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Five Things You Don’t Know About Wheat

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Since the farm-to-table movement has become a standard element in the local culinary scene, more and more Coloradans care about where their food comes from. Yet many diners still don’t understand the intricacies of farming, where pesky weeds and summer thunderstorms can ruin both crops and livelihoods.

Grassroots movement CommonGround aims to solve that problem by fostering dialogues between female farmers and the female consumers making decisions about which foods to buy. One of these discussions took place at August 28’s CommonGround Conversation Dinner, which featured volunteers such as Danell Kalcevic, office manager and safety director for Bennett-based Kalcevic Farms Inc. This fourth-generation family farm raises millet, sunflowers, 300 head of cattle, and most importantly, wheat.

Kalcevic’s stories of her wheat crop provided insight that the average grocery shopper might appreciate. Though it may not be the sexiest grain in the bushel, wheat still has plenty of secrets to share.

1. Wheat is not a genetically modified organism.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have developed a negative connotation over the last couple of years—they sound a bit like an alien species and probably not something you want to eat. There are many arguments that GMOs are safe, however, but wheat avoids the debacle entirely. Farmers have selectively bred wheat, meaning they’ve chosen which strains to continue growing, but they haven’t snipped or inserted any genes to modify the plant—at least for wheat that is grown commercially.

2. Colorado is one of five states producing most of the nation’s winter wheat.

Along with Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas, the Centennial State produces a third of America’s wheat. The domestic public eats only 36 percent of the nation’s total crop while the rest is devoted to exports, seedlings, or feed for livestock.

3. Wheat lasts for a long time.

An ancient form of wheat called einkorn was found in King Tut’s tomb. Since it was preserved from moisture, the plant was able to generate quality seeds—despite being more than 4,000 years old. When wheat is exposed to water, (remember the heavy rains this summer), it becomes difficult for farmers to harvest their crops on time, and the volatility of the wheat market means farmers could lose up to $1 million as a result.

4. Ladybugs can improve a wheat crop.

This small beetle can increase the yield of a wheat crop by more than 70 percent. Though it may seem counterintuitive to introduce insects to something we want to eat, ladybugs kill mites and other pests similarly to the way spiders target mosquitos. This method is more natural and allows farmers to decrease their use of pesticides.

5. Many farmers rotate wheat with other crops rather than plowing their fields.

When we (or at least, I) picture a farm, what emerges is a pastoral image of a man with tanned, leathery skin using a tractor or plow to tend to the fields. Yet many farmers have abandoned the plowing method since cultivating the soil causes moisture loss and pollution. In contrast, the “no till” strategy—planting a different crop per season on the same land—reduces pests and nourishes the ground. Sunflowers and corn are common crops to rotate with wheat.

Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.

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