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Faces of Harvest: Melissa Clark
Kansas Ag Connection - 06/28/2016

Melissa Clark, from Galva, Kan., is a one-of-a-kind wheat farmer in a love-hate relationship. Her heart loves wheat, but her body hates gluten.

"I think it's funny, I'm kind of a wacky contradiction," said Melissa. "I wear my 'I heart gluten' shirt and everyone is really confused."

Melissa and her husband Rick, farm mainly wheat with Rick's grandparents on the family farm. Wheat may be one of their main sources of income, but it contains gluten, the one thing Melissa can't have.

"I started having trouble when I was a junior in high school and I kind of tried to ignore it. It was probably my junior year of college when my grandma, who has had celiac for twenty years, said 'you need to go get tested'," said Melissa.

The blood tests came back negative for celiac disease, which happens often, but the doctors said that since it was in the family, they were 90 percent sure it was hereditary celiac disease. Melissa now eats a gluten-free diet and feels better physically, but wishes she could eat wheat like she used to.

"When I was little, I would always, during harvest, eat wheat straight out of the field," said Melissa. "It's something I have to deal with, it's not like I like it. I have to wash my hands every time I touch the wheat. It bothers me if I ingest it but I'm lucky enough that I can be around it. Some people I know leave for the whole summer because they can't be around the wheat dust. Some people are really sensitive and I'm lucky that I'm not as sensitive as some."

While Melissa doesn't agree with today's gluten-free fad where people who aren't gluten-intolerant eat gluten-free, she is thankful for the variety of gluten-free food choices brought about it. These days, she can go to town and get a gluten-free pizza and a variety of other products that might otherwise contain gluten.

"I feel somewhat normal because there are options now. My grandma, when I was growing up, had to make all her own bread and everything," said Melissa.

During the school year, Melissa works as a para educator for special education students at an elementary school in McPherson, Kansas. After school lets out for the summer, she's free to help with wheat harvest. She enjoys driving the truck back and forth to the field, running errands, bringing midday snacks and coffee, riding in the tractor or combine with Rick and spending time at the farmhouse with Rick's grandma.

"It's a family affair. Everyone rallies together to get things done. We're getting ready to move a house onto the farm and the idea of being on the farm 24/7 and raising kids on the farm, it's what we want," said Melissa.

Wheat harvest on the Clark farm started as the sun went down on Monday, June 13 and was almost 75 percent done by Wednesday, June 15. Rick reported test weights around 61-63 pounds per bushel with moisture content at 11-12 percent. Compared to last year, Rick says that yields have been similar at around 50 bushels per acre, but test weights have been much higher.

"Yields have been good and it's easy cutting," said Rick. "There's not much straw so it's been easy to go through."

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