Digging in the Dirt – August 2014


pancake-with-fruit-4From Wheat to Pancakes

For Farmers Ending Hunger, 2013 was the best year to date. It’s the seventh year I’ve been with Farmers Ending Hunger, and we received 2.5 million pounds in donated food products from Oregon farmers and ranchers. We’ve come a long way since that first donation of 173,000 pounds of frozen peas in November 2006. Now, we receive a variety of fresh and processed food products every year. It’s locally grown in Oregon and all high quality. We coordinate with Oregon Food Bank to ensure we target products they want to put into a food box.

For me, the interesting part is what needs to happen before a product is turned into the right form for a food box. Much of what we receive, such as potatoes and onions, doesn’t require further processing or much packaging. However, many products we receive require some handling before they can feed hungry folks.

For example, take pancake mix. Our mix starts with wheat donations from our farmers. It takes about 4,500 bushels for each 200,000 lb. batch we deliver each year to Oregon Food Bank. That’s about 230,000 lbs. of milled wheat! We have farmers who donate 100, 500 and even 1,000 bushels of wheat in a given year. We also partner with the Oregon Wheat Foundation and their “Bushels for Betsy” program, which provides about half the wheat needed.

The process starts at Pendleton Flour Mills to blend the correct varieties and mix of wheat for our secret flour blend. Then, our pancake mix flour is transported to Kent, WA, where Continental Mills adds the perfect ingredients and package the mix into three-pound bags for us. At this point, Oregon Food Bank sends trucks to Kent for the bagged pancake mix. The beauty of our pancake mix is that it is shelf stable. You only need to add water to make pancakes. It’s a versatile mix and can be used for biscuits, muffins and dumplings. The food banks tell me their clients really like it.

And yes, you could say that pancakes are empty calories, not the highly desired and recommended fruits, vegetables and protein we would like to have in a food box. But, hungry people need calories as much as any nutrient and pancakes can be a real treat once in awhile.

The process for other products can also be complex. The cattle we make into hamburger are processed in Woodland, WA, and then finished in Clackamas, OR. Cattle donated in Malhuer and Grant counties are processed in Nampa, ID, and Prineville, OR. It may seem like we go through a lot of steps, but these are the regular channels of production followed by commercial agriculture. We try to work within the established routes and not ask for any special or out-of-the-way handling.

As you might expect, we need many partners to get this all done. Obviously, we could not do what we do without Oregon Food Bank. Our private partners, such as Pendleton Flour Mills and Continental Mills, are equally important. And, not the least of our partners is you, our donors and supporters. Thank you!