2011 National Festival of Breads offers baking competition and wheat education
By Lesa Teer
A lot more happened than just a baking competition at the National Festival of Breads, held June 25 in Wichita, Kan.
The biennial contest, sponsored by the Kansas Wheat Commission, King Arthur Flour, Inc. and Fleischmann's Yeast, offered equal doses of education and competition for the eight finalists.
The finalists experienced Kansas and Midwest culture during their three-day stay that included a trip to the Old Cowtown Museum, wheat harvest and a tour of the Cargill flour mill in addition to the all-day baking competition activities on Saturday.
The June 24 activities were planned to allow finalists to see the entire process from wheat harvest to flour milling. "We want you to have a better understanding of the stuff in the King Arthur bag and where it comes from," Aaron Harris, Kansas Wheat Commission director of marketing, told the contestants.
The finalists spent part of the day hands-on learning about wheat harvest at the Steve Jacob Farms in Sedgwick, Kan. Ryan Speer, a partner in Steve Jacob Farms, explained the modern wheat harvest along with the time, technology and risks involved in wheat production.
Robin Porter, a National Festival of Breads finalist, said that she knew a little about farming but did not realize how complex the process of spraying, planting and harvesting is. "I found the science behind it so interesting," Porter, a former physics teacher, said.
Lois Dowling, a National Festival of Breads finalist, grew up harvesting wheat and enjoyed learning how technology has changed the process.
"I grew up in North Dakota but a lot has changed in 60 years," Dowling said. "We certainly weren't concerned with soil microbes or anything like that; we just sowed the wheat."
Even though wheat harvest was already complete in the area, Speer saved several acres of wheat, risking it being damaged by the weather, to allow the finalists to ride in the combine and experience wheat harvest firsthand in what was one of the most popular events of the day.
The contestants then loaded the charter bus to follow the grain truck to Andale Farmers Coop where Steve Shaver, Andale Farmers Coop general manager, and Bill Perkins, Andale Farmers Coop grain operations manager, showed the finalists how grain is tested and explained that grain with 12 percent moisture and at least 14 percent protein is the best to be milled into flour. Shaver also explained to the contestants about storage technology of the grain bins and the destinations, domestically and internationally, for Kansas wheat.
Earlier in the day, the finalists, their guests, sponsors and Kansas Wheat Commission spokespeople were taken on a tour of Cargill's Horizon Flour Mill in downtown Wichita to learn about the milling process from start to finish. For most, it was their first time to tour a mill and witness the entire process.
Mary Kay Allen, a National Festival of Breads finalist, grew up on a farm and was impressed by the complexity of the flour milling process. "I will definitely appreciate it more the next time I pick up a bag of flour," Allen said.
On June 25, the National Festival of Breads opened to the public. While the finalists spent the majority of the day baking their breads, baking demonstrations, ranging from bread sculpting to the importance of whole grains in the diet, and vendors were on hand for the public to enjoy.
New to the festival this year was the Share Our Strength "Great American Bake Sale." The bake sale consisted of items donated by local Wichita bakeries, Kansas 4-H members and the National Festival of Breads finalists. All proceeds from the bake sale, which raised more than $900, will be given to the Share Our Strength organization. Proceeds from Saturday night's National Festival of Breads awards banquet auction of the finalists' bread items were added to the donation, making the grand total given to Share Our Strength more than $2,000. This money will assist the organization's efforts to end childhood hunger and will stay in Kansas by supporting the Kansas Food Bank's programs.
The grand prize was awarded to Gale Collier of Redmond, Ore., with her Quick Raisin Granola Breakfast Rolls.
Collier received a grand prize package that includes $2,000 cash, an expense paid trip to the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Norwich, Vt., and a year's supply of Fleischmann's Yeast.
The other seven finalists included: Patricia Harmon, Baden, Penn.; Lois Dowling, Tacoma, Wash.; Robin Porter, Lilburn, Ga.; Candy McMenamin, Lexington, S.C.; Jamie Swisher, High View, W.Va.; Mary Kay Allen, Troy, Ohio; and Teresa Cardin, Valley Mills, Texas.