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here's how it all went down.

I started this experiment by buying a futures contract for 1000 bushels of wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT).  1000 bushels is the smallest contract available on the CBOT, known as a "mini" and is a little over a semi-load of wheat.  That's a lot, but a tiny fraction of the amount of wheat futures that change hands on the CBOT.  

Of course, if you have more than a passing knowledge of commodities trading you know that a futures contract doesn't buy you actual wheat.  The primary purpose of a futures contract is as a way to make money (speculation) or control costs (hedging).  If you sit on a futures contract till it expires, you're the owner of the actual grain, but most people these days do not do this - out of all the futures contracts that change hands on the CBOT, only a very few end in the exchange of actual grain.  

I also bought 1000 bushels of real wheat at a grain elevator in Indiana and had it milled into flour, while setting aside some of it to seed a new crop.  I brought the whole truckload (it made about 20 tons) back to Chicago and gave it away to feed people.  

I used my futures contract to hedge – exactly the same way a baker or miller would use it.  Used to hedge, the futures contract basically locks in a price – an increase in price during the term of the contract will make money on the futures contract, offsetting the higher price for the real wheat.  A loss in the futures market would be offset by a lower price for the real wheat.

I gave the wheat / flour away to...
...Organizations that feed people as part of their mission, like food banks and soup kitchens. For example, a large donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository was distributed to their member food banks and used in their culinary programs.
Organizations that work on issues of food systems, urban agriculture, poverty and hunger.

...Individuals or groups of individuals to use to nourish others. For example, a household takes 10 pounds of flour and uses it to bake 4 pies for the school bake sale; someone takes 3 cups of flour and makes a loaf of bread for a potluck.
...A few farmers, community gardens, or home food growers to plant and grow a new crop.
...And many others! The flour was given away in coordination with events such as art shows, dinners, lectures, classes, panel discussions - pretty much any excuse I could come up with, because 20 tons is a lot of flour!  The projects & participants page has information on where the flour ended up.

The Mercantile Exchange / Board of Trade is the largest commodities and futures exchange in the world and played a huge role in Chicago's development into a hub for trade.  Today, it represents one of the largest, most impersonal of systems shaping our relationship to food.  Although it is almost completely divorced from real grain, its influence is seen well beyond the trading floor - on the farm and on the grocery store, and all over the world.  

*Industrial Harvest is an associated program of Shunpike.

Shunpike is a 501(c)(3) non-profit art service organization whose mission is to strengthen the Seattle arts community by partnering with small and mid-size arts groups to develop the business tools they need to succeed. Working in close partnership with these groups, Shunpike helps solve problems quickly and impart vital skills in finance, organizational management and arts administration.