Hayden Flour Mills
Hayden Flour Mills, Queen Creek

Find and Dine on Arizona's Heritage Foods

Visit some of Arizona's working farms and gardens where native and near-extinct crops are being grown, harvested, protected and served.

As the nationwide farm-to-table movement grows, several Arizona food growers are helping visitors re-connect with their food at working "heritage farms."

Heritage foods are traditional crops grown in the past that are now endangered as large-scale, industrial farming focuses on just a few species to grow the biggest harvests possible. Also known as heirloom plants, these foods tend to be more labor intensive to grow, and some are in danger of disappearing entirely.

Arizona's Fresh Foodie Trail

Along the Phoenix-area Fresh Foodie Trail, you'll find farms, ranches and mills that practice traditional farming methods together with some of the local restaurants whose menus proudly feature their crops.

The Farm at Agritopia, located in Gilbert, is a one-stop shopping point for fresh produce and organic farming appreciation. The property contains lush fields of row crops, citrus and stone-fruit orchards, as well as date palm and olive tree groves. It also offers free farm tours, gardening and cooking classes, a weekly farmers' market, outdoor cookouts, and a seasonal citrus and U-pick peach harvest.

The community farm at Agritopia in Gilbert is green and welcoming.

Visitors to Agritopia in Gilbert will find a vibrant community of growers. / Visit Mesa

About an hour from Phoenix proper is Hayden Flour Mills at Sossaman Farms, a century-old, family-owned farm in Queen Creek. The property has expanded its public-outreach facilities and, starting in September 2018, will offer bread-making and pasta-making classes, field-to-plate events and educational tours of the mill, where its crops (including White Sonoran Wheat, the nation's oldest variety) are stone ground into specialty flours.

Living agricultural museum

Find and Dine on Arizona's Heritage Foods
Mission Garden, credit An Pham

Immediately west of downtown Tucson is Mission Garden, a four-acre plot of land organizers call a "living, edible museum." It pays homage to the area's diverse cultural heritage and longstanding agricultural history. After all, crops have cultivated in the Tucson Basin for more than 4,000 years.

A re-created garden that once existed beyond the walls of Mission San Agustín now features a Hohokam agave plantation, field crops that Spanish explorers brought with them from the Old World and desert-adapted species of squash, bean and corn used by O'odham peoples. The property hosts cooking classes, gardening demonstrations, plant sales and agricultural festivals.

Crop conservation

Also in Tucson, Native Seeds/SEARCH (Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House) focuses on preserving the biodiversity of the Southwest's food and agriculture traditions. Many different types of heirloom plants, including squashes, beans, sunflowers, corn and greens are grown in partnership with farmers in the Southwest and in the Native Seeds/SEARCH Conservation Center gardens on River Road. The seed bank, where almost 2,000 varieties of arid-adapted crops are maintained, is open to the public and guided tours are available on request.

These unique foods, as well as other locally produced products such as mesquite and wheat flours, heritage vegetable and wildflower seeds, are available at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store on Campbell Avenue.

Fields of lavender

Outside Concho, Arizona, near the New Mexican border, you'll find Red Rock Lavender Ranch and Farm, which cultivates rolling fields of fragrant lavender bushes, as well as vineyards and fruit orchards producing apricots, cherries, peaches, plums and pomegranates.

Farm tours are offered during its annual Lavender Fest, after which the purple flower spikes are harvested and turned into aromatherapy oils and other products. The festival, held over the last two weekends in June, features live music, cooking demonstrations and wine tastings.

About the Author

Bryn Bailer

Native Tucsonan Bryn Bailer is an award-winning journalist, former newspaper reporter, current-affairs junkie, and a firm believer in indecision. (At least she thinks so.) Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Dallas Morning News, Arizona Highways, Arizona Daily Star, international news service Agence France-Presse, scads of lifestyle magazines, and curiously, the English-language financial magazine Czech Business Weekly.