Seniors hear ‘whole’ truth about wheat

Mary Beth Bowers points to the ?whole wheat stamp? on the back side of a snack sack. ?Pay close attention because whole wheat can?t be called whole wheat unless bran, germ and endosperm are all present,? she told the nearly 100 people who gathered for Friday?s Lifelong Learning session on the Tabor College campus.

Almost 100 people heard the ?whole? truth about wheat Friday at Tabor College?s Lifelong Learning Program featuring Mary Beth Bowers of Marion.
?Pay close attention because whole wheat can?t be called whole wheat unless bran, germ and endosperm are all present,? Bowers said during her one-hour presentation.
Companies know that many consumers are looking for healthier alternatives when it comes to grains, and ?wheat bread? isn?t necessarily ?whole wheat bread.?
In addition to offering educational facts about wheat, Bowers also spoke about the origin of Turkey Red Wheat, some of her childhood memories and legendary stories.
?I have great respect for the Mennonites who came here from Russia,? she said.
?I think about all the effort they went through to get here?the hardships, the problems?and I am grateful they settled in this area.?
Bowers said it was her understanding the reason Russian Mennonite families settled here was because they looked around and the area was similar to the Russian area they had come from.

Wheat is a grass

In some of her other lectures, she said she will ask children what they think would grow well in this area.
?A lot of grass,? Bowers said. ?The whole area is full of grass, and maybe a crop that is a grass-based crop would do well.?
To the astonishment of many, she said, wheat is a grass, which is why it works so well in the Plains area.
Another interesting fact, she explained, is that the wheat the Mennonite people brought over is much different than what is grown today.
Holding up a bunch of wheat, Bowers said she ?yanked? it out of the ground from one kernel of wheat.
?Not all of our wheat produces that well,? she said, ?but notice the height is about 3 feet.?
The wheat the Russian Mennonite people brought over varied from 5 to 7 feet tall.
?People could get lost in wheat fields,? she said. ?But why go from tall to short??
The answer was because of the wind and as the wheat got drier near harvest, farmers were concerned strong winds would knock the crop over.
With the wind contributing to a precarious crop, the Hard Red Wheat was developed replacing the Turkey Red Wheat.
?How many people knew wheat can get that tall??
Bowers said: ?Farm people know and they still have hard red wheat.?
Another fact that city people might not know is that wheat has to freeze in order to produce.
?We plant wheat in the fall, and if we don?t have a cold winter (only mild with a light freeze now and then), the crop won?t do near as good as it does with a good hard freeze.?
For Bowers, there is nothing better than seeing snow on a wheat field.
?The snow protects it, moisturizes it, and helps it to grow much better in the spring,? she said.

Fun facts

Kansas is ranked first among the 50 states in wheat production, Bowers said.
?We produce enough wheat in one year to give everybody in the world at least two loaves of bread,? she said.
Another piece of information Bowers shared was the initial way to thresh or cut wheat.
?I am 62 years old,? she said, ?and the old farm way of cutting wheat was with a scythe.?
Bowers said her father had a model of an old Mennonite threshing stone. It was a three-step process?cutting, threshing and winnowing.
That same process is now done with a ?combine,? she said, which combines cutting, threshing and winnowing.
For her presentations, Bowers said she will clean wheat, but to do it right she gets wheat directly out of their grain trucks.
During harvest time, she said, she will put the wheat in bottles and then into a freezer in one of their sheds.
?There is nothing but bottles of wheat for grinding presentations.
?To clean it well, I am literally shaking it onto a white platter and picking out the beards, chaff, and whatever else.
?Then it is run through a colander. It is a time-consuming process, but whenever I am doing it I think of the story about little Anna Barkman.?

Barkman legend?

According to a majority of people attending the program, Anna Barkman is a real person.
For Bowers, the fact that Anna is a real person makes the story even more meaningful.
According to the story, children coming from Russia to the U.S. were asked to clean and sort wheat kernels so that only good kernels were brought.
?Split kernels weren?t going to work,? she said, ?only whole beautiful plump kernels of Turkey Red Wheat had to come and little Anna Barkman was one of the children who sorted that wheat.?
Bowers said she thinks about Anna every time she cleans wheat.
?It was a tedious job for little Anna and the other children,? she said.

Bleaching

She also discussed unbleached wheat flour, which if stored over a period of time naturally oxidizes and turns white.
The problem with bleached wheat flour is that when flour mills are putting out large volumes of flour, there is no time for vats to sit, stir and oxidize so someone in the past decided to bleach the wheat.
?This has become one of my pulpit portions,? she said, ?because to bleach wheat is like bleaching clothes.?
Years ago, the process involved using chlorine liquid to bleach the wheat.
?It was stirred in with wheat in the process of milling to turn endosperm whiter, but then there started to be accidents with liquid chlorine,? she said.
Workers would be overcome with the smell, so it was changed from liquid to powder form.
Now when people purchase bleached flour, she said, it has powdered chlorine in it, which is a carcinogen.
?Bleached wheat flour is outlawed in Japan and Canada,? Bowers added.
Following her presentation, she answered questions and then treated everyone to whole grain wheat bread.

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