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Heritage Grains Catching On Fast, Says Grower
A simple conversation with a friend about producing flour from heritage varieties of grain resulted in Steve Sossaman, Queen Creek, Arizona, creating a whole new business based on ancient grains. Along the way he had to figure out how to grow, harvest, and market his unique products to breweries, distilleries and restaurants. He also sells online to consumers and has an on-farm event center to host agri-tourists.
“My friend, Jeff Zimmerman, wanted to revive the Hayden Mill name – a historic local mill - and process grain like it would have been milled when Hayden was started in 1868,” recalls Sossaman. “No one had done anything like this before, and there was no 3-ring binder of instructions to pull off the shelf. We are still adjusting and finding our way today.”
Zimmerman and Sossaman ended up going down a path they could never have imagined. The first step was to find seed sources for and information on heritage grains like White Sonora (1700’s), Red Fife (1840), Emmer (4,000 B.C.), Einkorn (9,000 B.C.) and more.
“The biggest challenge was the lack of information on these old grains,” says Sossaman, a fifth generation Arizona grower of grain and other crops. “We did multiple seeding rate and fertility trials on the farm. We might find enough seed in a variety to plant 20 acres or so the first year. It often takes 3 years to grow out enough to mill.”
At the same time, the 2 collaborators were searching for grain cleaning and milling equipment that fit the operation.
“A lot of people grow grain, but getting it to food-grade quality is a big challenge,” says Sossaman. “We sought out experts and pieced together cleaning equipment from the U.S., Canada, Japan and the Netherlands. The guy who helped us put it all together was from Canada.”
Sossaman emphasizes the importance of building a milling operation on-farm if possible. He tells about a small malting operation he knows about that built off the farm. Taxes were twice what they would have been on-farm.
Once equipment was in place, Hayden Mills began producing and marketing flour and other grain products. As production expanded, Sossaman began marketing grain to other buyers. This took off when his son-in-law joined the business. He and Sossaman’s 3 daughters all had food service experience.
His son-in-law’s contacts in food service, brewing and distilling expanded their market for grains into those areas.
“Today, half our grain goes into those markets and half into milling,” says Sossaman.
He notes that his soils and hot dry climate are ideal for many of the grains that originated in similar conditions in the Middle East. As his markets have expanded, he is now working with others, such as the Yavapai Apache Nation in northern Arizona.
“The Nature Conservancy was working with them to introduce crops that used less water, including barley,” says Sossaman. “I suggested they try Gazelle Rye, a heritage variety, and it turned out fantastic. Next year they will double the acreage. It gives us a source for a grain that doesn’t do as well here.”
Sossaman is all about collaborating and working with others. One group he recommends getting to know is regulators. “You have to work with them, so make friends,” he says. “We spent several years pioneering agritainment in our community and worked to make it a zoning category. We helped write the regulations so they wouldn’t require asphalt and concrete like on commercial sites. Instead, they allow older buildings that are more common in an agricultural landscape.”
He is equally open about sharing information. The company website is filled with videos and information on how his business operates.
Helping people also means sharing what not to do. “If we can steer you to the right suppliers or right variety, we want to do it,” he says. “Our business model is to be open to anyone who wants to learn the business. We have lots of people tour the farm. We love to help people go down this road.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Sossaman Farms, 19101 E. Ocotillo Rd., Queen Creek, Arizona 85142 (ph 623 570-9959; info@grainrandd.com; www.grainrandd.com); or Hayden Flour Mills, 22100 S. Sossaman Rd., Queen Creek, Arizona 85142 (www.haydenflourmills.com).

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2019 - Volume #43, Issue #6