the importance of telling stories

Cross-posted on the Cultivate Santa Cruz blog. Cultivate Santa Cruz is a partner in the Heritage Grain Collaborative.

At farmer’s markets people often ask me, “Who is that old man on the front of your flour bag? Is it your dad?” (Another man with a white beard and the new owner of Hayden Flour Mills).

“No, it’s not my dad,” I have to say.

While my dad is considering dying his hair, I see it as an opportunity to tell some wonderful stories about the man who founded Tempe and Hayden Flour Mills: Charles T. Hayden (1825-1900). These are two of my favorites:


ONE. The legend goes that in 1868, Charles T. Hayden was making his way up to Prescott when he was waylaid by dangerously high waters on the Salt River. While waiting for the waters to subside, he stood on top of Tempe Butte and looked out on the fertile land surrounding him and envisioned an ideal spot to establish a town. In 1874 he put a grist mill at the base of Tempe Butte. In its early days, Hayden Flour Mills milled grain from all over Arizona (mostly White Sonora Wheat) and the mill became a social hub and a prosperous community built up around it.

TWO. In the late 1800’s there was a catastrophic flood on the Salt River. It destroyed neighborhoods and devastated Tempe economically. It is reported that Hayden burned the ledgers of those affected by the flood.  This extreme generosity was characteristic of Hayden’s whole life. At this time Tempe was a conglomeration of European immigrants, Hispanics, Mormon settlers, and the preexisting Native communities (Akimel O’Odhman and Yaqui). Hayden was well respected among all these communities, at a time with relationships between the settlers and the Native populations were tense.

After Charles T. Hayden, the mill was managed by four generations of Hayden’s, but following the national trends and the growing demands of the Phoenix market, the mill become industrialized and closed its doors in 1998. Reviving Hayden Flour Mills is mainly about milling local grains into high quality flours, but it is also about telling stories; using our rich heritage to inspire and inform the restoration of Arizona’s local grain economy.

In many ways, these stories reflect the principles at the heart of Arizona’sHeritage Grain Collaborative: Recognizing and respecting our land as a resource and an excellent place to grow wheat, harnessing the power of a diverse group of farmers, chefs, historians, millers, and seed savers to save a lost food culture, and generously sharing that restored food culture with our community. 

These stories come from a comprehensive, three volume history of the Hayden Flour Mills that was commissioned by the city of Tempe in 2008. Hayden Flour Mill: Landscape, Economy, and Community Diversity in Tempe. Cultural Resources Report no. 143. Tempe, Arizona. August 18, 2008.

Posted on April 25, 2012 and filed under Blog.