Learn with Hanford Mills

Crop to Cornbread: What is a Gristmill?




Students will understand where their grains come from today, and how and why grain was processed in the past and is processed today.


Students will discuss why grain needs to be processed and where it was processed in the past.



  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes
  • Class Time: 30 minutes


  • Questions to Prompt Discussion Before the Activity.Questions to Ask:
    • Where does the bread that you eat come from?
    • What is bread made of?
    • Where do the grains come from?
    • What do people do to the grain before they can use it to make bread?
    • Have you ever made bread before?
    • Who makes your bread?
    • Is it faster for you to make the bread or buy the bread?
    • Why do you think so many people buy their bread today?
    • What do animals eat?
  • Use a copy of the food guide pyramid. Talk about how grains in the context of recommended servings of grains per day.
  • Ask students what a mill is and ask where they have heard about mills before.
  • Discuss sawmills. Ask students to explain what these mills do. Explain that saw mills process trees into lumber, shavings, etc.
  • Discuss gristmills. Ask students to call on what they learned in the story to explain the purpose of gristmills.
  • The term “grist” may be foreign to many students. Explain that grist is grain that has already been ground or that is going to be ground. Show pictures of what grain looks like before and after being processed. Explain that they will get to see grist at Hanford Mills.
  • Ask students why they think grain needs to be processed. Compare to things like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds if necessary. Have them identify the parts that they actually eat.
  • Explain that mills throughout the world used water wheels to make the power that runs the wheel and grinds the grain.
  • Explain that they will get to see a waterwheel at work at Hanford Mills.


  • Participation in the class discussion (speaking and listening).

NYS Learning Standards:

  • Health, Physical Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences Standard 1
  • ELA Standard 1
  • Social Studies Standard 2