Old World Farming

Richard's Interview for the Off-Farm Income Podcast


Our own Richard was interviewed recently for the "Off-Farm Income" podcast. It's a great discussion about our journey into raising landrace grains as well as old world farming practices, Volga German farming heritage, and Richard's highs and lows in high school FFA!

You'll definitely want to check it out:

P.S. Richard isn't exactly "technically inclined" as some may say. So when he shares our website at the end of the interview, he incorrectly states it as palouse colony dot com. He meant to say palouseheritage.com. Safe to say he truly is more comfortable involving himself with the "old days."

Paul Tretyakov and the Russian Wanderers

I never tire of looking at the heavy coffee table kind of books illustrated with works of art from the world’s great museums—our own National Gallery, the Chicago Art Institute, and lots of places I’ve never visited like Madrid’s Prado and the Getty in Los Angeles. One place I have been able to visit many times is the State Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, Russia, which contains one of the world’s foremost collections representing a wide range of agrarian art styles and periods. Located on a quiet backstreet several blocks south of the Kremlin, the gallery courtyard entry hosts crowds year-round who first pass beneath the imposing statue of founder Paul Tretyakov, the prominent Russian businessman who established the museum in 1856.

Tretyakov Monument and Museum, Moscow; John Clement Photograph

Tretyakov Monument and Museum, Moscow; John Clement Photograph

Tretyakov’s brooding bronze seems to be judging the worthiness of approaching visitors who seek admission to the wonders behind the gallery’s grand fairy-tale facade adjacent to the Museum Church of St. Nicholas. No Early Church Father is more venerated in Orthodoxy than St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, the fourth century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. His righteous life is commemorated for dedication to the welfare of others retold in tales of his miraculous provision of wheat for the people of Myra during time of famine.

Alexei Venetsianov, The Reapers (c. 1828), State Tretyakov Museum, Moscow, Russia

Alexei Venetsianov, The Reapers (c. 1828), State Tretyakov Museum, Moscow, Russia

A member of the museum church congregation in the late 1800s, Tretyakov recognized the need to preserve priceless icons of St. Nicholas and other religious figures. He also risked material support of great artists even when clerical and state arts officials condemned their pastoral works because of realistic if sometimes unsettling depictions of rural life. Forbidden to exhibit and sell their works through official channels, a group of Russia’s greatest nineteenth century artists including Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin, and Grigoriy Myasoyedov founded their own “Itinerant” art exhibitions for which their stylistic school is named. Tretyakov’s controversial generosity enabled them and other artists from Europe and Russia, where they were also known as “Wanderers,” to continue their mission. Tretyakov bequeathed to later generations the grand galleries that vividly acquaint viewers with Old World traditions of reaping, gleaning, and other vital aspects of agrarian life from an age when family and community survival depended on favorable summer harvests.

Monumental canvases painted by Venetsianov, Myasoyedov, and the Itinerants show fieldworkers in mixed groups reflecting the Slavic commune’s traditional practice of distributing harvest labor as well as bounty among the peasantry of the steppes. Their paintings are also among the first to realistically depict their subjects as individuals. Some contemporary viewers characterize these rural depictions of toil, revelry, and celebration as quaint. But the play of colors enlivening field labors enhances appreciation for the profound impact harvests past and present have had on the inhabitants of these places, whose work is the bedrock of any people’s prosperity. Art historian Neil McWilliam has written of the risks in offering commentary on the complex interplay of nineteenth century art, and presumably visual imagery from any period, with the era’s “social mythology.“

Sickles and Sheaves — Farming, Faith, and the Frye (Part 3)

This blog post is part of a series I (Richard) am writing about my past life experiences that helped develop a love and appreciation for agricultural heritage in general and landrace grains in particular. The series is called "Sickles and Sheaves - Farming, Faith, and the Frye" and you can view the other parts of this blog series here.

Like young people in many rural areas, I spent considerable time among community elders and while still in high school decided to interview all first-generation immigrants living in our vicinity who had been raised in our ancestral Volga German village of Yágodnaya Polyána (Berry Meadow). This mission led to dozens of visits, usually in the company of Grandpa Scheuerman or my heritage-minded aunt, his daughter Evelyn Reich. She was our indefatigable family genealogist and provided essential service in what I later learned from social anthropologists was the special role of “folk broker.” In this way I was able to start listening and recording a fascinating series of oral histories and other memoirs about life in another dimension inhabited by field spirits and dire wolves, braucheri (folk doctors) and hexeri (spell-casters). My special interest came to be life an dem Khutor (“in the country”) where villagers sometimes lived for weeks on the open steppe miles away from Yágodnaya to tend fields, range livestock, and harvest their crops.

I sometimes attended early morning German language services at Trinity Lutheran in Endicott with Grandpa, and remember him visiting afterward once with his old neighbor on the farm Conrad Blumenschein in their peculiar Hessian brogue about the unusually dry summer. A stately, powerfully-built fellow who always dressed for church in a double-breasted blue suit, Conrad had emigrated in 1913, so had been old enough to thoroughly experience the Old World seasonal farming cycle. That Sunday I heard him tell how in the Old Country they feared times of drought and the dreaded Hohenrauch (“High Smoke”). This withering wind sometimes mysteriously arose from the Caspian and could reduce a ripening grain crop to tiny, shrunken kernels in just a few hours. “The Russian peasants would fall on the ground and pray for rain,” Conrad said. I asked if it did any good. “Ach,” he smiled kindly, “das Gebet kann nur hölfen.” (“Well, prayer can only help.”)

Above: Lautenschlager and Poffenroth Threshing Outfit near Endicott (1911), R. R. Hutchison Photograph Below: St. John Harvest Carnival (1913), Whitman County Library Heritage Collection, Colfax, Washington

Above: Lautenschlager and Poffenroth Threshing Outfit near Endicott (1911), R. R. Hutchison Photograph Below: St. John Harvest Carnival (1913), Whitman County Library Heritage Collection, Colfax, Washington

On a visit to see Conrad at his tidy St. John home in May, 1980, I asked about his farming recollections as a young man in Eastern Europe, which included his vivid memories of the Volga harvest and hints of Ilya Repin’s famous painting The Barge-Haulers and familiar eh-eh-ýkh-nyem (“heave-heave-ho”) dirge of The Volga Boatman:

“Harvest began the last of June and early July. Sometimes folks ran out of bread by then so cut several bundles to dry and get 40 to 100 pounds of rye to get by. In July rye was pulled up to aerate in rows, two to three weeks of drying, then hauled home to a threshing yard on the outskirts of town. Four to six men flailed the bundles, one side at a time. Then the bundles were cut open. The ground had been trampled hard by the horses and watered down. Others lift the bundles with forks while others flail and stack it for the horses and cattle. Those who didn’t have granaries often flailed bundles on the ice in the yard during winter. Fanning mills were then used after flailing, a pile of grain put in to clean it and wheat runs out on canvas then shoveled into hundred pound sacks.”

“...In early August wheat harvest began and was done differently. We put tents up where there were no buildings an dem Khutor. ...Cut [the grain] with a sickle and bundled, then bundles opened and spread into a big circle, about 100 to 200 bundles. Then [it was] trampled out with horses and wagons, left alone in the middle, then with a pole go all around the ring and turn it over to shake the wheat [kernels] out. Then repeat with the horses. The women shake the stalks and rake it out on a pile. The chaff and wheat are piled into the center of the ring, 200 to 300 bushels. Then it is run through a fanning mill and deposited again on a big canvas or bagged. Sometimes wheat was taken to the Volga River and loaded by hand onto boats which were stranded in the river because of low summer flow, but that’s where the buyers were.” 

Sharing What Palouse Heritage Does

Recently, Palouse Heritage was generously invited to present about our work at the local Rotary chapter in Colfax, WA. We were extremely grateful for the opportunity to share. Our farm manager, Andrew Wolfe, delivered an excellent talk on who Palouse Heritage is, what we do, and why we do it. Here is the an excerpt from his presentation.

Who We Are

We are Palouse Heritage, a venture aiming toward the reintroduction of landrace grain flours and malts, grown here in the Palouse Country, for health, hearth and heritage. Some here may know the story of the Volga Germans, as some of you are surely kin, and it is difficult for me to say who we are without recalling from where we first came.

In the 18th century Catherine the Great, Tsarina of the Russian Empire, extended an invitation to foreigners to possess, inhabit and cultivate the fertile lands of Southern Russia that would later claim the title of the breadbasket of Europe. Our story follows a number of pioneering families who, considering the opportunity, ventured from their homes near and around Frankfurt Germany to make their new lives in Russia. Here they would fashion their lives much as they did in Germany, doing what they knew best, tending the earth and raising crops. As political instability and religious persecution loomed heavy by the 19th century, these humble farmers looked yet again toward new horizons that, by the 1880's, would lead them to the great northwest.

Led by a vanguard traveling by wagon and rail to Northwest destinations in the 1880s, members of the Ochs, Scheuerman, Kleweno, Litzenberger, Pfaffenroth, Schmick, Helm, Weitz, and other families would find their solace at "The Colony." The Colony, as they fondly referred to it, soon developed into a thriving settlement that provisioned families coming from the Old Country to their new home on the Palouse. Scores of new arrivals stayed while adjusting to life in the new land, and today many thousands of residents in the Northwest and beyond can trace their origins in the country to this time of sanctuary along the placid Palouse. Parents described it as a “Land of Milk and Honey” for children who tended the colony’s dairy herd and raided bee hives along the river. The newcomers used farming methods of medieval origin—long, narrow Langstreifen fields (akin to English furlongs) in three-crop rotations (Dreifelderwirtschaft), a shared “commons” (Almenden) for grazing and gardens, and harvests with sickle and scythe. In 2015, descendants of the Ochs and Scheuerman families reestablished The Colony as Palouse Colony Farm and tend now to the land our ancestors once did.


What We Do

We aspire to capture the sentiment of the "commons" once again in a modern and complex era. Though, before anything can be done, we must first grow grains. At Palouse Colony farm we grow landrace grains or, as I am fond of saying, "we grow the grains God made." These landrace grains are ancient pre-hybridized varieties ("races") of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other grains which nature has caused to flourish in areas ("lands") throughout the world where they adapted to local environmental conditions. Genetic diversity and natural selection have conditioned these landrace varieties to be remarkably resilient and quick to adapt to new locations. Through often painstaking efforts we have found, reintroduced and caused to flourish many of the landraces which the very progenitors of our blood had grown in the soil of which we are now stewards. Varieties like Palouse Heritage White Lammas, known to history as "Hudson's Bay Wheat," originated as a landrace in the Celitc Aisles and is the original cereal grain of the Pacific Northwest. Palouse Heritage Red Walla Walla is a soft red landrace wheat hailing from Great Britain that was sown and thrived from Walla Walla to the Palouse after 1890. Palouse Heritage Bere Barley is a landrace from the Orkney Islands and the "grain that gave beer it's name." Palouse Heritage Purple Egyptian barley is a hulless, glassy purple barley with its heritage in Egypt and raised by our Russian ancestors in southern Russia. The list goes on. At Palouse Colony Farm we aim to reintroduce the flavorful spectrum of these lovely forgotten varieties along with their tremendous health benefits back onto the northwest dinner table. Through cooperation and partnerships with area malters, millers, bakers, brewers and distillers, we aim to offer our kaleidoscope of grains in the form of healthy flours and delightful beverages, bringing something truly unique to the market place, while tending the land responsibly and sustainably. 


Why We Do It

The pioneers and explorers of our area embraced a sentiment of community, their lives and livelihoods were often predicated by it. The experience of the entrepreneur strays very little from this idea; leaning on friends, neighbors and partners to the end of reciprocal benefit. Borrowing from contemporary agrarian visionary Wendell Berry, having a neighbor is preferable to having his land. In this sense we like to place ourselves in the boots of our pioneer forebears; inviting others of like mind to co-opt in the prospect of mutual success, in the pursuit of “the commons” while sharing common cause in health, community, relationships and sustainability. We revere the memory of things worth remembering and the preservation of things worth preserving. We do it to create sustainable grain economies that seek to respectfully feed body, mind, and spirit.

We do what we do for success, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. We do what we do to make real for others what we have known and what is continually revealed to us; that we live in a remarkable earth with spectacular diversity and creativity—the hallmark of our Creator—and what’s more is that it was meant for us. For health. For hearth. And for heritage. 

Feature Article in The Whitman County Gazette

Palouse Heritage was privileged to be featured in the latest issue of the Whitman County Gazette:  http://www.wcgazette.com/

If the article is no longer available on their website, you can read the full excerpt here:

Return to Palouse Colony Farm

By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter

Palouse Colony Farm circa 1910

Palouse Colony Farm circa 1910

Richard Scheuerman grew up about two miles from a farm known as the “Palouse Colony,” a farm between Endicott and St. John that was settled by German immigrants from Russia in the 1880s. “It was kind of a legendary place as a boy growing up,” said Scheuerman. Scheuerman said he was always interested in knowing more about the people there. “I enjoyed talking to older people. Even as a boy, I started visiting with elders of my grandfather’s generation who lived there,” he recalled. “It was all just very fascinating.” Scheuerman found himself learning about the “Old World agrarian methods” these farmers brought with them. It was a history he became hooked on. A recent business endeavor has brought Scheuerman to re-establish the Palouse Colony and its Old World farming methods as Palouse Heritage. “An opportunity came for us to acquire the property about two years ago,” said Scheuerman. “I have always kept interested in researching about the Palouse country. It was a special opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”

Richard’s wife Lois and his brother Don Scheuerman are also part of restoring the Palouse Colony Farm, as is Rod Ochs. The Scheuermans and Ochs are all descendants of families who once lived at the farm. Richard said those involved in helping to restore grain varieties have been Alex McGregor, the McGregor Company and Andrew Wolfe, his nephew. Additionally, farmers Joe Delong of St. John, Tom Schierman of Lancaster and Chuck Jordan of Winona have helped. Richard called the effort so far “a learning experience.” “We’re always finding new things,” he commented. “It’s been a wonderful adventure just learning about this. It’s kind of all coming together.”

Richard told of how the German immigrants brought grains with them from Russia, including Turkey Red, a form of hard red winter wheat. Prior to the introduction of Turkey Red, soft white wheats were mostly used in bread production in the Pacific Northwest. “Until immigrants came from Russia, people made bread out of the soft winter wheats,” said Richard. “The Turkey Red revolutionized this. Virtually all breads today are made from hard red wheats.” Richard called the flavor of the grains now being grown again at the Palouse Colony “very distinct.” “The flavor is incredible,” he said. “We’re calling it ‘flavorful authenticity.’” Bringing back different grain varieties has been an experience right out of history, Richard said. “None of these have been grown for probably a century,” he said. “We’re seeing this unfold as living history, and friends are bringing out old recipes that were handed down.” Richard said they are not seeking to replace “modern hybrid” grains, but said there is a place for both. “Modern hybrids produce higher-yielding crops,” he said. “There’s a place for both worlds with markets internationally and with distinct flavor grains.”

Richard said that Don is also working on brews. “Don has been interested in the malting grains. He’s working with some craft malters and brewers,” said Richard. The brews are not quite ready, though. “The malt grain is being used in Spokane to create craft brews,” said Richard. “We’re trying to decide if we are ready to scale it up to production. It certainly tastes wonderful.” There are 40 acres on the property that are being farmed now. Richard said the property was also recently designated as a state historical site. The flours Palouse Heritage is developing will be available in December, and the availability of the brews will be announced at a later date. To learn more about what Palouse Heritage is doing and the history of the Palouse Colony, go to www.palouseheritage.com.

Article courtesy of The Whitman County Gazette

The Harvest Heritage Exhibition - The Palouse Heritage Collection

Objects & Art Commemorating Agrarian Traditions & Landrace Crops

Our years of research and passion for authentic, old world farming has led to us create a unique and remarkable collection of items celebrating agricultural history. When we travel to conferences and other events, we often bring some of these rare items for others to see and enjoy. To help share with a wider audience, we thought it appropriate to share a blog post listing all the treasures we have in this collection.

The Gleaners Tapestry (Belgium, c. 1950)

The Gleaners Tapestry (Belgium, c. 1950)

I. Early Modern European Engravings—The Book of Ruth Gleaning Motifs

(A) Gerard de Jode (1585); (B) G. Freman and (1672); (C) Mattias Scheits and François Halma (1710)

(D) T. Stothard, The Seasons (London, 1794); (E) B. Foster, The Farmer’s Boy (London, 1858)

II. Franklin Knight, ed., [George] Washington’s Agricultural Correspondence: Letters… to Arthur Young and John Sinclair (1847).   Morocco-bound leather with engravings and maps


III. 19th Century European Agrarian Realist Art Prints

(A) J. Breton, Harvest (1860); (B) G. Myasoyedev, Reapers (1887); (C) Van Gogh, Wheat Sheaves (1890)

IV. Early 20th Century American Periodical & McCormick Centennial (1831-1931) Color Lithographs

(A) P. Helck, Combine Harvester and Railroad (1930); (B) P. Lyford, McCormick-Deering Harvester-Thresher (1931), (C) N. C. Wyeth, The World’s First Reaper (1931), (D) E. Baker, Wheat Harvest (1935)


V. Agrarian Folk Art

(A) Painted wooden bowl in primitive Volga Khokhlama style (Henry & Anna Litzenberger, 1876); (B) G. V. Kurchatkina, “Novgorod Cathedral” & Straw Overlay Salyomki Box (Russia, 1991); (C) Fern Enos, Heart Wheat-weaving (Colfax, WA, c. 1980)


VI. Grain Mills and Baking Equipment

(A) Pine Kneading Trough & Cabinet-Work Table (Eastern Europe, c. 1900); (B) Iron Mortar & Pestle (c. 1870); (C) Hand Iron-Buhr Mill (c. 1880); (D) Iron Enterprise No. 10 Grain Mill (U. S., c. 1920); (E) Meadows Mill Kitchen Grain Mill

VI. Flour and Feed Milling Equipment

(A) Foos Horse-Powered Mill (Springfield, OH, c. 1900, from the Finley Ranch near Inchelium on the Colville Indian Reservation, WA); (B) Ensberg French Stone-Buhr Mill (c. 1890, Peterson, MN)


VII. Harvest Hand Tools, Winnowing Basket, and Fanning Mill

(A) Cradle Scythe; (B) Grain Rake; (C) Threshing Flail; (D) Scoop Shovel (c. 1875), (E) Puget Sound Salish Winnowing Basket (c. 1900); (F) Pacific Fanning Mill (Kenosha, WI, c. 1910; from a farm near Schrag, WA)

VII. Commercial Container Art

(A) Champoeg Flour Mills “Golden Sheaf” Flour Sack (c. 1890); (B) Washburn-Crosby Flour Barrel (c. 1895); (C) Hungarian Linen Grain Sack (c. 1910);  (D) Sperry Flour Company “Harina” Four Sack (c. 1940)


IX. Liberty Hyde Bailey Published Works, Agrarian History, and the “New Agrarianism”

(A) L. H. Bailey, The Cyclopedia of American Agriculture, (4 Volumes, 1908); (B) L. H. Bailey, The Holy Earth (1915); (C) Liberty Hyde Bailey: Essential Agrarian & Environmental Writings (2008), What Are People For? Essays by Wendell Berry (1990)


X. Portfolios

(A) Gustavus Sohon and John Mix Stanley color lithographs, in I. I. Stevens, Narrative and Final Report of Explorations for a Route for a Pacific Railroad (Washington, D.C., 1860); (B) Eugéne Graff color lithographs, in H. Vilmorin, Les Meilleurs Blés [The Best Wheats] (Paris, 1880); (C)The Country Gentleman, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and other 19th and 20th century periodical lithographs