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7-21-22 — Students Collaborate with Kansas Farmers on New Product

July 21, 2022 ~ Local business Farmer Direct Foods is collaborating with baking and pastry arts students from Olathe East High School, Olathe West High School, and Olathe North High School to develop the next nutritious and delicious flour mix.

Olathe West freshman Nate Parks comes from a family of chefs and is excited for the opportunity to explore various aspects of baking.

“As a future chef, I am interested in seeing all sides of the process. I am excited to help grow a business that is doing it right by keeping it local and maintaining the nutritional value of the wheat,” Parks said. “We tested different combinations of red wheat flour, whole white wheat flour, and patent flour in order to see which one we liked the best due to appearance, aroma, taste, and texture.”

Students at the three schools made pancakes using consistent instructions, measurements, and environments, with the only variable being the mixture of flours. The goal was for baking students to test and analyze various mixtures to provide Farmer Direct Foods with data to back a suggested “bread blend” and “pancake blend” to sell.

“Not only are we thrilled to provide a real-world learning experience for our students that helps our local Kansas small businesses, but we as teachers love that it is creating opportunities for students to grow Market Value Assets and introduce them to various career opportunities within the food industry,” Olathe East baking and pastry art teacher Haley Sestak said.

Olathe East junior Molly Barber was considering the medical field, but then she joined Sestak’s class. Listening to her teacher talk passionately about food science, Barber saw that her love of chemistry and food could be combined for her future career.

“After watching Ms. Sestak’s eyes light up talking about food science, hearing about the opportunities in that community, and even just seeing the visual of gluten pulling apart — I saw what I could do in my future,” Barber said. “Being able to do this project that potentially will be able to help me confirm whether or not this is what I want to do for a job and still get credits for high school was awesome.”

Barber dove headfirst into the project and took it a step further by applying to work for Farmer Direct Foods at farmer’s markets over the summer. Her classmate, sophomore Mikayla Ezala, jumped at the chance to join the team.

“I feel like I’m genuinely learning a lot and learning how much flour affects the taste and texture of a baked good,” Ezala said. “I’ve loved being able to experiment with these mixes and I’m excited to do more hands-on work with Farmers Direct Foods because of how they have taken us students’ opinions so highly and to heart.”

Headquartered in Atchison, Kansas, Farmer Direct Foods specializes in stone ground grain products, specifically whole grain flour made from hard white and hard red winter wheat from Kansas and Colorado. The company’s mill is located in New Cambria, Kansas. Learn more on the Farmer Direct Foods website.