Thanks to a partnership among Keep Phoenix Beautiful, the city of Phoenix, and Barron Collier Companies, the northeast corner of Indian School Road and Central Avenue has seen a lot of change. An ongoing project called PHX Renews aims to transform the formerly vacant land -- a part of Steele Indian School Park -- into usable community space.
As a part of the project, various community organizations have been given parcels of land, and one of the recipients is trying to bring ancient and native strains of wheat to Central Phoenix.
Hayden Flour Mills, the century-and-a-half-old brand that's been operating out of Pane Bianco since 2012, planted two acres of wheat on the land on January 1 and plans to plant an acre of corn soon. The mill's three acres of land accounts for nearly a quarter of the total land allotted for PHX Renews.
One acre is devoted to White Sonora Wheat, one of the oldest surviving varieties anywhere in North America. If you've ever eaten the bread, pizza, or pasta at any of Chris Bianco's restaurants, then you've tasted this strain of ancient wheat.
"It's starting to catch on," Emma Zimmerman of Hayden Flour Mills says. "People know the name and ask for it by name."
The second acre of wheat is Blue Beard Durum, a strain of wheat that will eventually sprout beautiful blue heads. This type of wheat is particularly well-suited for making pasta.
Volunteers hand-sowed, in part for the experience but also because Zimmerman says there isn't farm equipment small enough to use on a single acre of land. And it they are around, she says, they're too "rickety." Refurbishing small farm equipment is another of the mill's long-term goals.
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The third acre of land won't be planted until March, for the Clinton Global Initiative Day of Action. The PHX Renews project was recently selected as the site for the event, which will bring 700 volunteer college students to the land as well as former President Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea.
This year Hayden Flour Mills has about 150 acres in production around the state and aims to double that annually. What makes these otherwise insignificant plots special is the opportunity they provide the community, Zimmerman says. In addition to growing the wheat, Hayden Flour Mills plans to use the land for historical education, harvesting and milling demonstration, and other events.
Zimmerman says the harvest should be ready in June, at which time volunteers will be invited back to hand-reap the wheat. Though there will be only a limited supply of harvest, she says, the flour will go to local bakers and restaurants such as Pizzeria Bianco and Tarbell's.