Metcalf of Mars Hill delivers food and hope to Appalachian communities

MARS HILL – A Mars Hill man has made fans around the world by making videos of himself working on mills at his home along Metcalf Creek Loop Road. Now, Justin Metcalf has captured the hearts of hundreds of Southern Appalachian residents after he and his church delivered food to rural families in West Virginia.

On May 18, Metcalf led members of his California Creek Baptist Church to a remote area outside Panther, West Virginia, where residents were dealing with a food desert in which the nearest store with food was about a 90-minute drive away.

“It’s a little bit below Wells, West Virginia. It’s back in the mountains, right in the corner between Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia,” Metcalf said. “The coal mines went out, and everyone who could move did, and everyone is just left there, and they have nothing to eat and nowhere to work.”

When Metcalf heard that members of his church at California Creek Baptist Church were headed to West Virginia for a mission trip, he knew the trip would perfectly align with his calling: helping Appalachian communities by bringing back healthy food and a sense of community to restore that community provided grain mills.

Metcalf is building another grist mill, which he helped deliver to the residents of West Virginia, and from there he plans to teach residents how to make their own food.

The mill is part of Metcalf’s Grain Mills for Communities project.

“I’m going to ship a ton of corn over there so they can grind cornmeal and maybe some kernels,” Metcalf said before his trip. “The first week I went there, when I decided to build this grist mill, was the end of January.”

And now that he’s back in the shop full-time, he’s as energetic as ever, he said, because he bought a three-phase motor to run one of his other mills.

“I’m excited. This is my first time doing something with an electric motor, and I can set the speed exactly where it needs to be. It’s just very efficient,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf also works to help other millers restore their mills, and has even met with other millers across the country, including some in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

As for his source for acquiring crops for milling, Metcalf found a man named Sammy Phillips who was in Boonville in Yadkin County. At the time of their meeting, Metcalf said Phillips was 95 years old and still led him up and down stairs during a three-story grinding operation.

When he started his YouTube page in 2021-2022, where he uploads videos about grain mills, he heard from residents around the world praising him for teaching them about mills and the history of community mills.

“It used to be that every community had a gristmill,” Metcalf said. “People couldn’t travel long distances, they couldn’t run to the city to go to the supermarket to get those kinds of products. If they had lived in the city they might have been able to get them, but most likely there was still a grain mill in the city.

“As things became centralized and commercialized, grain mills faded away because commercial products milled in a large commercial operation somewhere took over. It was easier to just stop by the store and buy a bag of flour or a corn mill. That’s what the decline of the community grain mills began.”

As a result, some of the foods’ healthiest ingredients were removed from the product to keep the goods on the shelves longer. So there is also a health benefit to using grain mills, Metcalf reminds his viewers.

“Just like with wheat, they only took out the endosperm, which is the bulk of the wheat,” Metcalf said. “All the bran, all the other stuff that has the good nutrition and fiber in it, they took it away and separated it out. So when you go back to a community grain mill, you start eating whole grains again. That’s the best thing.” for us: fresh stone-ground whole grains.

“A lot of people said to me, ‘Justin, why don’t you just go to the store and buy a loaf of bread?’ But that’s because they’ve never tasted what a loaf of bread tastes like when it’s made with freshly ground grain. These commercial foods have left people unaware of what good food is, so it is well worth the time and effort to obtain that food.”

Metcalf has more than 16,000 followers on his YouTube page, Appalachia’s Metcalf Mills.

“It’s going to make a bigger difference in their lives than I ever imagined for anyone,” Metcalf said of the Panther plant. “Some of them still have dirt floors and no plumbing in their homes.”

According to Metcalf, the region was hit by flooding a few years ago and the local water source is now contaminated by coal from the mines.

“Their water up there, the sulfur from the water has polluted their water. The average lifespan is only 54 years,” Metcalf said, adding that he and the church group also brought a water filtration system to the West Virginia city on May 18.

According to, men in McDowell County in West Virginia, where Panther is located, live an average of 63.5 years, well below the national average of 76.5 years. Women in McDowell County live an average of 71.5 years; the national average is 81.2.

But the grist mill for West Virginians is just the first of many in his Grain Mills for Communities project, Metcalf said.

“When I started that project, I had no idea what a blessing it would be and what it would mean to a community,” he said. “I had hopes and dreams, but I’m surprised at how things are going.”

The family tradition

Building and operating mills was a family tradition among the Metcalf men.

“Growing up, Dad would tell me stories about going to the mill on Saturdays with my grandfather and his brother Elmer, who ran a small community grist mill and ground people’s corn on Saturdays,” Metcalf said.

“Daddy was just a little boy, maybe eight years old, and they were grinding and he said he’d put his hand under that spout and the corn mill would come out of there, and he said it’d be warm from heating it up and coming out of those stones.

“He said he would eat it right out of his hand, and talked about how good it was, and he just got me interested in it, and that just got stuck in my mind.”

Now, years later, after caring for his ailing parents before they died last year, Metcalf is back in his calling.

“I tried to get everything in order, but then my parents got sick, and I just couldn’t do it,” Metcalf said. “I had to be home. I came here and tried to work, and for a while Dad called because I needed something, and finally I just said, ‘I can’t do both. worry, and that’s what I did.”

The importance of community

The connection between people is a big motivation for Metcalf in his project, because the factories tend to bring a community together in an age of distraction and disconnection, he said.

Metcalf first met the West Virginians in January and immediately returned home to work on the grist mill for the Panther community.

There may have been an element of “as fate would have it” in the story of Metcalf’s meeting with the Panther residents.

On the day prior to the trip in January, one of Metcalf’s friends at California Creek suggested they join the team on the trek to West Virginia, as Metcalf had just broken up with his girlfriend the day before.

“If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have gone on the trip,” Metcalf said. ‘We have to keep going. “Tough things are happening to us, and we just have to hang in there.”

Metcalf is no stranger to grief, which in part drives him to give back to others and honor loved ones and friends.

“When my parents passed away, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “I lost my older brother to a heart attack in 2008. He was 19 when I was born, so he is like a second father to me, now that my father is sick. Me and him were very close. He died of a heart attack on my mother’s birthday.”

Metcalf’s hand-built grist mill could potentially feed more than 600 people in the remote area of ​​West Virginia as the device grinds corn into cornmeal and wheat to prepare for healthy food.

“If we take a ton of corn there, each family can eat about 5 pounds of cornmeal a week,” Metcalf said. “I’m trying to figure out how to make it sustainable.”

While visiting West Virginia, Metcalf met two residents named Ernest “Little Man” Blankenship and Eric Blankenship. “Little Man” is a lifelong resident of the area and donated his old library to be used for the grist mill to feed the community.

Metcalf said he plans to both become a miller and grind grain for their community, and the impact was immediate.

“Eric was the happiest I’ve ever seen him the day we delivered the gristmill,” Metcalf said.

In many ways, the feeling is reciprocal, as the West Virginia community also helps bring more joy back to Metcalf.

“After my parents just passed away, I really got into trouble, a little bit depressed, and I couldn’t do everything I needed to do,” Metcalf said. ‘I was trying to keep my work going and raise my two daughters. But that did not work out. It wasn’t time until I went to that school in West Virginia.

“If I built these grist mills just to sell, with all these people supporting me and helping me, it didn’t feel right to me. I wanted to give back somehow. When I went to that school in West Virginia , I knew This is how I’m going to give back. These people need this.”

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