Pacific Northwest Colonial Festival

Northwest Colonial Festival — Heritage Grains under the Big Top

The Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula is famous for hosting continental America’s only rain forest which averages about 150 inches of annual precipitation. That fact might make ocean-side grain culture there a hopeless prospect, but far from it on the dry and sunny north side of the Olympic Mountains. To the contrary, the imposing mountains shelter the vicinity of Sequim, Washington, from the region’s prevailing southwesterly winds to create a rain shadow effect causing only about fifteen inches of rain to fall in that area. The peculiar semi-arid climate combined with fertile landscape create ideal conditions for raising wheat, barley, and oats. Match the geography with the patriotic dream of Dan and Jan Abbot to build a full-scale replica of Mt. Vernon as a five star bed and breakfast and you get… the spectacular George Washington Inn.

Barley Field near Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (2018)

Barley Field near Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (2018)

The Abbots have been friends of Palouse Heritage since we first met several years ago at one of the WSU Grain Gathering conferences. Dan shares our interest in health and history and wanted to learn about the crops of America’s Colonial Era in order to provide a “living history” experience to visitors to the Inn. He might not have expected them to harvest the crop, but thought that establishing test plots with actual varieties that once grew at places like Mt. Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello would be a fascinating project. And so was launched a partnership between Dan, the WSU Bread Lab in nearby Burlington, and Palouse Heritage.

British Army Reenactors approach the George Washington Inn (Mt. Vernon)

British Army Reenactors approach the George Washington Inn (Mt. Vernon)

The third annual Northwest Colonial Festival was held at the Inn this past August with hundreds of visitors attending a series of special events and reenactor encampments of British regulars and American patriots. Along with demonstrations of tool making, cooking, printing, weaving, and other traditional crafts, the August sunshine brought the landrace grain plots to maturity. Many of the guests gathered under an enormous tent where longtime WSU senior agronomist Steve Lyon and I teamed up to tell about the various varieties and discuss the challenges and benefits of heritage grain production. Several once prominent early American grains like Virginia White and Red May also made their way to the Pacific Northwest by the late 1800s, and seeing bountiful stands again wave in the seaside breeze presents scenes worthy of a painting.

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

One of the winter wheats planted last fall, Mediterranean Red, yielded terrifically and represents a remarkable chapter in the history of American agriculture. Most folks are familiar with the story of Hessian troops from Germany being used as mercenaries to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War. Many agricultural historians believe that these soldiers brought more with them to the Colonies that love of schnapps and sauerkraut. It seems that a tiny pernicious pest that came to be known as the Hessian fly likely arrived with the hay and grain brought over to provision the soldiers livestock. This insect wrought enormous havoc on cereal grains that had long been raised in North America, and local news and correspondence of George Washington and other farmers from the era is full of news about the calamity that ensured which threatened the food supply. Fortunately for the new nation, enterprising “farmer improvers” introduced Mediterranean Red which seemed to have a natural resistance to infestation. Scientists today study the remarkable genetic diversity of landrace grains that developed in locales throughout the world for millennia and continue to exhibit valued traits for hardiness, yield, and flavor.

Bridget Baker,  Olympic Gold  (oil on canvas, wheat field near Sequim), Palouse Heritage Collection

Bridget Baker, Olympic Gold (oil on canvas, wheat field near Sequim), Palouse Heritage Collection

Whites of Their Eyes, and White Lammas Wheat — The 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival and Early American Heritage Grains

With a state named for the first president, counties that honor Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, and towns like Mt. Vernon, perhaps it was only time before the Northwest should host a full-blown Northwest Colonial Festival complete with Concord Bridge battle reenactments and Early American grain demonstration plots courtesy of WSU/Mt. Vernon and Palouse Colony Farm. You may recall from blogs posted earlier this year that in partnership with Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, founder of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, and Stephen Jones and Steve Lyon at WSU/MV, we embarked on a marvelous adventure to (1) document specific grain varieties raised by George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, and other “Founding Farmers,” (2) find any samples that had been kept vital in US and world germplasm collections, (3) begin propigating them, and (4) share samples with the dedicated heritage-minded folks at Colonial Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon’s Living History Farm, and the National Arboretum in Washington, D. C.

Colonist Encampment, 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival;   George Washington Inn, Port Angeles, Washington

Colonist Encampment, 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival; George Washington Inn, Port Angeles, Washington

Among our most recent partners in this special endeavor has been Dan and Janet Abbott, proprietors of the George Washington Inn, a five-star B&B situated on fifteen acres overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington State’s coastal communities of Sequim and Port Angeles. The inn is an incredible full scale replica of President Washington’s Virginia estate mansion with exquisite period interiors, only with updated conveniences! Lois and I were guests of the Abbotts this past winter and marveled at the meticulous care taken to develop the building and grounds as a tribute to the democratic ideals and legendary hospitality of the Washingtons and other Founders. We were even joined for a breakfast by General (Vern Frykholm) Washington himself in full uniform and in keeping with the occasion we supplied the Colonial White Lammas wheat flour for the pancakes. The Father of our Nation said he hadn’t tasted anything so delicious in over 200 years.

Dan and Janet spearheaded the first Northwest Colonial Festival in August, 2016, and with such an overwhelming public response made plans far in advance of this month’s August 10-11 event that attracted reenactors throughout the country including regiments of British regulars and American colonist soldiers. Dan and friends had built a model of the famous Concord Bridge just east of the inn and I’m happy to report that once again the patriots managed to drive the Redcoats back and claim victory. A vast encampment is set up along the long driveway from the Finn Road entrance and organizers and participants go out of their way to make for a family-friendly experience where kids can experience how colonial families lived, worked, played, and ate. There are games, music, marching soldiers, demonstrations on Early American printing, spinning and weaving, cooking, and a host of other crafts so you might want to mark calendars for August, 2018, in case you missed it this time around.

Early American Heritage Grain Plots;   George Washington Inn, Port Angeles

Early American Heritage Grain Plots; George Washington Inn, Port Angeles

My special interest was in the grains of Early America and Dan invited Steve Lyon from WSU/Mt. Vernon and me to present on this topic at one of the afternoon sessions. We met folks who had come from as far away as Arizona and I especially enjoyed getting to know Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin (Mr. and Mrs. Gregg Hardy) Franklin from Utah who go to great length to fully dress and act the part. Dr. Franklin reminded me that his brother was a prominent New England farmer and that he had great interest in “agricultural improvement” by introducing new techniques to improve soil fertility and bringing new grain varieties to the colonies from Europe. I was heartened to hear that others who took part in the festival had heard of the work we had done this past year through Palouse Heritage to reintroduce Virginia White May wheat and Scots Bere barley to the National Arboretum and Colonial Williamsburg.  George Washington and Benjamin Franklin lauded the fertility of American soils in their correspondence, as did Thomas Jefferson when writing of the Piedmont region in his Notes on Virginia (1785). He also also famously proclaimed, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God,” and the haven of “substantial and genuine virtue.” Jefferson envisioned a vast network of yeoman farmers who would be rendered self-reliant and virtuous through possession of private property. Widespread appreciation for both commerce and cultural heritage grounded in religious values is evident in Early America’s many weekly and monthly newspapers and other popular publications.

Festival Celebrity Visitor Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia,   AKA Gregg Hardy of the Colonial Heritage Foundation

Festival Celebrity Visitor Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, AKA Gregg Hardy of the Colonial Heritage Foundation

Although a confirmed Philadelphia city-dweller, Franklin visited farms throughout the area and turned his scientific mind to experiments with grains and grasses and crop rotations. He famously proclaimed, “The great Business of the Continent is Agriculture,” carried on extensive correspondence with Scottish agricultural improver Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) and through interest and influence circulated ideas as well as seeds to promote more productive farming. Franklin was also the prime mover in establishing The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, predecessor of American public libraries, to promote members’ literary and political knowledge. Franklin served for a time as the organization’s librarian and gathered numerous agricultural titles that were widely circulated.

Agrarian allusions were common in the expressions of Franklin’s Poor Richard who observed that the divine call to “Places of Dignity and Honour” went forth to those who cared for land and livestock: “David keeping his Father’s Sheep,” “Shepherds feeding their Flocks,” and “Gideon from the Threshing Floor.” The same 1756 edition of the Almanack and Ephemeris offered verse that resonated with the prevailing Protestant work ethic of Franklin and his readers:

 

Learn of the Bees, see to their Toils they run

In clust’ring Swarms, and labour in the Sun:

…Unless you often plow the fruitful field,

 

No grain, but mix’d with Thistles it will yield.

…Plough deep, while Sluggards sleep;

And you shall have Corn, to sell and to keep.

 

The pithy sayings and light-hearted verse that made the Almanack a best-seller in colonial America reflect Franklin’s creed regarding liberty of persons as a “key freedom” so Americans could own property and enjoy the fruits of their labor in the philosophic tradition of John Locke and John Milton. But in Franklin’s view, such freedom should have reasonable limits since unrestrained personal liberty could transform into exploitation that threatened the public good through radically unequal distribution of wealth. While touring Scotland and Ireland in 1771, diplomat Franklin had seen firsthand the widespread abject poverty of the countryside which he attributed to absentee landlords and exploitive farming practices. He proposed an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776 to limit the large concentrations of farmland and other property which he believed would be “destructive to the Common Happiness of Mankind.”

Franklin’s designs for paper currency in 1775 as an expression of growing spirit of American independence also incorporated familiar agrarian imagery. TRIBULATIO DITAT (Threshing Improves It) proclaimed the banner of a circular shield in the center his two-dollar bill that featured a flail above a sheaf of grain. Invoking the colorfully stirring rhetoric characteristic of Franklin, he described the image as symbolic of “enriching virtues” in an anonymous submission to the Pennsylvania Gazette: “…[T]ho at present we are under the flail, it blows, how hard soever, will be rather advantageous than hurtful to us: for they will bring forth every grain of genius in arts, manufactures, war and council, that are now concealed in the husk…. And threshing, in one of its senses, that of beating, often improves those that are threshed.”

Franklin United Colonies Flail and Sheaf Two-Dollar Bill (1775);   Private Collection

Franklin United Colonies Flail and Sheaf Two-Dollar Bill (1775); Private Collection

 

 

A Weekend Trip to the George Washington Inn and other Pacific Northwest Agricultural Heritage Sites

President Washington entertaining his guests. Wife Lois is on the left.

President Washington entertaining his guests. Wife Lois is on the left.

My wife and I recently returned from a remarkably enjoyable weekend trip visiting some amazing sites related to agricultural heritage right here in the Pacific Northwest. We began at the George Washington Inn, Dan and Janet Abbott's five-star B & B located on the ocean between Sequim and Port Angeles. The Inn is a full scale replica of Washington's Mt. Vernon and Dan is passionate about America's colonial heritage in every way, including farming techniques for the living history farm he is developing. The last week of July the Pacific Northwest Colonial Festival will be held on the scenic grounds of the George Washington Inn. We had the special privilege of meeting President Washington himself (acclaimed reenactor Vern Frykholm) at breakfast and served him some Palouse Heritage Colonial pancakes made with our own landrace grain flour, which he pronounced as, "Just like Martha makes!" 

The George Washington Inn, located between Port Angeles and Sequim

The George Washington Inn, located between Port Angeles and Sequim

Richardsons' Oat Pancakes

Richardsons' Oat Pancakes

Fry's Bakery

Fry's Bakery

Following a delightful time with Dan and President Washington, we continued on across the water via the Blackball Ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, where we were treated to a wonderful tour of the vicinity's agricultural heritage by Foster and Natasha Richardson who farm near Mill Creek, British Columbia. We dined on the most scrumptious oak pancakes--more like a cake actually, at Victoria's Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, and also toured Fry's Bakery, operated by friends of the Richardsons. Our principal destination was Hatley Park Castle, located about ten miles west of Victoria, which is the home of BC's Royal Roads University and three-time host of Queen Elizabeth on her trips to British Columbia. Royal Roads occupies the former grounds of the Hudson's Bay Company's Colwood Farm. Some of the province's earliest grain was raised at Colwood and adjacent Craigflower Farm, and evidence of these places' agrarian heritage can still be seen in Craigflower's manor house and the Colwood Farm stone dairy building. 

Our trip was another reminder of the rich agricultural heritage we have here in the northwest, and further inspires us to continue restoring those healthy and earth-friendly landrace grains from our past. People like George Washington and fur trade farmers thrived on them, and so should we!

Hatley Park Castle

Hatley Park Castle