Flour matters: a journey to the Heartland

KansasField

Flour matters.

The reason King Arthur Flour is preferred by so many bakers is because of its quality and consistency.

I learned this first as a home baker on a passionate search for the best ingredients to bake the perfect cake. Now I’m deeply committed, after going on a trip with fellow King Arthur Flour employee-owners to one of the birthplaces of our flour – straight into the amber waves of Kansas grain.

On our week-long journey from Kansas City, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado, we met some of the farmers who grow wheat for King Arthur Flour. Bill Mai in Sharon Springs, Kansas, is one of those farmers.

Bill and Kansas State University (KSU) Extension Agent Jeanne Falk took us to a wheat test plot on the Mais’ land. These test plots help farmers see the varieties of wheat available to them, and specialists such as Jeanne can give details about the wheat’s characteristics. For instance, for King Arthur Flour, the farmer will want a high grade of wheat that’s known for its good baking properties.

John Griffith of Griffith Farms in Hill City, Kansas, shared details of the harvest with us. The wheat must be ripe and dry before harvesting. Normally our visit in mid-June would have been at the height of the harvest; but with an early spring and drought conditions, the harvest took place much earlier than usual, and we missed most of the action.

Luckily for us, there was still some wheat left on the field – so we got a chance to ride in the combine.

Unfortunately the drought has been particularly harsh in Colorado. We saw very short wheat stalks during our visit to Sayles Farm in Seibert. You’ll notice the stalks barely reach fellow King Arthur Flour employee Mark Tecca’s knees.

I can’t imagine the stress uncontrollable factors such as weather can cause a farmer. If you have the chance to thank a farmer today for their hard work and hardship, please do so.

After the harvest, the wheat journeys to the grain elevator, then to the mill.

We learned more about this during a visit to KSU for a course on milling.

Following the lecture, which was halted several times for questions from the ever-inquisitive King Arthur Flour employees, our aptly named instructor, Chris Miller, took us into a lab, where we did hands-on work with small versions of the equipment found in a mill.

Here Chris is showing KAFers Duncan Giddens, Judy Hurd, and Sue Gray how to grind the wheat into flour.

Next step is to put the flour through the sifter and weigh the now separated components: bran, germ, shorts, red dog, and flour. There are several cycles of grinding, sifting, and separating.

In the KSU mill we were able to see the many pipes that allow this cycling to happen. The miller collects flour from each step in the cycle and tests it to determine ash and protein content. King Arthur Flour has the most precise specifications in the milling industry. Any given type of King Arthur Flour allows a protein and ash variance of only .2%. In order to achieve these results, multiple flour streams may be blended.

We not only got to see the mill process, but we also experienced the heat, the stairs, and the hairnets. It made me very thankful for the air conditioning and comfy seating back at the King Arthur Flour office in Vermont. When you get a chance, thank a miller, too.

By the end of our trip I had a much deeper understanding of the journey flour takes from the field to my pantry, and why each step is important to the quality of the flour. While I haven’t been able to share every detail of the trip with you, I hope that you now have a better understanding as well.

The quality of the wheat, the knowledge and hard work of the people involved from farmer, to miller, and everyone in between and beyond, is exceptionally important. King Arthur Flour takes pride in knowing the processes and the people that help us bring our flour to you. Learn more by visiting kingarthurflour.com/ourfarmers.

Terri Rosenstock
About

Lured by the opportunity to combine her love of baking with her communications talents, Terri moved from Minnesota to Vermont in 2011 to join King Arthur Flour as Public Relations Coordinator. An avid home baker, she is often "forcing" friends, family, and co-workers to eat ...

comments

  1. AnneMarie

    I’m so glad you got the visit the birthplace of some of our fabulous foodstuff. Farmers are an amazing and dying breed. You’re right, the stresses are incredible. I was lucky enough to live near one of the suppliers for some of your Semolina when we lived in North Dakota. There is nothing like the sweet smell of a wheat field after a rain. The sight of a breeze working its way across thousands of acres of wheat is a jaw dropping sight. Thank you for sharing your trip!
    Thanks for sharing that “scent-sation”. I can just about smell it from here. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. ebenezer94

    Great road trip! The difference between the Kansas wheat and the Colorado wheat in the pictures is amazing. Even with all the advances in farming technology, it’s still not a slam dunk.

    Reply
  3. sara.m

    My dad’s side of the family have been KS farmers, especially wheat farmers, for decades. I remember going out to harvest when I was little, the meals the family would prepare and take out to the fields to eat and riding in the trucks with a load of grain to take back into town. Good memories! I love KAF and knowing that what I use comes from where I grew up makes me smile :)
    That’s right, when breakfast consists of ham, turkey, chicken, bread, biscuits, fresh fruit, pie…you know, just to start the day. ~ MaryJane

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  4. janetcmadison

    You know there are those of us out here on the other end of King Arthur flour that would pay to join one of these trips … how amazing to walk the fields and remember that as you bake.
    Oh my goodness, what a road trip that would be! ~ MaryJane

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  5. grammyfrye

    My husband, my children and myself for many years lived & owned a farm, we didn’t raise wheat, but did grow vegetables to take to the markets…………….so we know the up and downs of weather, etc.

    That life is gone as my husband died, and the children went off to marry and etc.
    But I thank you for what you do, day in and day out, the hardships that go with raising the wheat and grains to enjoy breads, rolls, and everything else.
    I thank each and everyone of you for this job and this joy and do the job right which you love. smile.

    I miss living on the farm, feeding the chickens, feeding the animals, hearing the animals, hearing the tractor starting up…..going out to the fields at 5 a.m. seeing the sun come up…..etc. smile.

    GOD BLESS YOU ALL…….. August 30, 2012 grammyfrye
    All I can say is *sniffle*. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. hamletscrummed

    This drought is just heartbreaking– all the farmers trying to fight the elemental force that is Nature’s reaction to industrial farming…

    Question, out of curiosity: is KAF flour roller-milled? I would love to see a version of wheat flour that is stone-ground…
    While we used to use stone grinding, we do now use temperature controlled steel rollers for our milling. Thanks for asking! ~ MaryJane

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  7. biobaker

    Multiple perspectives are always eye-opening; thanks! If you have to schedule your trip for later in the summer some other year, try coming out to the Palouse in western Washington. We grow a lot of wheat out here (along with some other grains and lots of lentils and garbanzos), have the Western Wheat Quality Lab at Washington State University, and harvest usually happens around the first week of August. Come visit some time!

    That would be an interesting trip – maybe we could build it into the budget some year. Thanks for the suggestion! PJH

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  8. joyjen

    Thanks for sharing your adventure. I’m a bit envious – it sounds like my idea of a good time! I love to learn about ALL of the intricacies of baking a great loaf of bread. All of you folks at King Arthur are the best. I love not only your products, but your company. And thanks to the farmers all around the country to grow your great products!

    I’m a bread aficionado myself, Jen – the mysteries of yeast are many and varied! :) PJH

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  9. stierneyc

    Farmers are amazing! I wholeheartedly support them and the wonderful products they give us. We have fantastic markets here in the Seattle area, but seeing your road trip really makes me appreciate their hard work even more. I couldn’t bake without your product and them!
    Thanks for sharing your kudos for them here. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. stephanieflagg

    Thank you so much for sharing this and for staying committed to using quality, home grown wheat!! In this era of BigAgra controls, it’s great to know there’s companies who keep things small and demand quality over quantity (but I’m glad you’ve got a huge supply. :)
    We’re glad too, we want you all to keep baking! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. thecraftynuthut2

    Thanks for posting what it takes for farmers to get their crops up to par. I live on a non-working farm in a small town in Kansas near Hill City. The one farmer that does all the farming around where I live did his wheat harvest in the early part of June. My yard looked like a used Farm Implement lot…lol. If it wasn’t for farmers, none of us would be able to eat. Many people don’t realize this and now, thanks to your blog, maybe they can.
    Thanks for sharing, and for running the tractor parking lot! ~ MaryJane

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  12. Floyd1

    Having grown up in western ND with a dad that owned a grain
    elevator and a fairly nice sized wheat farm (3500 acres) I am
    quite well acquainted with wheat and what millers like to buy.
    It is my thought that the wheat that we harvested in western
    ND, Eastern MT and even into Saskatchewan and Alverta was
    considered to be some of the best wheat for baking bread.
    Usually this wheat, “dark norther spring wheat” had the protein
    content bread bakers sought. Wheat from further south usually
    tended to be of a lower protein content and was better for
    rolls and pastry. I noticed that your flower does not have a
    particularly high protein content. As a home bread baker I
    try to find flour rated higher then the 4 gram content of
    most but not all commercial flour available to the home
    consumer.

    Floyd, the 3g/4g info. on the bag might be somewhat misleading, due to rounding up or down. Our spring wheat bread flour is actually 12.7% protein, while our AP is 11.7% – higher than other national brands, which means our AP flour is good for bread as well as pastry, etc. For a really high-gluten flour, try our spring wheat Lancelot high-gluten flour, which checks in at 14.2% – you won’t find many flours higher in protein than that. Thanks for connecting here – PJH

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  13. "Too Long Gone"

    I live about 60 miles from Kansas City, Mo. I have seen the “amber waves of grain” and it is breath-taking. Even more breath-taking is feeling in your hand KA flours. Just with your hand you know you have the best!
    Way back when I taught pre-school, a KAF employee gave us some flour that had spilled and could not be used for baking. We filled our sand table with it, and the children just loved running their hands through it. We went and got some good KAF flour to bake with too, it was a great learning experience. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. lmiller7489

    You are right, Farming is stressful. I am glad you got to see the growing, harvesting, and work that goes into every bag of flour that is available for sale. I myself am a dairy farmer, not a grain farmer, but am surrounded everyday with my wonderful neighbors who are. And see and live the process and hardships everyday, whether its grain, dairy, meat, or vegetable/fruit producers. Farming is a hard life, but a dedicated one, and no matter how good the advances are, it still all comes down to the growing season. I am glad you were able to see it first hand and wished everyone could see how and where their food comes from. Keep up the good work and maybe visit us here in North Dakota sometime!
    Wouldn’t it be keen to have a KAF team travel the land for 6 months to meet so many different people? i think the only drawback would be that EVERYONE would want to go, and there would be no one to stay home and mind the store! We truly do appreciate all of our partners, near and far. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. cbartz4329

    I was recently lucky enough to visit Vermont and take a sourdough bread class, which I absolutely loved by the way, and was the only student from Kansas. As a native Kansan with wheat fields to the north and east of our house, I appreciate what the farmers do to bring that great KAF to our homes. As the previous poster said, having those fields waving in the wind every spring is something we really look forward to.
    How wonderful that you got to come and see us, and that our staff and other students got to know that you were so close to the “beginning” of the flour. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  16. "Deb L"

    What a cool documentary. It is important to today’s consumers to know where their food comes from. Our family works on a multi-generational farm in Iowa where we grow corn, soybeans and hay in addition to raising a beef herd and feedlot cattle. This year has been extremely stressful due to the drought which signficantly reduced yields and subsequent winds which knocked the corn down, making it difficult to harvest. However, such years are rare and the next crop year will be a new opportunity to do what we love doing…producing crops which can be used as both food and fuel.

    I’m sorry to hear it’s been a rough year for your crops but I love your positive outlook! Cheers to a better crop next year. ~ Terri

    Reply
    1. Terri Rosenstock , post author

      I’m sorry to hear it’s been a rough year for your crops but I love your positive outlook! Cheers to a better crop next year. ~ Terri

  17. bandersson

    This was a very interesting story of KA flour and where KA wheat products originate. Some time ago I read on the KA web site that most domestic wheat is of a hybrid variety designed to over come catastrophic weather conditions, various different climates etc. KA went on to say this hybrid wheat can aggravate health and allergy issues etc. and recommended a pure heritage wheat variety without human engineering. Does KA sell wheat products made from this pure un-altered wheat? If so what are they?

    Hi – I’m sorry, none of us here can figure out where on our Web site you might have been reading that hybridized wheat can aggravate health and allergy issues. All wheat is hybridized; hybridization started occurring naturally, thousands of years ago, when different wheat varieties cross-pollinated. If you’re talking about genetically engineered wheat (a.k.a. GMO), King Arthur has taken a stand against GMO wheat; there’s no GMO wheat currently being grown for commercial purposes anywhere in the world. Bottom line: We don’t believe that wheat negatively impacts health, except in the case of those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Hope this helps – PJH

    Reply
  18. suehults

    Growing up in Kansas I loved to see those waves of grain and am always irritated by those that say how ugly Kansas is (when driving through on highway 70)! Shame on them for not realizing what gifts Kansas and it’s farmers are! I live elsewhere now, can’t grow plastic flowers in a pot so I am very thankful for the farmers everywhere that have the skill and fortitude to make the magic happen so that my family can be well nourished. Thanks to KAF for all your great products. Love reading about your journey. Please support the local growers in your area whenever possible!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one lacking in the green thumb department. I agree that Kansas is beautiful, albeit a bit windy. :) Thanks so much for your support of KAF and the farmers that feed us! ~Terri

    Reply
  19. JudithQ

    …Yes I have thanked a farmer/farmers weekly @ our Davidson, NC farmers market…
    they do work very hard and i try to purchase local harvest…including honey from our local Bee Keepers.
    The very reason I purchase from King Arthur Is because of all the information on this blog you’all just read. that and the wonderful People @ KAF who care!
    Thank you all for all your hard work. We Love You.

    Awwww, thanks so much! I’m sure the farmers appreciate your show of appreciation as well! ~Terri

    Reply
  20. peaceland

    Thank you KAF for recognizing the farmers of our great country. So often, they’re the forgotten souls of the “food chain”. They work hard, long days without the credit they deserve. Whether they’re raising wheat in the midwest…citrus in the far South…apples in a valley somewhere…or milking those fine dairy cows, just to mention a few, they are all subject to how the “elements” join their operation – which I for one, am happy we can’t control. These farms, be it it large or small, that are the livelihood of many. They are all run by those FARMERS
    “men and women – outstanding in their fields”!!!

    Hear, hear! Thanks for your comment and support. ~Terri

    Reply

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