Wheat Montana: From Field to Table
November 17, 2011
By Adrienne Newlon
Some of the best bread in Montana is coming the wheat fields that sit on high benches near three Forks.
The saga of Wheat Montana Farm's evolution from family farm to flour mill and bakery begins with Dean and Dale Folkvord, the second and third generations of Folkvord family farmers from Helena. This father-and-son team founded their first joint business venture in Three Forks in 1978 when they purchased a farm that was plagued by degraded soil.
Dean had earned a degree in agriculture from Montana State University, where he learned of the resurgence of "no-till" farming, a technique wherein fields aren't plowed under between crops, to preserve as much topsoil as possible. This turned out to be the perfect solution for the Folkvord's new farm. "We've been early adaptors all along", said Folkvord of his and his father's ability to meet the challenges of that first farm. "My dad embraced new ideas once he saw they were valuable".
After rehabilitating their soil, the Folkvords sought out breeds of wheat that had higher yields and better-quality milling and baking properties. They discovered that hard-white wheat was what they were looking for. This modern strain of wheat is very similar in nutritional value to whole wheat, but appears and tastes more like white. They soon bought into research on the grain, and collaborated with Yogi's Bakery in Bozeman, to work out the best baking methods to turn their high-quality flour into loaves of bread. That partnership lead to the Folkvord's taking over ownership of Yogi's and eventually moving the baking operation to Three Forks, where it stands today.
The decision to expand from simply farming wheat to milling it and baking bread was borne of the Folkvords' desire to add value to what they were producing on the farm, and to provide Montana families with bread that was nutritious, free from dough conditioners and chemicals. "Our bread contains only ingredients my kids can pronounce," Folkvord proudly declares. Wheat Montana self-certifies the purity of their wheat by sending it out to an independent lab to have it tested for chemical residues. Their standard - zero parts per million.
Today, Wheat Montana Farms distributes 210 million bushels of wheat and flour a year and produces 15,000 loaves of bread a day, five days a week. They have five satellite bakeries and delis in Helena, Kalispell, Big Sky, Bozeman and Billings, with plans for a sixth in Missoula. They bake 60 different kinds of bread, and are continually coming up with new ideas. This next year they envision a high-fiber loaf with six to seven grams of fiber per slice, plus breads and burger buns packaged in smaller sizes to accommodate smaller households. "Because we're small, we can act and react quickly to put a new product on the market within three to four months," Folkvord says.
Although the Folkvords have worked hard and made sound business decisions, they also acknowledge that good fortune has helped them every step of the way. There is pride and a strong sense of gratitude when Folkvord tells his family's story. Their philosophy is to put out a high-quality product, and to avoid over-extending the operation.
Has the low-carb craze hurt Wheat Montana? "Actually," says Folkvord "our bread sales are up 18 percent." Folkvord attributes this to his customers being well-educated about nutrition, and to the fact that Wheat Montana is a family-owned and run business - "a real farm with real people working for it... that's what keeps people coming to the table."
On the Web: www.wheatmontana.com