Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Fountain of Information

It's the best thing since sliced bread. (Bet you didn't know sliced bread was made possible after Iowa inventor Otto Rohwedder introduced his bread slicing machine in 1928.)

Kansas State fairgoers can find out that little tidbit and see the wheat fountain at the Kansas Wheat exhibit in the Pride of Kansas building. The wheat fountain is back this year after a 40-plus-year hiatus. It debuted at the state fair in the 1960s and then was used to promote wheat at other functions and fairs.

According to Aaron Harries, the marketing director for Kansas Wheat, the fountain eventually was borrowed by the U.S. Information Agency and shown in Tanzania, Tunisia and in the Congo in the 1970s.

"It was supplied with Kansas wheat," Harries said. "However, visitors to the Tanzanian fair constantly took away handfuls of the grain. Had the fair lasted another few days, the fountain would have run dry."

The fountain was rediscovered at a storage room in the state fair's grandstand earlier this year. Kansas Wheat refurbished it to help celebrate Kansas' 150th birthday.

The fountain is housed in a large wooden box filled with 600 pounds of wheat. An auger in the middle of the box pulls the kernels from the bottom up and they flow out its top like a fountain. Gravity continues to pull wheat kernels to the bottom of the box to start the process over. They added a little mineral oil to try to keep the wheat dust under control.

It's been a conversation starter for people who visit the Kansas Wheat booth.

Randy worked at the booth last Friday, the opening day of the fair. He talked to people about wheat while I judged chocolate cakes. I guess both our jobs involved wheat, in one way or another.

Here are some "kernels" from the timeline at the booth:
  • 1839: The first wheat crop was planted in what is now Johnson County, 22 years before Kansas officially became a state.
  • 1874, "Turkey Red" was first planted by Mennonite settlers. Turkey Red was the first wheat variety that was suited and adaptable to the Kansas climate.
  • 1919: K-State released its first hard red winter wheat variety, Kanred.
  • 1931: 18.5 bushels per acre was a record high yield, but the price of 33 cents per bushel was the lowest on record.
  • Today, Kansas averages 9 million acres of wheat planted each year, producing some 380 million bushels of wheat.
The annual recipe booklets from Kansas Wheat feature the recipes from the 2011 Festival of Breads.

For your copy, stop by the Kansas Wheat booth in the Pride of Kansas building. For more information or recipes, log onto Kansas Wheat's website.

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