Slow Food USA Recognizes "Turkey" Wheat

BROOKLYN, New York – Sept. 29, 2009 – The Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a catalog of delicious foods in danger of extinction, has just been expanded to include twelve new food products, nominated by farmers, growers, chefs and food enthusiasts from across the country who are concerned about the diversity of our food supply.

Slow Food USA’s biodiversity committee convened in Portsmouth, N.H., to evaluate, taste and vote on each nomination. The committee was tasked with assessing whether or not each nomination met the Ark of Taste criteria. To be “boarded” onto the US Ark of Taste, a food must: (1) be at risk biologically or as a cultural tradition, (2) be linked culturally or historically to a specific region, ethnicity or traditional production practice, (3) have outstanding taste, defined in the context of local traditions and uses, and (4) have sustainable market potential.

Slow Food USA and its partners in the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance are promoting the new concept of eater-based conservation. “We don’t want to preserve foods as museum pieces or only conserve the genetic diversity of our food supply,” said Slow Food USA’s biodiversity committee chair Ben Watson. “We want to get these foods back onto farms, back into the marketplace and back onto people’s tables.”

Twelve food products were selected for the Ark of Taste, including:

• ‘Turkey’ Hard Red Winter Wheat. Originally brought to Kansas in the 1870s by Mennonite immigrants from Crimea, this unique and complexly flavored variety became the primary wheat produced in the Central Plains. But today it is almost extinct, having been replaced by modern, higher-yielding varieties. A small group of farmers in Kansas started a wheat revival project to bring this delicious wheat back to the marketplace.





"Turkey" Variety Hard Red Winter Wheat

Heartland Mill is now offering flour milled from the heirloom wheat variety, "Turkey."  We have roller milled unbleached flour, stone ground "bolted" flour, and stone ground whole wheat flour, as well as whole wheat berries.  All products are certified organic. 

While "Turkey" wheat has virtually disappeared from production agriculture, it was once the dominant variety of hard red winter wheat planted throughout the central United States breadbasket. 

A brief history

“Turkey” variety hard red winter wheat was introduced to Kansas in1873, carried by Mennonite immigrants from Crimea in the Ukraine, fleeing Russian forced military service.  While no statistics were kept of the actual amount of seed carried in this earliest introduction, estimates based on vernacular history range from as little as 360 pounds (one peck per each of 24 families) to as much as 36,000 pounds (one bushel per each of the 600 families).  This is enough to plant 6 to 600 acres. 

The Mennonite history relates that this seed was carefully hand selected for the soundest kernels and packed in the luggage of the immigrants on their long journey to new farms in a new and distant land.  These farm families gave us more than seed – they also carried with them the agricultural knowledge and skills necessary for this crop to be successful in Kansas – where the climate and soils were much like in their lands in the Ukraine.  

The farmers and the wheat thrived – the variety proved well-adapted to the soils and the hot summers and cold winters of the Kansas plains. 

In the mid-1880s, grainsman Bernard Warkentin imported some 10,000 bushels of “Turkey” seed from the Ukraine, the first commercially available to the general public.  That 10,000 bushels (600,000 pounds) would plant some 150 square miles (10,000 acres).  By the beginning of the twentieth century, hard red winter wheat, virtually all of it “Turkey,” was planted on some five million acres in Kansas alone.  In the meantime, it had become the primary wheat variety throughout the plains from the Texas panhandle to South Dakota.  Without “Turkey” wheat there would be no “Breadbasket.”

Like many traditional crop varieties, today, the old variety, "Turkey," is virtually ungrown. 

Working with Heritage Grain and Seed and Organic Grain Marketing we have been able to develop a relationship with a northwest Kansas farmer who has kept the old seedstock alive, and now are able to offer this heirloom wheat and flour to our customers. In the fall of 2009,  farmers have planted a few more acres of "Turkey."  We hope to be able to continue to offer heirloom wheat and flour to more of our customers. 


The Farmer, his son, and a friend standing in a field of Turkey.

Buying "Turkey" Flour and Grain:

The simplest way to buy "Turkey" wheat and flour milled from this heirloom grain is to click on the "Shopping" link at the top of this page.  Type "Turkey" in the "search" box and click on "go."  We sell the flour and grain in bags from two to fifty pounds.  We offer stone ground whole wheat flour, stone ground bolted (sifted) flour, and roller-milled refined flour.  Bakery and wholesale customers may contact Thom Leonard by email.


A note from Heritage Grain and Seed:

Turkey seed wheat:  We are in the process of establishing a stock of verified "Turkey" seed wheat, but we currently have none available. The fields from which the current food crop was harvested were not subjected to the same degree of scrutiny that certified seed wheat fields are.  We do have wheat berries to sell for those who want to mill their own flour, and these will most certainly germinate, and you could harvest a crop of wheat from the field. However, what you harvest will not, strictly speaking, be "Turkey" wheat.  The fields were not rogued for off-types.  And while every effort was made to keep the wheat isolated from other varieties, it is likely that a very small amount of berries of other varieties may have found its way into the crop.  We consider the percentage so low that we are comfortable selling the food wheat as "Turkey," but we are not representing the grain as seed.

We ask that if you do plant wheat that you buy from this year's crop, that you please not propagate it in future years as "Turkey" wheat.  A portion of this year's acreage will be designated for seed production and subjected to the same level of isolation and trueness to variety as is certified seed.  When we have seed that meets the standards for foundation and certified seed, it will be made available at reasonable prices. 

It is not our intention to place restrictions on the propagation of "Turkey" wheat; at the same time, we do not want to play a part in the distribution of potentially contaminated seedstock. 

Thank you for your cooperation.



Thom Leonard

Curator of Collections

Heritage Grain and Seed




For more information please contact  Thom Leonard