Against the Grain of Conventional Agriculture
This article was written by Local Food Systems Intern, Sarah Schenck. By now, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of this iconic vintage rose logo peaking from the shelves of your nearby retail shop, or you’ve heard chatter about Hayden Flour Mills at the farmer’s market. Perhaps you’ve seen the name featured on a menu of your
neighborhood eatery, highlighting the restaurant’s dedication to sourcing locally.
Whether you’re familiarized yet or not, allow us to introduce you to Hayden Flour Mills: a humble operation in Arizona on a hearty mission to bring back ancient and heirloom grains.
With just six employees, three years under their belt, and a recent relocation of operations to accommodate their mounting success, Hayden Flour Mills is making (amber) waves in the grain industry.
Here are 4 ways Hayden Flour Mills is going against the grain of modern agribusiness:
1. They are doing things the good old-fashioned way From manner of farming to the method of milling, it’s back to the basics for the best quality. Founder of Hayden Flour Mills, Jeff Zimmerman, grew up on a farm in North Dakota where he became disenchanted with the emerging prominence of hybridized wheat in America (a term for plants that are cross bred for higher yields in industrialized agriculture). Zimmerman recognized we were losing variety, flavor, and the health benefits of grains in agribusiness endeavors. His solution was to bring back ancient and heritage grains, as well as the lost art of milling.
Stone milling is one of the major elements that makes Hayden Flour Mills something special. Unlike industrialized metal mills that reach high temperatures and kill off natural bacterias and nutrients, stone mills crush the grains below 135 degrees F., resulting in nutritious and flavorful flour.
As with any great craft, the industrialized process is no match for the quality that comes from a miller’s understanding of the grain as it sifts through his hands. It is tedious work, especially since a lost art means lost instruction, or in their case, foreign instructions for replacing broken parts on an Austrian mill. But the superior results are worth it!
2. They know fresh is best Flours here are milled as the orders roll in. The result? Wholesome, fragrant, nutty flours that truly smell alive. Trust us, we took a whiff. There’s no sitting in storage for months at a time becoming rancid and bitter, as is the norm with most flour you’ll find in stores. What’s more, just a “hop, skip, and a jump away” the Sossaman fields grow the grains that Ben, the Master Miller, grinds.
3. They are all about community Hayden Flour Mills wouldn’t be what it is today without the local support and partnerships that got it here. Long story short, Jeff Zimmerman connected with Chris Bianco, the notorious chef of the Bianco restaurants. With similar pursuits of change for the better in our food system, they partnered up and the back room of Pane Bianco became the starting grounds for Hayden Flour Mills. Today, their facility is found on Sossaman Farms, which not coincidentally, is where the majority of their grains are grown.
Back in 2012, Steve Sossaman joined in on the Hayden Flour Mills mission- a fitting partnership considering the history of Hayden's namesake from the Tempe, Arizona mill, along with the Sossaman family that has been farming in Queen Creek since 1919. Of the 800 acres of farmland (mostly alfalfa), 30 acres are now dedicated to growing heritage grains, but with the company’s success, that acreage is set to increase.
In the first few years, it was local chefs and restaurants that were the biggest champions of Hayden Flour Mills. They recognized the exceptional quality and became regular buyers. Transparency, collaboration, and communication became key to the operations. Customers gained personalized feedback about the crops, catered to the needs of the products they would make. The bridge between the farmer, miller, chef, and the public was being built, along with the brand.
By 2014, Hayden Flour Mills products were in demand from over 100 restaurants and retailers. One mill just wouldn’t cut it. 200 lbs of flour per hour was the max production capacity. With the acquisition of two more mills, it was time to move to the larger space at Sossaman’s. The main mill now produces 700 lbs per hour. In a general day, two mills are in operation. A third is dedicated to gluten-free grains.
The company’s partnerships reach beyond restaurants and retail. For two years, on the site of Phoenix Renews, the group nurtured the growth of heirloom grains for the sake of community involvement. They hosted educational events where the public could share in the process of planting and harvesting. In the future, Hayden Flour Mills hopes to expand its reach by opening up the mill for educational tours.
4. Their red, white, and blue grains are more “green” You know the Arizona joke about how “it’s a dry heat?” We might not thrive in it, but wheat sure does. Hayden’s most popular selling White Sonora wheat originated from Europe and was brought to the southwest in the 1600s where it adapted to the arid climate. In comparison to modern resource-intensive wheat production, White Sonora is a hearty, drought tolerant grain that requires little water.
Hayden Flour Mills is all about agro-diversity. They grow over 10 varieties of heirloom grains including Red Fife, Blue Beard, Durum Iraq, and Bronze Barley. More variety means diverse flavors to experiment with, but also, it’s a continuation and celebration of Arizona’s unique heritage. In the words of Native Seeds/SEARCH, one of Hayden’s community partners, “The resiliency of our food system depends on agricultural biodiversity, as farmers can draw on the myriad genetic combinations as raw materials to develop new varieties better adapted to an uncertain and changing environment.”