When the community needs hand sanitizer and ag support, one Michigan business is going above and beyond.
Less than a week before Michigan shut down on March 16, Mike Bird, vice president and distiller of MichiGrain Distillery in Lansing, and his business partner Scott Ellis decided they would start producing hand sanitizers instead of their Michigan-grown potato vodka.
“We were already in the process of becoming a chemical company inside of our business,” said Bird. “We have what’s called a distillers permit, but we also have articles of denature which allows us to make chemicals, which is what you have to have for the ability to make sanitizer at any time.”
MichiGrain’s hand sanitizer production began five days ahead of other distillers, and Bird said that made a lot of difference.
“It was unbelievable how much response we got from the community by getting this started,” he said.
Sanitizer and vodka production start in the same way. Bird takes the ethanol to 95 percent alcohol, or 195 proof, and cuts it to 80 percent.
“For us it was very simple—there’s a need for it in our community,” said Bird. “We just turn the spigot this way instead of that way. When you ask us how hard it was to make the switch, there was no switch to turn. It was like you have a nice race car and you’ve been driving down the road. Well now you need to drive on the highway—we’ve already got the race car, let’s go.
One of the challenges in the beginning for Bird and MichiGrain was how much—how much to make and how much to charge. The state government determined distillers that produce sanitizers essential, and relaxed regulations to make denatured alcohol. Bird said that was a way to pay the community back for their support.
“First of all is we came out with a set price,” he said. “The community wanted more and more because we had no idea what the outcry was going to be. There were more than just us and our ingenious ideas to be able to sell this. We also had to get some help from the federal government.”
Part of that community was supporting agriculture and the entire state.
“Yes, we had a bunch of potatoes we were using, but we also use corn that comes out of Danville,” said Bird. “Not one product [we produced] was not made by Michigan people. Everything that we’ve made had been made in Michigan. We have never bought one product out of state. Everything we made here helped out at least six farmers, two people that pick up grain, and I was able to keep my staff of four the whole time.”
Bird commends the distillers, brewers and wineries for stepping up to help their communities.
“What did essential mean and what essential actually turned out to be was that we did get a chance to help out a lot of our community members by being local,” he said.
If you want to purchase MichiGrain hand sanitizer, you can at their location in Lansing or you can order it and they’ll ship to you.
The Michigan Ag Today Spud Spot is made possible by Sipcam Agro USA.