Growing Wheat Like Wine: Kansas Producer Experiments With Farming Practices to Produce Optimal Flavor For His Own Table

Kansas wheat farmer Wade Bangerter is his own best customer. Each harvest, he scoops wheat by the bucketful out of the combine or wheat truck and saves it back to clean, prepare and eat for the year to come. But anyone can enjoy the nutty but sweet flavor of wheat kernels – also referred to as wheat berries – prepared whole and unprocessed – along with gaining a great set of nutritional benefits.

“Wheat berries are versatile and have a nice flavor,” Bangerter said. “It’s great nutrition, and it’s affordable.”

Bangerter is a third-generation farmer who grows dryland wheat, corn and milo in Wichita, Wallace and Logan counties. After farming for nearly 40 years, he noticed the trend of consumers eating fewer wheat foods but did not give it much thought until his own family started debating the health attributes of wheat. He decided to do his own research, followed by experimentation on the farm and in the kitchen to see how farming practices and flavor interact.

He started by trying to grind his wheat into flour but quickly realized doing so required a lot of time and effort. Instead, he switched to preparing whole kernels to include more healthy, whole wheat products in his diet.

Using the wheat cleaned and stored from his fields, Bangerter has a simple strategy for preparing the wheat berries – add three cups of water for each cup of wheat and boil for an hour. This practice is a bit lengthy, but the wheat berries – once drained and dried – are ready to eat, can be stored in the fridge for a week or frozen for use for the next month.

His favorite way to prepare wheat berries is to mix in some honey and cinnamon as a side dish, but he also puts them in soups and salads and substitutes wheat berries for rice. In addition to being a great ingredient, wheat berries include all of the benefits of whole wheat foods – including improved heart and bone health, preventing anemia and promoting blood sugar control. Wheat berries also include up to 24 percent of daily fiber requirements and 10 percent of recommended daily iron intake in a quarter-cup serving.

After finding wheat berries were not only delicious but also easy to include in family meals, Bangerter took his experimentation a step further – trying to see if what he was doing in the field resulted in a difference in taste. Microbial activity is now his focus of soil management, which he promotes by implementing no-till practices and topdressing with fertilizers that benefit what’s growing above and beneath the soil surface.

“We’re trying to take a more holistic approach to the soil than we had in the past,” he said. “I’m doing everything we can to balance the soil – and that’s unlocking a lot of nutrients. I’m trying to grow wheat like people grow wine – it’s all about how soil affects flavor.”

“My next goal after perfecting, growing and packaging is to start a farm to table internet business to get this very healthy wheat to the people this year,” he said.

Bangerter’s 2021 wheat crop is greening up nicely and looks healthy with good color, thanks to catching crucial rainfall last week. His fields received timely rain in the fall at planting that established a good stand that endured below zero temperatures without much freeze damage. As for how that wheat will yield – and taste – those results will come this summer when those kernels come off the combine and into the pot on Bangerter’s stove.