0629_nationalfestivalofbrea.cfm First National Festival of Breads celebrated in Wichita
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First National Festival of Breads celebrated in Wichita

Summertime in the High Plains is usually centered around wheat harvest, which can be exciting and stressful, simultaneously. Drought, late spring frosts, hail and flooding are on the minds of producers, especially when income is at high risk. In addition, unpredictable market prices and yields have farmers eager to get their wheat out of the field.

But last week as harvest was just a few days away, the wheat industry paused for an educational opportunity. For the first time, Kansas Wheat and King Arthur Flour decided to organize the National Festival of Breads, which highlighted a bread recipe contest and a tour of wheat production in the High Plains.

"We wanted to take our popular Kansas Festival of Breads contest to a higher level and reach urban consumers outside the state," said Cindy Falk, nutrition educator and chairman of the 2009 National Festival of Breads.

Agriculturalists have developed a science to provide food and fiber at the convenience of consumers. When shopping at the local grocery store, consumers are not forced to think about how a loaf of bread is produced, or how flour is just tiny particles of a wheat seed's endosperm. At the same time, many do not consider the amount of money, time, management and technology it takes to produce wheat.

"When people bake bread, we want them to recall the wheat grower, grain elevator and the flour miller," Falk said.

Eight finalists gathered in Wichita, Kan., on June 15-17, 2009, to compete in the National Festival of Breads baking contest. Before baking for a $2,000 cash prize, the eight finalists received first-hand experience of wheat harvest in the High Plains. The opportunity offered them a small amount of excitement and stress that farmers go through each summer so consumers can buy wheat products at their local grocery store.

"I have never thought about the production process from wheat seed to flour," said Jessie Grearson, finalist of the National Festival of Breads baking contest.

The highlight of the wheat tour was the opportunity for the bakers to watch wheat harvest in action at Steve Jacob Farms in Hutchinson, Kan. Ryan Speer, partner in Steve Jacob Farms, harvested a ten-acre field of hard red winter wheat and offered rides in the combine to bakers who wanted one.

"The machinery is more high tech than I expected," said Allison Furbish, media relations manager of King Arthur Flour.

The eight finalists were able to see the whole production process--from harvesting the wheat, to hauling it to the elevator to measure for weight, moisture content and protein percentages. The charter bus followed the grain truck hauling 900 bushels of wheat to the Andale Farmers Co-op of Sedgwick, Kan.

Andale Farmers Co-op employees greeted the bakers with a cold soda and explained how important it was to produce wheat with 12 percent moisture and protein above 14 percent. Offering high protein percentages and low moisture contents makes the process of flour milling much easier. The bakers also understood that it is vital for the wheat to consist of low moisture content to ensure fresher grain when storing. In addition, the employees explained why farmers need to keep their fields clean and set their combines correctly to keep foreign material to a minimum, in order to offer clean wheat to flour mills.

Earlier in the day, the bakers had the opportunity to tour the Cargill Flour Mill in Wichita, Kan. Here the contestants were able to see grain trucks transporting wheat to the plant and producing wheat into flour. Officials of the flour mill gave a personalized tour of the plant to educate the bakers that the wheat is ground and sifted until the endosperm is broken down into small particles to make flour. The bakers were very surprised to hear that the mill produces 3 million pounds of flour each hour and the mill runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"There should be more educational events like this, about agriculture," said Steve Jacob, partner in Steve Jacob Farms.

The educational event came about when Kansas Wheat and King Arthur Flour decided to host the National Festival of Breads baking competition. Since education is a high priority for both organizations, the tour was also planned to help inform consumers about the production of wheat.

The eight finalists submitted their best recipes to the competition this spring. Over 500 recipes from across the U.S. were submitted and the competition was narrowed down to the top eight recipes.

The eight finalists from across the nation visited Wichita, Kan., for a chance at the grand prize of $2,000 cash and a trip to a King Arthur Flour baking class of the winner's choice in Norwich, Vt. Each finalist received $500 cash and had the opportunity to participate in educational events about the wheat industry.

After the eight finalists baked their recipes, the grand prize of the first-ever National Festival of Breads was awarded to Dianna Wara of Washington, Ill. Dianna won the competition with her ethnic bread recipe, Tomato, Basil, Garlic Filled Pane Bianco.

"There are eight great breads up there and, to be the one winner, I can't believe it," Wara said.

The other seven finalists were Marjorie Johnson of Robbinsdale, Minn.; Jan Galloway of Columbia, Mo.; Nikki Norman of Milton, Tenn.; Jessie Grearson of Falmouth, Maine; Tanna Richard of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Judy Reynolds of Bloomington, Ind.; and Gloria Piantek of West Lafayette, Ind.

The judging was based on taste, originality, ease of preparation, healthfulness and appearance. The eight final recipes were judged by Diana McMillen, senior food editor for Midwestern Living; Mary Molt, Ph.D., at Kansas State University; and Kirk O'Donnel, Ph.D., and vice president of education at AIB International.

Lisa Brown can be reached at 620-227-1805 or by e-mail at lbrown@hpj.com.

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