Let me tell you about one of the most fun, educational, and super unexpectedly amazing trips I’ve been on. Myself along with Kristen from Baker Bettie, Sally from Sally’s Baking Addiction, Annalise from Completely Delicious, Stephani from Cupcake Project, Adriana from Adriana’s Best Recipes, Jessica from A Kitchen Addiction, Lori from The Kitchen Whisperer, and Jamie from Love Bakes Good Cakes got to travel to Kansas to learn all about..wheat! Thanks to Red Star Yeast and Kansas Wheat, I was able to learn SO much about wheat and it really made me appreciate how much hard work goes into the food and flour we eat.
On our first full day in Kansas, we traveled to see Scott Van Allen at his farm in Clearwater, Kansas. Scott talked a lot about the misconceptions and fears around wheat. It was eye-opening to hear him talk so openly and passionately about a product that seems so basic, but can really feed the world. He has such a love for farming wheat and it was really amazing to get to meet the farmer who grows the wheat, that will one day be the flour that will be in our bread and desserts. Scott was even gracious enough to allow us to come during harvest season and give us each a ride in a combine (!!). Ok, let me tell you that I never thought I would be SO EXCITED to ride in a combine but guys, it was SO COOL! Am I going to start a new life as a farmer? No. But do I 100% respect and admire the hard work every farmer puts into growing wheat? Absolutely. Fun fact: Did you know that wheat makes up for 20% of the calories consumed in the world? It’s such a huge part of the world we live (and eat) in. One of the other major things we learned was about selling and the price of wheat. At the time we were there, the price of a bushel of wheat was at $4.50. But, some days it can be much lower or much higher. As a farmer, you take a risk of selling your wheat at a low price and getting more if you had waited or vise versa. Farmers can store their wheat in a grain elevator, but over time they pay for the storage time or run the risk of the price dropping. It’s kind of like playing the stock market, but with wheat!
By the way, wheat is so photogenic and we all spent approximately 15 minutes taking pictures and boomerangs of the wheat blowing in the plains wind. It couldn’t have felt more like what I imagined a typical day in Kansas would be.
The next stop of the day was to see the next step of how wheat is turned into flour, the flour mill! In my head, a flour mill is just a big machine that grinds it all up, funnels it into bags, and away it goes to the grocery store. It’s SO much more complicated and complex than that. Farmer Direct Food Flour Mill taught us all about how the wheat is separated and ground into flour, processed, and sent off to be used. The mill we visited actually processes and supplies King Arthur Flour’s Whole Wheat Flour and we got to see some of the bags on the line! It seems so odd to get excited about something like wheat and flour, but for someone who goes through a TON of it every month, it was so eye-opening!
Moving on to Day 2! Now that we’ve seen wheat being grown, harvested, and milled, it’s on to baking. We had the incredible opportunity to visit the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, where a TON of research is done on the science of wheat, growing, improving yields, and everything else under the sun. I truly had NO idea that so much research and science went into making wheat even better. We even got to watch someone hand pollinate a stalk of wheat so they could further do research on the process. They not only had greenhouses of wheat, there were SUPER cold refrigerators that mimicked the winter temperatures, and even a wheat library that held hundreds of variety of wheat from around the world. Also, we learned that Red Star Yeast and Kansas Wheat host the Festival of Breads every other year where bakers are invited to enter a recipe contest and the top bakers get to travel to Kansas for the same trip we took, plus they get to bake in a massive ballroom and take part in an amazing day full of breads, community, and EATING. You can find me there next year, just lurking around the ovens and trying to steal pieces of pastries.
One of the other major things I didn’t know about Kansas wheat specifically is that the variety is a hard red winter wheat. This means it’s planted in the winter, has the snow as a blanket or cover of sorts, and then starts to grow in the spring. This allows the wheat to grow enough to be harvested in June, rather than a typical harvest season of late summer. We learned a ton about wheat from the best boss ladies from Kansas Wheat and a few locals who worked in farming and dietetics. One of the coolest things we did was take a small detour to see the farm that one of the ladies on our trip owned. We saw her brother and dad harvesting the wheat on the land she owns, which felt like a real #bossbabe moment. It was also just fascinating to spend time with someone who works in modern day farming and really lives and breathes the life.
On to the baking! We had the amazing opportunity to watch Zoe Francois bake and let me tell you, it was a dream come true. I’ve long admired Zoe and her baking skills. From her incredible videos on Instagram to her straight up amazing skills to make gorgeous desserts, it was truly an honor to see her and get to bake alongside her. After watching Zoe bake, we split up into teams each made our own bread, which resulted in the most amazing spread of pinwheel pastries, raspberry filled braids and (our team’s favorite), fresh doughnuts! After we all thoroughly Instagrammed, photographed and styled our desserts, we dug in. It was pretty freaking awesome to stand around a table with a group of bloggers who loved baking as much as I do and dig into the best spread of homemade pastries I’ve ever experienced.
All in all, it was an amazing trip and I’m SO happy I was invited to go. The more and more I learn about our food and how it’s processed, the more I realize that it really is SO important to be aware of where our food comes from. Somewhere, there is a farmer who worked all winter and spring to harvest the wheat, that made the flour and was sent to your grocery store so you could bake a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning. So, next time you pick up a bag of flour, remember that there are so many people who are behind that bag, loving the process just as much as you love those cinnamon rolls.
A HUGE thanks to Red Star Yeast and Kansas Wheat for hosting this amazing trip. It was really a once in a lifetime opportunity and I felt so lucky to take part in seeing such a huge part of how an ingredient we use every day is made. To all the ladies who planned and made this trip happen, you are amazing and made this trip everything I imagined and more!