Hayden Mills: preserving heritage and cultivating community

By Hannah Leto, ASU sustainable food systems graduate student

Over the course of the fall 2023 Food and Farm Immersion, Hayden Flour Mills was one of the sites I was looking forward to visiting the most. The essence of Hayden Flour Mills's mission is to shift consumers away from processed grains towards natural, flavorful, and nutrient-rich products, which they achieve through the art of stone milling and the revival of heritage grains. 

Guiding us through the mill was Jeff Zimmerman, a co-owner and co-founder, whose anecdotal storytelling captivated our cohort. Jeff began the tour by sharing a story about Gary Nabhan, one of the co-founders of Native Seeds Search, and his tireless efforts in obtaining White Sonora Wheat from Mexican farmers to preserve its culturally significant legacy. Nabhan was persistent in trying to obtain White Sonora seeds and was eventually gifted seeds by a farmer’s widow who felt her husband’s legacy was intertwined with the legacy of the white Sonora seeds.  As Jeff told this story, he became teary-eyed and said, “It’s beautiful how people preserve our culture.” Jeff’s passion for the nutritional and cultural importance of heritage grains was apparent to our cohort throughout the tour.

Jeff emphasized the nutritional superiority of the heritage grains he is milling. Jeff recounted testimonials from individuals who, previously unable to consume grain products, found that Hayden Mills' flour allows them to be able to eat baked goods again. Jeff discussed how the mill recently had a chemical analysis done on their unadulterated Hard Red Spring Wheat, which had a higher nutritional profile than industrially processed wheat with enrichment. I found Hayden Mills commitment to nutrition and taste both inspiring and encouraging for the future of food. 

The importance of people and community underscored every part of the tour. Jeff shared with the group that during 2020 prior to the pandemic, Hayden Flour Mills was set to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, and the plan had been to invite all the people who had helped the Mill from the beginning. Jeff noted that the invitation list numbered in the hundreds. Jeff emphasized just how crucial his community is when he stated, “There are people trying to run businesses out there by themselves and it is really a struggle, so community is a very important piece. It’s amazing.” While Jeff and the team at Hayden Mills are running a business, they have become a galvanizing force in the community that echoes the way food used to be when it was organized at the community level.

This blog is part of a series from the Swette Center's annual Arizona Food and Farm Immersion, a required course in their two graduate programs. Students tour the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.