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The Empty Bowls banquet raised $7,300 for Heifer International in just a few hours.
The Empty Bowls banquet raised $7,300 for Heifer International in just a few hours.

Empty Bowls is Quite Fulfilling

Nov 18, 2011

Brookings folks gathered at the United Church of Christ on 8th Street last night for the eighth annual Empty Bowls banquet. They invited me to come and say a few words about hunger and South Dakota's food culture. Considering the fact that words like POOR and POVERTY make us very uncomfortable in this state, it was inspiring to gather with several hundred folks who are not only willing to talk about such disturbing words but actually want to do something about it.

In a few hours, the crowd raised $7,300 for Heifer International. I sat by a farm couple from Sinai. They make donations to Heifer International annually to honor the memory of their son, who died five years ago. The motivations were many, but the cause was one.

The "banquet" consisted of a bowl of soup and a bun, served in beautiful bowls handcrafted by South Dakota's favorite potter, Dave Huebner of nearby Bushnell. There was music and prayers and a little nonsense from me.

For example, I told the story of the Wertz brothers from Bancroft, S.D., in Kingsbury County. The young brothers loved to farm, but in the 1930s it didn't even pay to plant so they decided to start a cereal factory. They knew they needed a "gun" to puff the wheat, so they made one from the parts of an old threshing machine. Having no engineering training, they made sure it was plenty big.

They rented a building in Bancroft, set up the big gun and fired it off. KABOOOOM! They nearly blew down the building. It was a bit too powerful.

So they went back to the threshing machine and found a smaller auger, and they downsized the gun. They found another building in Bancroft, and soon they were selling New Deal Puffed Wheat far and wide for 10 cents a bag.

Why can't you buy New Deal Puffed Wheat in your local grocery store today? There's a very simple reason.

The Wertz brothers were farmers. As soon as it rained, they closed the factory and went back to the land.

We are a farming people in South Dakota. We grow food. If anybody should care about poverty and hunger, it's us. Last night it was a treat to gather with 200 who care very deeply.


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