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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."
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
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
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
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
The bran and shorts are rich in nutrients and sold to feed stores for
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
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
"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
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