Over there at the mill...

It’s all about the wind at flour mill “‘t Roode Hert” in Alkmaar

Korenmolen ‘t Roode Hert

The importance of the role that windmills played in the history of the Netherlands can’t be underestimated. In our centuries’ old struggle against water, they were used to drain the land and create the polders. There are still about 1100 windmills in the Netherlands, and most of them have protected monument status.

Korenmolen ‘t Roode Hert

The Korenmolen ‘t Roode Hert is a gristmill that stands in the outskirts of Alkmaar and is still grinding grain in the traditional way Unfortunately, you can no longer earn your daily bread as a miller, but at ‘t Roode Hert we meet the miller, John Bruin.

John is a father of four, keeps bees as a hobby and has a regular Monday-to-Friday job. But on Saturdays, you’ll find him working the mill.

"What these old machines teach us is that we may have to accept that we can’t take the availability of energy at the flick of a switch for granted.”

From amateur archaeologist to miller

“During the week I work as a planning engineer, which is a pretty intensive job. It’s demanding mentally, but the work I do at the mill is physically demanding, which, I feel, brings some balance to my life. About 20 years ago, I took my oldest child to an open day at a mill. That’s when I was bitten by the mill bug, and I still haven’t been cured! I’ve always been interested in history. As a child and during my studies I was always looking for interesting artefacts. I event took part in an archaeological dig with several other amateur archaeologists in the centre of Alkmaar. When I visited the mill for the first time, the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place. Suddenly I was standing in a working mill that dated back to the time of the artefacts that I found during the dig. I was completely hooked!”

Wind: A primal force

Working with the primal force of the wind is an enormous challenge. When I was a teenager I loved to surf – especially in stormy weather. Also, when I was sailing, I used to push my boat to its limits. A windmill also has large sails and you have to know how much wind the mill can handle. You have to know its limits. Before I start up the mill, I turn the cap of the mill so that the sails are facing straight into the wind. Once I’ve done that, I can release the brake and let the sails start to turn. If the wind changes directions, I have to turn the mill to keep the sails facing straight into the wind. If the wind comes from behind, the stocks will turn in the wrong directions which and damage can occur.

Grist to the Mill

We have a shop on the ground floor of the mill where we sell the flour that we mill. We offer people with learning difficulties the chance to work there. They do the baking, there’s love in everything they make, and everything is organic. You can taste that. The mill fulfils a social role in the local community. That makes my work here even more rewarding and I make sure that we rarely say no here. The grain that we mill comes from one of the first organic farmers in nearby Weringermeer. We keep things local. It’s very trendy today to think about your carbon footprint, but in the old days, it was completely normal to do business with people from the neighbourhood.

A Real Craft

When the flour comes out from under the millstones, I can immediately feel with my hand if the flour has been ground properly. It should have a nice ‘’floury’’ feel. If the flour isn’t exactly as I want it, I can adjust the gap between the stones, so that they are closer together or further apart. This is known as ‘’tentering’’.

Share the simple things

’The beauty of mills is their apparent simplicity. In reality, they are complex machines that brought about the first industrial revolution. What these old machines teach us is that we may have to accept that we can’t take the availability of energy at the flick of a switch for granted.

In the golden age of windmills, people could live with the fact that production had to stop when the wind dropped and there was no energy. If the energy is there you have to make the best of it and use it properly. We also have to accept that there is not always going to be a constant supply of other natural sources of energy.

Would you like to become a miller?

Has reading this has inspired you? Go along to the mill and take a look, and if you‘re really interested in becoming a miller you can follow a training programme to become a volunteer miller. You can complete it at your own pace. For more information, check out the website of Vrijwillige Molenaars at www.vrijwilligemolenaars.nl and the Korenmolenaarsgilde at www.molenaarsgilde.nl (both in Dutch)