Native Village
Youth and Education news
 December 1, 2010, Volume 3

The people's flour
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Condensed by Native Village

Ask any veteran fry bread maker what's the best flour to use, invariably they will answer, "Blue Bird."

"We wouldn't be in business without the Navajo people," said Trent Tanner, part owner of Blue Bird flour. "It's our philosophy that it's their flour and we make it for them."

Each year the Cortez Milling Co. produces about 15,000,000 pounds of Blue Bird flour and sells it in 5, 10, 25 and 50-pound bags. Most is sold throughout the Navajo Nation and area towns.

"Sales go up especially in the summer when kids get home from boarding school," Tanner said.

The Blue Bird brand was created in the 1930s. In 1965 Tanner's grandfather started running the Cortez Milling Co. Today the mill is run by Trent and his brother Gary.

Blue Bird flour is packaged in cloth bags, which costs more than paper. "We were told, 'Don't ever put it in paper,'" Tanner said

To meet demand, Cortez mill opens at 6 a.m.  Work begins on grinding almost 60,000 pounds of wheat each 12- to 14-hour workday. Most grinders date back to the 1800s, with some modifications.

"All the equipment is old," Tanner noted.

First, red winter wheat is weighed and dumped into pits beneath the mill. 
Then it's run through separators to remove foreign materials.
The wheat is then poured onto conveyor belts for tempering. Tempering involves spraying water to wash the wheat and soften the bran coat on each kernel.
After the wheat is washed, it rests for 12 - 14 hours before grinding.
The wheat then passes through at least four grinders. The first breaks the wheat into coarse particles to remove the "bran and short"  (bran and kernel pieces which separated from the core.)
 The bran and shorts are rich in nutrients and sold to feed stores for livestock.
Next, the grinders roll the flour until it has the consistency of baby powder.
From there the flour is poured through sifters so powerful they make the floor shake.
After sifting, the flour goes into a machine that puts all the nutrients back into the flour.
Another machine that adds bleach to speed up the whitening process.
Finally the flour is sacked in the trademark blue-and-white cotton bags for delivery to stores.  

"We used to serve about 150 trading posts," Tanner said. Today they stock big chain stores including Lowes, Kroger, and Safeway.  Tanner said they can't make enough to stock Wal-Mart because the mills is operating at capacity.

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