NORTH BRANCH, Minn. — Sunrise Flour Mill, in this east-central Minnesota town, mills single source organic heritage wheat and rye which is sold as flour or manufactured into a line of pastas.
The heritage wheat, which is milled using the Unifine technology, has names like Turkey Red, Sonora White, and Red Fife. Marty and Darrold Glanville founded the mill in 2007 and have operated it since then. They expect to mill over a million pounds of wheat this year thanks to a substantial bump in sales during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Glanvilles came to the grain milling business through their search for a style of bread like they had eaten while traveling in Europe, combined with an acute health crisis for Darrold.
Darrold’s health problems included exhaustion, headaches and sinus problems, and gastric reflux so bad that he had to sleep sitting up. He saw doctors, but to no avail.
“It wasn’t until after an evening out gorging on family-sized Italian pasta dishes that Darrold’s symptoms hit a peak and we began to consider that gluten intolerance might be the culprit,” Marty says.
Turning to a gluten-free diet did solved the problem. Darrold felt better within a few days. But gluten-free bread substitutes not only had a long list of unhealthy chemical additives, but it tasted pretty much like Kleenex, Marty says.
“I went through the entire health struggle; and then a friend said why don’t you try some of the old wheat varieties,” Darrold said. “He told me about the Turkey Red variety.”
Turkey Red is a tall drought tolerant hard red winter wheat brought to the United States by Ukrainian Mennonite farmers in the 1870s. It was grown widely in the Great Plains until the 1940s. At that time it was replaced by shorter, more productive Green Revolution hybrids which were reliant on fertilizers and herbicides.
Some of the other heritage wheats milled at Sunrise are Sonora White, Pima, and Red Fife. Sonora White is a flavorful soft wheat introduced into the Sonora Desert region over 300 years ago. Red Fife is a Canadian variety which was also displaced by the Green Revolution. Heritage wheat varieties are varieties grown prior to the Green Revolution.
Before opening Sunrise Mill, Darrold and Marty located small quantities of some of these heritage varieties. After baking them, Darrold found he could eat wheat products again and Marty was able to throw out her joint pain medication.
“Turkey Red is significantly different from hybrid hard red wheat,” Darrold said. “The first thing you notice is that the berries are smaller and lighter in color. When it’s milled the bran appears to mill finer than in hybrid hard red. The smell during milling is different too. Hybrid hard red has a very strong, but not unappealing, smell while it is milling; but the Turkey Red has almost no smell at all until you put your nose right up to it. One person described it as smelling fresh like a garden or tomatoes.”
“The gluten appears different as well,” Darrold continued. “When it is being mixed it seems to form a workable dough much sooner than the hybrid. The resulting bread is a lighter but still very flavorful bread with a moist and good crumb.”
Once Darrold could eat wheat bread again he continued the search for the perfect loaf. Heritage non-hybred varieties were part of the answer. The other part was the Unifine mill — developed by an Englishman and Washington State University researchers in the 1930s. There are only five of them in the country today, according Marty.
The Unifine milling process creates a whole wheat flour which is finer than stone ground or grist mill flour. Darrold calls the mill an impact mill. Marty says the process sort of explodes or shatters, rather than grinds, flour.
Milling with a Unifine mill is very noisy. “We built a sound-proof room around it and we still have to wear ear protectors,” Marty said.
The result of all that commotion is an exceptionally fine whole wheat flour.
“You get a loftier and lighter loaf with unifine flour as compared with stone ground whole wheat,” Darrold said.
That light lofty loaf made from organic heritage wheat is as flavorful and nutritious as the European bread Darrold and Marty recall from their travels. And, perhaps most importantly, they get no allergic reactions to it.
The Glanvilles used to buy certified organic grain from Minnesota farmers; but, as the mill’s production increased, it became difficult to find farmers who raised the quantity and quality required.
“Turkey Red is a very vibrant old variety that will grow almost anywhere; but it grows best in dry climates,” Darrold said. “Sprouting or weather damage, which is measured by a test called the Falling Number, tends to be too high in climates like Minnesota.”
“For the last few years we’ve been dealing with RJ Klie Organic Farm in St. Francis, Kansas,” he said. “I just made a deal with him for 800,000 pounds of Turkey Red certified organic. That will make up a good part of our whole wheat for a year.”
Organic heritage wheat markets at around $16-$20 per bushel. That’s about four times the cost of conventional hybrid wheat; and that price difference partly accounts for the high cost of Sunrise ’s flour. Darrold, who no longer gets deathly ill from eating bread, figures it worth it.
“In Europe, they spend about 10 percent of their income on healthcare and 30 percent on food,” he said. “We spend 30 percent on health care and 10 percent on food.”
So, would you rather eat some tasty bread or get sick and go to the doctor, he wonders.
Darrold and Marty are working on some bread machine recipes. You can learn more about that — as well as all their products — by visiting them on Facebook or at their website sunriseflourmill.com.