Addison Maxwell, daughter of Christina Frick, Pawnee County, Kansas, participates in the weed judging and identification contest at the 2019 Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo, Aug. 8, Kingman, Kansas. The Wheat Expo is a day set aside for Kansas 4-H members to compete in contests and learn about the wheat industry in the state. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Wheat is an integral part of many Kansas 4-H members’ agronomy projects—after all, the state typically raises almost one-fifth of the wheat grown in the United States year after year.

It didn’t get the moniker “America’s Breadbasket” for nothing.

And so, for 65 years, Kansas 4-H has recognized the role of wheat in the state with the Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo.

“It’s a wheat field day, where we celebrate all things wheat-related and 4-H families can exhibit in several divisions,” explained Deryl Waldren, a retired Kansas State University Extension agent, who now contracts with Extension to coordinate the Kansas 4-H Wheat Program. This year’s 4-H Wheat Expo was Aug. 8, in Kingman, Kansas.

The day begins with members bringing their entries in categories that include baking with wheat, photographing wheat, creating educational displays about wheat, and even showcasing their quart jars of wheat they grew for judging.

“We have a tour of some businesses nearby that are part of the wheat industry, and then there’s judging contests,” Waldren said. “Everything is centered around wheat and education and fun.”

Members don’t have to be wheat farmers to participate in the Wheat Expo, Waldren explained. They can participate in the photography or baking or other categories. Karen Blakeslee, KSU food safety specialist and director of the Rapid Response Center, judged the baking categories. Blakeslee enjoys the time she spends helping young members learn how to improve their baking skills, and showcase Kansas’s signature crop.

And if baking or photography aren’t their thing, members can even “Adopt-A-Producer” and can enter a quart jar wheat sample from a local neighbor or family member to be judged.

This year about 50 4-H members and their families came out to Kingman, from as far away as Seward County. Some families turn the 4-H Wheat Expo into a tradition, with multiple generations having participated.

Jacob Bell is a Stevens County 4-H member who came to the Wheat Expo with his mother, Tia Bell. It was the teenager’s first time being able to attend the Wheat Expo because it didn’t fall on top of marching band practice this year, Tia explained.

“It sounded interesting and something that I hadn’t done yet,” Jacob said. He entered a sample of the white wheat variety Joe that he grew, which got a blue ribbon in the contest.

“I have a 4-H variety plot and Joe really did good this year,” he said. Bell is enrolled in the 4-H plant science and field crops projects and he hopes to go to college and participate in crops and land judging and major in agronomy and agricultural business before returning to the family farm.

Inspiring youth like Jacob Bell to see a future in the wheat industry is what the Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo has been working towards for 65 years.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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