I returned to Michigan originally to work at the Holland Museum, but milling was pulling me back and I knew I had to follow my passion. In 2002 I joined the staff of Windmill Island and took over the milling at De Zwaan in 2006, the same year I started my windmill training in The Netherlands. By September of 2007, I became the first overseas student to become a Dutch-certified miller. I’m a historian by degree but a miller by trade.

AM: I’m aware your qualifications are quite unique; what kind of training did you receive to operate the mill?

AC: I received my training through the Dutch Mill Society and the Guild of Millers. It was a very rigorous training program that was entirely in the Dutch language that required training hours and multiple exams, much of which I completed abroad. I also belong to the Professional and Traditional Grain Millers Guild of The Netherlands, which is composed of 45 other millers, although I am the only one residing outside of The Netherlands, and was also the first woman. I am currently considered a Journeyman, but am 7 years into the 10-year program to become a Master Miller, of which I will have to take another exam.

AM: What is the City of Holland’s purpose and/or mission for the De Zwaan?

AC: Although it was always meant to serve as a working windmill, it has for years served as a monument linking to our Dutch heritage. Annually, I now process 10-12,000 lbs. of Michigan wheat through the mill, with another 1-2,000 pounds of locally grown organic corn and rye. The finished product is sold commercially to bakeries, restaurants, breweries and distilleries. It is available for retail sale at the windmill and mail order as well.

AM: Alisa, what is your personal mission for the De Zwaan?

AC: I have really tried to shift the local perspective from the windmill as just another tourist destination to it being an integral part of the community, and appreciated and understood as a working mill. I am very inspired by the fact that I can source grains locally, which are then milled and used in products all within a close proximity. I enjoy working with our local farmers and want to explore that more. It is really important to me that farmers know there are small scale processors who want to work with them. I would love to serve as a conduit to facilitate those relationships.

AM: How do you see local grains involved in your mission?

AC: I would really like to work more with the heritage grains, such as einkorn, spelt and emmer. There is tremendous interest in these grains and I see a lot of opportunity for them locally in Michigan. Once again, I want to reach out to farmers and let them know there is interest in these rare grains, and although they may be a risky crop, small-scale processors would love to work with them and bring those products to market.

AM: In closing, what projects are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

AC: I have really enjoyed the hyper-local collaborations I have been involved in lately. Watching a project go from field to glass, all within a 10-mile radius was very fulfilling, as was the case with Genever from the Copper Craft Distillery, and New Holland Brewing Company’s all-Michigan beers. I’m really hoping to work with additional farmers on these types of collaborations, whether it be for beverages or bread. I’m actively seeking farmers that would be willing to grow some alternative grains I would like to experiment with at the mill.

Met Vriendelijke Groeten, with friendly greetings/kind regards

If you would like to reach out to Alisa on the potential for growing grains to be milled at the De Zwaan, she can be contacted via email at or phone (616) 928-0585. If you would like to learn more about the windmill, check out her recent award winning book, “DeZwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill.”

If you are interested in learning more about the local grain industry in Michigan, feel free to reach out to Ashley McFarland at 906-439-5176 or McFarland is the Coordinator of the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan and a Community Food System Educator with MSU Extension

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