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Local Food Matters

by Mary Rosewood

If you need to avoid gluten, you know it’s not easy to find gluten-free products that don’t contain high-glycemic rice flour and that weird ingredient xanthan gum.

Well, welcome to Gluten-Free Prairie!

Even if you don’t know what gluten is, you’ll enjoy their products: the Hunger Buster cookie, brownie and sugar cookie mixes, pizza dough, granola, an all-purpose flour blend, and just plain oats. But that’s only the tip of the haystack, so to speak.

Company founder Deb Wheaton has an endless supply of ideas for new products and told me she’s currently excited about the tubs of frozen cookie dough that will soon be available. You can now bake gluten-free Hunger Buster and sugar cookies at home.

Deb Wheaton bagging gluten-free pancake mix.

In 2005, Deb and her daughter were diagnosed with celiac disease, which means they can’t eat any gluten, a major component of bread, cookies, and anything made from certain grains.

The family had always been health-conscious, but “that set us out on a journey to navigate our new lifestyle, living gluten-free. At first it was pretty daunting,” Deb says.

She soon discovered that most “mainstream products that were gluten-free were full of fat, sugar, and preservatives, as well as sodium.”

Deb tried all these conventional products and remembers the day she brought home a brownie, excited that it was gluten-free. But in a moment of pure honesty, her son burst out, “Are you kidding? Mom, it tastes like a hockey puck.” As for the gluten-free bread, “It tastes like a doorstop.”

The Wheaton family at the Gluten-Free Prairie headquarters in Manhattan.

So Deb stuck to baking her own recipes and started a blog called “Not Even a Crumb,” referring to the fact that celiacs cannot consume any gluten whatsoever. She became active with the Celiac Disease Foundation to raise awareness to increase diagnosis at earlier ages to avoid the damage done by gluten in susceptible people. Sensitivity to gluten can cause many autoimmune illnesses. “My mom died at 62 of a celiac-related blood disorder because she was never diagnosed,” Deb shared.

In 2012, the idea formed to create a business around healthy gluten-free food, and when she woke up one day with the name “Gluten-Free Prairie” in her head, it was time to get started.

Today, Deb works with two oat growers, one in Montana and one in Saskatchewan. They are among the few farmers in the world who strictly follow what is known as the “purity protocol,” which ensures that the oats are truly gluten-free when they reach consumers.

She began by selling bags of oats, then made the Hunger Buster cookie from a family recipe. At first Deb had to talk people into trying the cookie. “I would say, ‘Everything in this cookie, grandma’s recipe, is naturally gluten-free. We just make sure that the oats are gluten-free for the people that need that, like me.’”

While Deb baked in a building the family renovated in downtown Manhattan, her daughter-in-law created all the designs and her son did all the photography. “It is really home-grown,” Deb said.

Gradually, the product line has expanded. It took five years of tweaking the flour blend so it would work with all recipes. Oat flour provides a nice mouthfeel, but Deb also adds pharmaceutical-grade psyllium husk to provide “loft and a softer mouthfeel to mimic what you get from gluten.”

Many of the mix labels proclaim “Our Best.” Deb says, “Seriously, it is our best. Because I wasn’t going to put it out there to the public unless it was really fine-tuned to that point.”

Deb is deeply grateful for the support her business has gotten from the Department of Agriculture and other Montana organizations. She is fond of saying, “Montana is the last best place to start a small business.”

To keep up with the ever-growing line of Gluten-Free Prairie offerings, go to While you’re there, read Deb’s frequently updated blog with its interesting topics and try out some of the recipes she’s posted.

You can find many of these gluten-free products in Livingston at Town & Country and at FoodWorks. But if you don’t see exactly what you want, you can also order online. Deb will be happy to help you find what you need.


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