Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Sossaman Family
By Arizona Farm Bureau’s Communication, Ag Education and Marketing Director Julie Murphree: Where to begin with this farm family. Their farm history in Arizona is amazing. To spotlight their agriculture history, we start with Jasper and Nancy Sossaman, originally from Oklahoma, who came to Arizona looking for a better life in 1914 after their pig farm near Galveston, Texas, was wiped out in a hurricane. Shortly thereafter, another tragedy hit in 1918 when Jasper passed away, leaving Nancy and three sons to manage by themselves. Luckily, homesteads became available in Queen Creek, and the family obtained not one, but two! Gradually, they extended the farm to 1,000 acres and grew cotton, watermelon, potatoes, Durham wheat, castor beans, corn and sugar beets.
Steve and Chris Sossaman's business mantra is, "Say YES to opportunities." It's the best way to meet new people with new ideas.
One of the three sons, also named Jasper, married Faith Mather and continued farming. Their only child, Jamie, inherited the farm in 1962. Son, Stephen, and wife, Chris, now manage the farm including their innovative marketing of heritage grains.
On politics and service, Jamie and Steve both served as presidents of Maricopa County Farm Bureau and on the state board. Besides farming, Jamie served 24 years in the state Legislature, both in the House where he served as
Jamie’s wife, Sue, was also active in county politics during some very turbulent times.
Over the years the farm has always been an innovative family-centered business run by people who cared not just for the land, but also for the community.
And this year, Arizona Farm Bureau awarded the family the Heritage Award for their service and dedication to agriculture and the Farm Bureau family.
An interview with Steve and Chris Sossaman – Queen Creek, Arizona
Part of an ongoing series about Arizona’s farming and ranching families.
Tell us about your farm: Our family homesteaded in Queen Creek in 1919. The family had come to Phoenix in about 1914. Everything was irrigated with wells. It started out as a vegetable farm servicing the copper mining communities. Then they went on to potatoes, cotton, and grains.
Like most Arizona farms, Sossaman Farms is hands on.
Today, we mainly farm alfalfa with a rotation into wheat and barley. The grains we grow are called ancient grains, which means they’ve never been hybridized. The grains are hundreds of years old, and several varieties even over a thousand years old. Jeff Zimmerman,
Every year we grow six to eight different varieties of ancient grains. We grow everything from barleys to bread
Wife, Chris, and her Business: My Company is called TeaRoyalty. All of my teas
What changes have you seen in your operation over the years? Since everything has to be irrigated, water is the most precious
Another innovation came in the 1990s when I adapted drip irrigation tillage equipment for minimum tillage in our furrow irrigated crops.
Today we grow everything in level basin borders so I can switch from crop to crop easily. The next thing I did was go to minimum tillage with the alfalfa, grains,
What is your educational background? Growing up in Queen Creek, I would go to high school in Chandler. I went to a community college and then the Air Force Academy, and I finally ended up at ASU. I received a bachelor’s degree in AgBusiness in 1978.
CHRIS: I actually met Steve when I was eleven, because back in the day if you lived in
Will anyone in your family – younger generation – pursue farming? We have three daughters, and I’ve never encouraged them to pursue agriculture. This is for several reasons: Our farm is now totally surrounded by urban housing, so it wouldn’t really be an opportunity for them to keep going in our current location.
Agriculture is more of a lifestyle versus a business choice.
I have always believed that if your business was in commodities you must diversify or face the consequences.
Over the years we have diversified our family business in places other than farming and that is where we include the girls.
An example of that would be that the Hayden Flour Mills is now located on our farm, and two of our girls work for Hayden. That’s agriculture related, but it’s not actually the farming aspect of it. It’s the milling and processing and marketing of a farm product. Our middle daughter works in the tea business with her mom.
Steve's parents, Sue and Jamie Sossaman and his grandfather, Jasper Sossaman.
What are your community activities? We’ve done a lot of stuff with the Grain Council, Cotton Incorporated, the National Cotton Council, U.S. Wheat Associates, and Farm Bureau, as well. Locally I serve on a lot of boards of
What do you love most about farming/ranching, or the agriculture industry in general? Some of the finest people you could ever meet across the country, and even in other countries, all have a common bond with the land. The other aspect of it is that as a business, it’s a way of life, not a means to a paycheck. That way of life includes something different every day. There are new challenges, new opportunities, and it keeps you on your toes.
CHRIS: Every day is different, and because we are on a seasonal calendar it’s not a typical nine-to-five job at all. I love that challenge of doing new things all the time. We meet with chefs, we talk pasta, we talk grains, we talk about greenhouses, and we talk to brewers and distillers and foodies. It is just such a small community in Arizona. It’s amazing how everybody knows everybody else. I love that part of it and it feels like an extended farm family. When we travel we do farm things. We tour packing plants, and mills, and implement museums and eat at
What do you enjoy doing in your free time or what is something most people don’t know about you? Of
We, as a family, are getting to design and build our own community on our farm in Queen Creek. It will include not only residential and
Very few people get to design their own community, so this will be a family project separate from farming. We will include multigenerational housing, that way you can age in place. The Heritage Corner will showcase agriculture past and future.
CHRIS: The tea is my project right now. I took Steve with me to attend a tea school in Kentucky. I love speaking on tea and people probably don’t realize how much public speaking I do
Why are you Farm Bureau members? Because our family has always been about service to the community, my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, our kids and our grandkids, the family has always been civic minded.
We live by Christian principles, and we try to exercise those principles in our business. Farm Bureau is like-minded and they are there to serve their community. The Farm Bureau has been serving through representing us on local, state and national issues, and because Farm Bureau is “Of the members” and “by the members,” it has always felt like a farm family to us.
How will the next generation of agriculturalists have to operate? The key word is integration. If you look at millennials, which is a bigger bubble than the baby boomers, and how they view the world, you have to think of them as consumers. I have science on my side but they have emotions and feelings and ideas and perceptions. It’s not enough to say that science is on my side. You have to integrate with those people through sales and interactions, and they will learn by doing and seeing. If you model whatever you are going to do based on the millennials and their perceptions and needs, the older generations will follow along.
What is the best business advice you have ever received or given? I always say “yes” to opportunities. That’s probably why I’ve gotten into the minimum till/no till way. I said “yes” to growing ancient grains. I always say yes to things like volunteering or joining groups.
You never get to meet new people with new ideas unless you say “yes.”