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Published August 06, 2014, 04:50 PM

Nutritionists, food bloggers tour ND wheat fields

Farmers and ranchers often lament that people outside agriculture don’t seem to understand or care what they do. But North Dakota wheat farmers found a receptive audience in the Wheat Safari, which stopped today on the Brad Thykeson farm near Portland, N.D.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

PORTLAND, N.D. — Farmers and ranchers often lament that people outside agriculture don’t seem to understand or care what they do. But North Dakota wheat farmers found a receptive audience in the Wheat Safari, which stopped today on the Brad Thykeson farm near Portland, N.D.

“Agriculture has an important message to tell, and this is a wonderful opportunity to hear more of it,” said Robyn Flipse, a Bradley Beach, N.J.-based nutritionist, spokesperson, author and registered dietitian.

She cautioned, however, that powerful “myths” about wheat and food in general are influencing some Americans’ eating choices. One example is the mistaken belief that modern wheat is unsafe because it’s somehow fundamentally different from what was eaten centuries ago.

Flipse was among the 26 food and nutrition professionals, many from urban areas and the East Coast, who participated in the safari, hosted by the Wheat Foods Council. The industry group of wheat producers, millers, bakers and manufacturers focuses on increasing awareness of grains as an essential part of a healthy diet.

The three-day safari included tours today of Thykeson’s farm and the North Dakota State Mill in Grand Forks and tours Thursday of the Northern Crops Institute and North Dakota State University wheat breeding labs, both in Fargo.

Thykeson's farm is in Portland, roughly halfway between Fargo and Grand Forks. Thykeson, immediate past president of North Dakota Grain Growers Association, said his farm was a convenient stopping point for the tour.

Like many area farmers, Thykeson grows primarily corn and soybeans, with some wheat mixed in.

He talked briefly to tour participants about wheat and how it’s grown and harvested. Two combines, one manufactured in 2012 and the other in 1954, were on display as he talked. Safari participants asked a number of questions, including whether he had trouble getting parts for the modern combine and whether it includes a global positioning system.

Several tour participants made a point of touching the 1954 model. Others posed for photos behind its steering wheel.

Kansas was the first

The state wheat commissions of North Dakota and South Dakota are members of the Ridgeway, Colo.-based Wheat Foods Council. Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, and Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission, were at Thykeson’s farm to answer questions. Both told Agweek it’s essential for the wheat industry to communicate the healthiness of its product.

David Clough also was at Thykeson’s farm to answer questions. The Fessenden, N.D., farmer is a member of the North Dakota Wheat Commission’s board of directors and serves as its liaison to the Wheat Foods Council.

The council held a similar safari in Kansas, another key wheat-producing state, in 2012.

“This seems to be working out pretty well,” Clough says of the two safaris.

He and other organizers noted that many of the 26 participants have master’s degrees, with some holding doctorates.

Many of the 26 have some first-hand knowledge of modern agriculture, with others having virtually none, according to safari organizers.

For instance, Melissa Hehmann said she grew up in rural Indiana, but not on a farm.

That gives her a little experience with crops such as corn and soybeans. Participating in the safari, however, will give her much more, says Hehmann, an Indianapolis-based registered dietitian and healthy living advisor for Meijer, a supermarket chain that has its corporate headquarters.

Gluten intolerance

Prior to the tour of Thykeson’s farm, safari participants listened to a presentation by Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. She talked about how to help consumers identify whole grains in their grocery stores and why gluten-free diets only make sense for those diagnosed with celiac disease.

Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is a digestive condition that damages the surface of the small intestines and blocks the ability to absorb certain nutrients. People who suffer from the disease react badly to gluten, a type of protein found in most grains, including wheat.

Several safari participants mentioned Jones’ presentation during the tour of Thykeson’s farm. One of them was Wilmington, N.C.-based Alicia Ross, a food journalist, cookbook author and food blogger (www.kitchenscoop.com.)

“We need to use science and facts to influence what people are eating,” Ross said.

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