Barley is a great versatile grain that can be utilized much like rice or quinoa. With my pressure cooker, I’ve enjoyed a quick and simple way to cook grains. Grains like barley, lentils, and even wheat are great ways to add fiber and protein into any dish. Today we get to hear an amazing story of entrepreneurship from out of Alaska. Alaska Flour Company formed in 2012 as a way t0 increase food security in the state. You’ll love their story!
BRYCE WRIGLEY OF ALASKA FLOUR COMPANY
Delta Junction, Alaska
When did you start farming? What brought you into farming?
You could say farming is in my blood. When my ancestors came from England, they began farming in Utah. They eventually moved to Idaho, and three generations in, Burley is where I personally got my start. I worked in everything from hogs and cattle to peas, alfalfa, corn, sugar beets, and more.
In 1983, I heard about an agriculture project in Alaska, and after checking it out with my father, we decided to move there. We started growing barley as a feed crop and raised pigs for a long time, but in 2012, we decided to start Alaska’s first commercial flour mill as a way to increase food security in the state.
Who farms with you and what are their roles?
My wife, Jan, and I are co-owners of the Alaska Flour Company. In addition to running the Alaska Flour Company, my roles as State of Alaska Farm Bureau President and on the American Farm Bureau Federation board of directors keep me in touch with the people and issues that influence agriculture. Jan keeps us in line with food safety standards. My son, Milo, moved back home last year to help run the company and acts as our director of marketing, finding us new vendors, setting up presentations, and helping with the day-to-day operations of the mill. His wife Leah, has taken over the development of new mixes and helps Milo with the many demonstrations and event we get involved with. And my daughter-in-law, Heather, is our Communications Director and singlehandedly manages our website and social media platforms, especially Facebook. She also helps design our labels, and is responsible for the written and video content we put out. Most of our children still live quite close, so a lot of the family and grandkids help out frequently. Some days, we have four generations out working on the farm. It’s very much a family business.
What has been the most satisfying part of farming for you?
We started Alaska Flour Company with three goals: 1) To improve food security in Alaska, 2) To develop new markets for our neighboring farmers, and 3) To successfully transition our farm to the next generation.
It is deeply satisfying to know that we are able to make healthy food literally from a seed to the kitchen even as we are accomplishing our goals. We often get feedback about how much our customers like our products and how much better they feel. Hearing those stories and being a part of them has become most satisfying to us.
What crops (or animals) do you grow and why?
We grow Sunshine hulless barley on our 1,700-acre farm, and from that, we produce a wide range of products, including 100% stoneground barley flour, barley couscous, cream of barley cereal, cracked barley, whole barley, roasted barley (for tea), and several mixes — our Alaska Flour Company pancake and cinnamon chip pancake mixes, our Kodiak chocolate chip cookie mix, and our black gold brownie mix. Our products are carried in stores and school districts throughout the state, and we also get a lot of customers who order individually through our online store.
The biggest reason we do what we do is that we are committed to increasing food independence in Alaska by providing high-quality products. Alaska is at the end of a very long transportation chain. More than 95% of food in Alaska is shipped from the lower 48 states, and disruptions to our transportation occur on a regular basis. After observing the difficulty of getting food to the victims of Hurricane Katrina a few years ago, we chose to make locally grown food more available to Alaskans.
What is one thing you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?
I wish the general public understood how deeply we desire to provide safe food for them. We are careful about what we do because it has our name on it and we want it to be better than anyone else’s, not because we are forced to. We constantly discuss what we can do to improve our customer’s experience with the food they buy from us. One of our greatest advantages is that Alaska’s remoteness has kept most of the diseases and pests out. As a result, we can grow and process food that is clean and healthy.
I loved the use of barley in this casserole, it lended a much better flavor than rice or quinoa and it puffs up a little larger than cooked rice or quinoa. Feel free to sub pulled pork in this dish as well!
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
- 1 medium head broccoli, cut into small florests (can use frozen too)
- 3 cups pearled barley, cooked
- 1 (10 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 10 ounces cheddar, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and set aside.
- Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the broccoli for 2-3 minutes and remove from boiling water. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, the shredded chicken, and half the cheddar cheese. Salt and pepper well.
- In the baking dish, spread the barley into an even layer. Layer the broccoli on top. Pour the chicken mixture on top. Spread evenly over the broccoli and barley. Top with remaining cheddar cheese.
- Bake 35-40 minutes or until casserole is bubbling and cheese is melted.
- Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving, serve and enjoy.