About an hour south of Central Phoenix, Steve Sossaman still lives and farms the homestead his family has had since the early 1900s. On the 800acre farm, Sossaman mainly grows alfalfa, but about 30 acres contains more than a half- dozen varieties of heritage grains for Hayden Flour Mills.
On a hot day in late June, Sossaman drives around a field of alfafa in his red pickup, classical music blaring from the speakers. He arrives at a recently plowed field of wheat and seeks out some of the few remaining heads of wheat berries on the edges of the field. He cradles them in his palm, explaining that the field had to be harvested before the summer rains could ruin the crop.
"This project endeavors to bring back the flavor of wheat," Sossaman says, looking out at the field. "We're trying to do something really special here, and it's working."
In addition to White Sonora, Sossaman and a small number of other farmers around the state grew several varieties of heritage grains this year, including three types of purple barley, a red wheat from Russia, and a Blue Beard durum wheat from Ethiopia. Some of the harvests are too small for production; this year's crop will go toward planting next season. Sometimes it can take years before the growers have enough seed for a production-size crop.
The good news is that Arizona's climate lends itself well to growing wheat, making it easier for farmers like Sossaman to slowly bring back ancient grains. The next big step in reviving the grain food system will be bringing the three parts of the wheat food chain together.
"It's a three-legged stool: There's the grower and there's the miller and there's the baker," Sossaman says. "Right now, they're scattered all over the country. We're the first ones to do it all together."
Within the next few months, Hayden Flour Mills will move out of the back room at Pane Bianco and into a new building on Sossaman's farm. Standing in the middle of the unfinished structure, Sossaman lays out the space where two additional stone flour mills will go. The new mills and the current Hayden Flour Mills mill will be visible through a window, he says. The building also will house a sort of grain-tasting room, which eventually will be open to the public for tours and educational opportunities.
"You're at ground zero right here," he says, stepping out of the building into what will be a covered patio.
That space will offer a wood-fired oven where local artisan bakers will come and test new flours to help Zimmerman decide which grains to grow and in what quantities. It's a huge step for their company and the movement.
"I want this to be a model for other parts of this country," Sossman says.