Holland is home to top miller in the world

This seems a little smoother to me: Holland not only is home to the iconic Tulip Time Festival and the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States, but also to the top miller in the world.   

Late last year, Alisa Crawford passed an exam at the Collse Water Mill in the Netherlands, obtaining her third certificate, as a water miller. In 2007 she obtained her certificate as a wind miller, and in 2009 she successfully passed the exam of the Artisan Grain Millers' Guild. 

In the current membership of the Dutch Guild of Millers, there are 1,454 male millers and 128 female millers. There are 42 male millers with the certificate for the water mill, and five women also are water millers. 

The Guild is very proud of the 34 men and four women who have both certificates of wind and water. Crawford is the only miller to have all three certificates, according to the Artisan Grain Millers' Guild.

She had to pass the exams in Dutch.

Interest began as a teen

What inspired Crawford to obtain three milling certificates in a foreign language?

Her interest in mills goes back to when she was 17 years old. She started as an apprentice on a water powered grist mill in Michigan called the Atlas Mill. Her interest was also reflected in her choice of study: she obtained a master's degree in history museum studies with a specialization in open-air museums, and she wrote a thesis on a miller from the early 19th century.

Annemie DriessenAlisa Crawford in front of the mill in the Netherlands where she took her exam.

In addition to theoretical knowledge, she also wanted to acquire technical and practical skills. As the first person with prior experience as a miller, she worked for many years at De Zwaan mill in Holland.  This windmill was shipped to America from Vinkel in the province of Brabant in 1964. 

After 18 ½ years, Crawford stopped working there because of the COVID pandemic. Since then, she has been studying to become a Dutch-certified water miller. 

There are roughly 1,000 windmills and 100 watermills in the Netherlands. The numbers are reversed in the United States, which has about 100 windmills and well over 1,000 watermills.

Many millers experience extra tension during the exam. Crawford says she tried in a special way to start the exam in a relaxed way. On the way to the exam, she stopped at a small chapel and asked all her deceased loved ones to help her. She wrote their names on a card that she took with her to the exam, and in this way she felt strengthened, calm, and confident.

Spreading the word about her craft

Crawford will certainly use her newly acquired knowledge. The effects of the landscape, the water level, the fish, the farmers and other mills all play a role. Climate change also means that water mills can play a different and certainly important role in the water management of tomorrow. 

She is grateful that she was able to follow the training in the Netherlands: it makes her a versatile miller. The knowledge of oil pressing, paper making and learning to work with different types of mills all contribute to this. She already has a new study topic on her radar: the operation of cocoa mills. 

Alisa Crawford with the team who administered the test.

Crawford wants to inspire others and draw more attention to the need to preserve mills and the craft. Alisa also wants to use her knowledge internationally: she represents America at the international conference of millers and also in the study of mills worldwide.

She hopes with her knowledge and skills to encourage other women, and also men, to embrace the craft of miller and possibly become a miller themselves. Her motto is: Every mill needs a miller who loves his or her mill, not only in the Netherlands but all over the world.

In September, Crawford obtained her water miller's diploma at the Collse Water Mill in Eindhoven, completing a special trilogy in the year that the Dutch Mill Society celebrated its 100th anniversary.

From baker to miller

She was a baker before she became interested in mills. As a baker, she wanted to be more involved in the milling process to study the quality of the flour and find out what bakers actually want when it comes to the milling quality of the flour. 

So, at the age of 17, she began as an apprentice at the Atlas Mill, a water-powered grist mill in Genesee County. There she fell in love with the miller's trade. The craft, the history and actually being able to work with a mill became the guiding principles in her life.

“Being able to grow up working at a historic village from the age of 15 was a wonderful way to build the foundation of a career working in the history field as well as introduce me to the miller’s trade and working with mills,” says Crawford.

After completing her graduate education, she wanted to train formally as a miller. 

However, this does not exist in America, so Crawford wondered whether there was a training course in the Netherlands. And were there perhaps more female millers? With help from a Dutch visitor and the Dutch Mill Society, she came into contact with two Dutch female millers, Aggie Fluitman and Josien de Vries.

She came to the Netherlands for the first time in 2006. The Dutch Mill Society and the Guild of Millers offered her the opportunity to train as a miller. The Dutch language turned out to be a major challenge for her. However, she was determined to master the material. 

Her determination paid off, because with the help of her local Dutch teacher Phil van Eyl and many Dutch millers, Alisa successfully completed her windmill exam in September 2007 at De Zandhaas mill in Santpoort. She then also took the course for the Artisan Grain Millers’ Guild. She passed with flying colors.

“I am so grateful to my Dutch colleagues and mentors who were willing to take the time to teach me and make me feel welcome in their homes, their mills and in our guilds in The Netherlands," says Crawford. "It is such a joy to be a part of the Dutch mill community!”

Photos by Annemie Driessen

Peet Wessels is the communications director for the Guild of Millers in the Netherlands. She is also an artist who paints on sailcloth from windmills. For more info: www.typicaldutchart.nl

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.