Son takes Native Turkey Red wheat to Minnesota
After Ben Penner and his wife moved to southern Minnesota in 2010, it seemed natural for him to rent a few acres and start a farming enterprise. The 1993 high school graduate grew up on a farm south of Hillsboro. Agriculture, and more specifically, wheat, was in his blood.
He rented 32 acres and decided to certify the land as organic and use it to produce organic grains that could be sold as grain or processed into flour. He said the organic niche gave him an opportunity to succeed with farming on limited acres.
A native of central Kansas, he knew how that Mennonites brought Turkey Red wheat to Kansas in 1874 when they migrated from Ukraine, Russia.
He had heard that a bakery in Lawrence used Turkey Red wheat flour, and a Kansas mill dedicated to organic products was making it.
“As far as I could tell, nobody in Minnesota was growing it, so I thought, I should give this a try,” he said. “My first challenge was finding seed. I started shopping for it and couldn’t find any dealers. So I asked my dad, Paul Penner, and he suggested I try Ehmke Seed in Dighton. So I got in touch with Louise Ehmke, and she shipped me a couple of bushels of seed.”
He planted 1½ acres three years ago in September and harvested the crop the following mid-July, milling it into flour.
Having had a lot of experience in marketing publications, he was successful in marketing the heirloom wheat flour to food co-ops and restaurants.
Using the no-till method, he planted 2½ acres the next year and 19 acres last fall.
“It’s gained some popularity with several millers here,” he said.
The plant is tall, which Penner said is good for organic production because it shades out weeds. He found that it can fall over during a May rain storm but will spring back enough that it can be harvested.
“I’ve had to run the combine a little slower and closer to the ground, but with it being clean underneath, I am able to pick it up,” he said.
He found a miller and baker in the Twin Cities who helps him mill, package, and distribute flour. It appeals to people who are committed to organic and those who like that it is an heirloom variety, the original winter wheat.
Closer to home, Ben Penner Farm flour is sold at Prairie Harvest in Newton. His mother, Deborah Penner, and several other people bake with it.
“It has a light, nutty flavor that differentiates it from other wheat flour,” Penner said.
His operation has expanded to 60 acres and includes organic spring wheat, alfalfa, food grade soybeans, and cover crops.
He and his wife have three daughters. They come home to Hillsboro every spring to help his dad with harvest.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2018