Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

The Birkett Mills: Bringing buckwheat to the world since 1797

Jeff Gifford would love to take all of his employees to New York City to see The Birkett Mills products on the shelves. “It’s fun to go to Manhattan and know that it’s all made in our backyard in Penn Yan,” says the President & CEO who has owned the company for the last 13 years.

Birkett Mills, Penn Yan, NY

Photo by Roger Hamilton Photography

The Birkett Mills, which is headquartered on Main Street in Penn Yan, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of buckwheat products. Established and in continual operation since 1797, it has over 200 years of buckwheat, soft wheat, and custom grain milling experience. It may even be one of the longest operating companies in the United States.

The company’s claim to fame is its buckwheat products, which are sold throughout the world. “Buckwheat is a really versatile product,” says Jeff. “It’s North America’s answer to quinoa. If buckwheat is on the label, there’s a decent chance it came from us one way or another.”

The company has retail products in distribution in every state and also sells to other food manufacturers. In addition to thousands of small stores, the company also sells to national grocery chains like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Wegmans.

Wheat and Buckwheat Are at the Core

Since Jeff took over and brought his son Kyle Gifford into the business eight years ago, the duo has focused on diversifying products and their distribution base. Currently, The Birkett Mills’ sales are split evenly between wheat and buckwheat.

Jeff Gifford

Jeff Gifford

Their wheat is sourced solely from New York State farmers. The company has recently become one the first mills to offer New York State Grown and Certified (NYSG+C) wheat flour. They are working closely with the state as well as working with local farmers to become certified and pass a sustainability audit. One of the regional farms they work with Hemdale Farms in Seneca Castle.

The mill sources as much local buckwheat it can, but to keep up with demand, they also source buckwheat from the Northern Plains and Canada. Jeff would love to find more local farmers to grow buckwheat, especially organically. “Buckwheat grows better on marginal land. From a sustainability standpoint, buckwheat is really good because it puts nitrogen back into the soil. It’s guaranteed income for the farmers because we buy everything they harvest.”

One of Kyle’s focuses is looking for new opportunities. “Specialty whole foods are our sweet spot on the buckwheat retail side.” The Birkett Mills has also seen a big increase in online sales. “It’s nice having a direct relationship with the consumer,” he adds.

Kyle Gifford

Kyle Gifford

Relationships with their employees, farmers, and customers are as important as the products they sell. “We have forty-five employees. That means forty-five different families are dependent on us to make the right decisions because the wrong decisions affect not only the company but all the people who work here,” says Jeff. “We have really close relationships with our farmers, too. Many have been growing for us for years.”

Customers also have long-term relationships with the company. “What makes us unique is that we take care of customers when they need it,” says Jeff. “They call, and we help them quickly.”

The Finger Lakes Effect

Both Kyle and Jeff attribute these strong relationships and continued growth to being in the Finger Lakes. And interestingly, the father and son took similar roads in their careers with each leaving the area and then returning.

Jeff grew up on a small dairy farm west of Penn Yan and raised buckwheat to help pay for his college education. He had no plans to work at the company, but after a stint as a controller at a winery he returned to The Birkett Mills as an accountant. Forty-one years later he is now the owner and CEO.

Kyle currently helps run day-to-day operations as VP of Sales & Marketing. He got his MBA from Penn State with an undergraduate degree in information science and technology and interned at The Birkett Mills. “It was an eye-opening experience. I had no idea our scope or reach.”

After living in New York City and working for companies like KPMG and Goldman Sachs, he jumped at the chance to move back to the Finger Lakes. “I wanted to have more impact with the work I was doing. Now, every day is an adventure. It’s fun to work in a company that is making a product that you can be proud of and that is essential.”

He also lists numerous other benefits to being back in the Finger Lakes. “My drive to work takes six minutes. My commute in the city was two hours. This is much more laid back. The people are friendly and interested in taking care of each other. It’s just a great area that has so much to offer. And I’d put up some of the restaurants here against any down in NYC.”

Both father and son are optimistic about the future. “You know, we have this old yellow building sitting on the corner of a shady lot, and it’s been there forever. We believe it has a good, good future going forward,” concludes Jeff.

And as they plan the future, they are bound to sit down together and enjoy some delicious fluffy buckwheat pancakes (recipe below) they’re so well known for.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She owns 29 Design Studio, a Finger Lakes-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in food, beverage and agriculture. She is also a partner in Metro Collective, a collaborative network of people, ideas, and shared space communities in the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

Fluffy Flapjacks Recipe

Serves: 6 People

1/2 cup Pocono Light Buckwheat Flour
1/4 tsp. apple pie or pumpkin pie spice mix
1/3 cup fresh blueberries (optional)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
Light flavored oil


In a small bowl, combine flour, spice, baking powder, and optional fruit. Mix thoroughly with whisk.

In medium bowl, add egg, water, sugar, salt, and extracts.

With mixer, beat on medium speed for one minute into think foam.

Turn speed to low; quickly sprinkle in dry ingredients bit by bit until combined into thick foamy batter.

Turn heat to medium; set 10-inch skillet oh heat. Drizzle in 2 tsp. light oil.

When oil is heated pour 1/4 cupful of batter into skillet. Leave batter mounded.

Flip when edge is brown and crisp; fry other side golden.

Reapply oil and repeat. Serve immediately.


« View all posts