When you shop at the farmers market or grocery store, it's easy to take for granted the many hours of work that go into a single loaf of bread. Or at least, it is until you have the chance to insert yourself directly into the middle of the process.
On Saturday morning, about two dozen volunteers had the chance to do just that. At 6 a.m., a group gathered at the PHX Renews site in Steele Indian School Park to help Hayden Flour Mills harvest one acre of White Sonoran Wheat.
The field of wheat was planted back in January as a part of a project aimed to transform the unused land within the park into usable community space. In addition to the acre of White Sonoran Wheat, Hayden Flour Mills also planted an acre of Blue Beard Durum wheat and a variety of heirloom corn called chapalote. All three of the crops planted are heritage or ancient grains, meaning they outdate the hybrid grains most often used today by large scale farmers. Bringing back these crops, which have been driven almost to extinction in some cases, is an important part of Hayden Flour Mill's mission.
When it comes to timing the wheat harvest, it's all about striking a balance between giving the crop enough time to grow to its fullest potential but not waiting so long that the monsoon seasons starts. That's because once the wheat gets wet in the rain, the germ starts to sprout and the wheat becomes unusable for making flour.
The problem with harvesting such a small plot of land -- as in, a single acre -- is that one can't use large machinery. It has to be done entirely by hand. On Saturday, volunteers used handheld scythes, scissors, and garden shears to harvest as much of the wheat as they could before the day got too hot. Hayden Flour Mills also brought in a standing thresher so that the wheat could be cleaned on-site.
White Sonoran Wheat, an ancient grain that's native to Arizona, has become increasingly popular with local bakers and restaurants since Hayden Flour Mills started milling it into three different types of flours. It's one of the oldest surviving wheat varieties in North America and grows well in Arizona's climate.
For more photos from Saturday morning's harvest check out our complete slideshow.