By Nancy Tarnai
January 11, 2011
A historic moment occurred Dec. 7 in a tucked away barn at a Delta Junction farm. No bells, fireworks or champagne marked the occasion, but it was a joyous moment for Bryce Wrigley and his family when they ground barley to make flour.
The news of the first time in decades a commercial flour mill has operated in Alaska has been met with enthusiasm. Not long after Wrigley set up his Alaska Flour Co. Facebook page he attracted nearly 500 fans and had calls from as far away as Nome, Dillingham, Cordova and Valdez requesting flour. “We won’t be extending that far this first year,” Wrigley said.
Asked why he chose to invest in such an expensive operation, Wrigley said he and his wife Jan wanted to do something to provide food for Alaskans. They started their journey by visiting flour mills around the Lower 48 when they were on vacation last year.
This fall he ordered equipment for the mill from Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan and has been working hard ever since to get the business up and running.
“The food security stuff really kicked it off,” Wrigley said. “Since Hurricane Katrina, it’s been on my mind.” He said when looking at the food pyramid, Alaska can grow something in every category. “Why can’t we get to the point of raising enough food in the state for three months?” he asked. In the event of a pandemic, Wrigley said the government has addressed masks and rubber gloves but not food. “It takes 90 days for a pandemic to run its course,” he said. “We have a one-week supply of food in state so all we need is two months and three weeks.”
He has high hopes that the state and university can continue agricultural research. “We are the most vulnerable state,” he said. “We have to take care of ourselves, otherwise the time will come when we can’t.”
Wrigley, who is a grain farmer and president of the Alaska Farm Bureau, said he tried to get other folks interested in starting a mill. “In June I decided it was going to happen and I should look into what it would take.” His research included all the details of not only grinding grain, but packaging and marketing flour.
The impressive electric-powered mill can produce a 20, 40 or 100-mesh grain (the higher the number the finer the grain) and Wrigley is working with Ingal wheat and Sunshine hulless barley to produce flour. He grows both on his own farm and is hoping to convince neighbors to join the endeavor. “It will change the crops we raise,” Wrigley said. He plans to plant 200 acres of barley and 300 acres of wheat this year.
The mill capacity is 700 to 1,000 pounds of flour per hour. “My goal is to do 100 tons the first year then 900 the next year and 1,500 in five years. We’re going to ramp up production as fast as we can sell it. If I can’t keep up with store demand I’ll be tickled.”
Pricing will be similar to other specialty flours, Wrigley said. “I’m not trying to complete with Gold Medal.”
Through UAF Cooperative Extension Service studies, it has been found that mixing half barley flour with half wheat flour produces the best results. It’s better to mix the two because barley holds moisture. For barley flour recipes, including cornbread, brownies, banana bread, pancakes, carrot cake, cookies, crackers, muffins, noodles and pie crust, visit the Extension publications website.
For the future, Wrigley is considering the production of brownie, cake and pancake mixes. “We want to try different things,” he said. The flour is sold in Fairbanks at Alaska Feed and Homegrown Market and in Anchorage at the Natural Pantry.
One huge bonus to opening the mill has been that while the Wrigley farm hadn’t been making enough money to keep the adult children employed and they had all moved Outside, the eldest son Dallen has moved home from Idaho with his wife and four children to help with mill operations. “I’m excited to pass this farm to subsequent generations,” Wrigley beamed.
and on Facebook
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.