Hi, my name is Kara and I’m a geek.  (Hi Kara.)  

This is probably only funny if you’ve ever seen a movie or a TV show where a character stands up in the middle of a support group meeting and announces their greatest vice, biggest downfall, or ultimate shortcoming.  I have plenty quirks (oh boy, do I have ‘em), and one of the biggest ones that shock people who don’t know me very well is that I am a self-described geek — and I’m proud to be one.  I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy books since I was a child and my father handed me his battered, beat-up copy of Fahrenheit 451.  I can out-geek The Man at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.  Ask me random film questions or obscure animal trivia and seven times out of ten, I’m going to know the answers.  I proudly display my comic book and graphic novel collection on the first floor, and two bookshelves in my home office are triple-stacked with my favorite sci-fi/fantasy novels.

But nothing, and I do mean nothing, makes me geek out harder than a touring a real live, up-and-running factory.  You get to see how stuff is made!  Machines doing all kinds of things, people assembling stuff, making something where before there were just a bunch of bits and parts…  Super cool!  This of course holds true for food factory tours, whether it’s a vineyard in the hills outside Fez in Morocco or a pasta factory in America’s heartland.  If you have a factory and you make something I can eat or drink, and you let me in there, I’m going to walk around with a giant silly happy grin on my face the entire time.

Case in point:  During a recent trip to Portland, OR, I met up with some friends in the city of Milwaukie for a tour of Bob’s Red Mill.  Although visitors aren’t allowed to actually walk the mill floor, you’re only a pane of glass away from getting up-close and personal with hundreds of tons of grains, flours, and seeds that pass through the manufacturing facility on a daily basis.  I already knew the Bob of Bob’s Red Mill was a real person, but while on the tour, I learned that there really was a red mill way back in the day.  The company used to operate out of a beautiful old historic flour mill, which Bob painted a jaunty red, until a fire swept through the building in 1988, all but devastating the company.  Thankfully, a collapsed ceiling dumped several tons of flour onto a set of milling stones, smothering the flames and protecting the stones from damage.  Bob used those stones to rebuild his company, and although the mill was never rebuilt, the Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center about a mile down the road bears an uncanny resemblance to it, right down to its working water wheel and displays of historic milling equipment.

One of the neatest things about the mill tour was getting to see the mills being run, including the Gluten-Free room.  That’s right, an entire section of their manufacturing facility is utterly dedicated for gluten-free grains and ingredients only.  They even have a separate lab for testing the gluten-free grains and ingredients.  These folks are thorough!  When I took this photograph, this nifty little white machine was hard at work making gluten-free cornmeal.  The pipe on the right fed corn into the mill, and the cornmeal was sucked out through the yellowish tube on the left.  The tube in the middle sent any pieces that were too big back into the machine to let the stones inside grind them down to the proper size.

After the tour was over, my companions and I headed to the Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center for lunch.  Not only can you stock up on your pantry needs, choosing from over 300 Bob’s Red Mill products in stock, but you can also enjoy breakfast and lunch at the café thanks to their from-scratch bakery that of course uses Bob’s Red Mill’s own products.  I chose a turkey swiss melt on whole wheat bread and it was so good, I couldn’t stop eating long enough to take a picture.  The café was packed, as was the store itself, which I think is one more bit of proof of how popular whole grains really are.

So next time you’re in the Portland area, do yourself a favor and take the Bob’s Red Mill tour and finish with an excellent lunch at the Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center.  Embrace your inner geek!  Your mind, and your tummy, will thank you.  (Kara)

Be sure to join me next month for more Me & My Whole Grains, a series of monthly blogs that share the changes I’ve seen in my life directly related to whole grains.

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