Palouse Colony Farm

Artist Katherine Nelson Creates Drawings Inspired by Grain

Our longtime Palouse Colony Farm friend, Baltimore artist Katherine Nelson, learned of our mutual interests in country life, history, and art through our cousin, photographer and musician Tom Schierman, of nearby Lancaster. In recent years Katherine has visited the farm several times to study locations for her phenomenal artistic creations in charcoal, paint, and fabric. She was here in the Northwest again this summer to participate in an art show held at Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where we both made presentations on agrarian art. A video of those presentations is provided below, along with an article from a larger feature written by Carrie Scozzaro for the July, 2018, issue of The Inlander.


The Palouse has inspired countless artists with its iconic vistas of grain-covered hills, yellow-gold and green against an azure blue sky and dotted with farmsteads. When clouds roll through and the light shifts, the hills appear to undulate as if a vast carpet of living color. Yet for artist Katherine Nelson, the allure of the Palouse goes well beyond the visual.

Drawing the Palouse is a quest to express the obvious and implied human connections within a unique place formed by nature and agriculture," Nelson writes in the artist's statement for the Art Spirit Gallery's July exhibition of her charcoal drawings alongside Jerri Lisk, Mark Lisk and Al Swanson. "After thousands of field observations, I have developed an admiration for farmers and agrarian fortitude. I see my work aligned with the work I observe, and think that sowing seeds of grain to nurture our bodies is analogous to developing artistic imagery for visual nourishment.”

Nelson's affinity for the Palouse began in 2001, when she relocated to Eastern Washington with her husband and two young sons. Early pieces, which she exhibited at the Art Spirit in 2005, ranged from still lifes to ravens, and from Oregon Coast scenes to rolling fields and broken fences amidst farmlands. By 2007, Nelson was featured in an Art Spirit exhibition entitled The Circle in the Center and Beyond. It conveyed the Palouse through graphic elements of design—light, value, pattern, shape, line—from ribbons of roads to the upswell of morning mist over the land.

“Charcoal is a perfectly suited medium for expressing the undulating Palouse fields and farmsteads," Nelson says in an interview from her home in Washington, D.C. "I love charcoal because it is fluid, forgiving, mysterious and strong. I draw by layering dark velvety values and build textures that are obtained through an additive and subtractive process using a variety of charcoals, pastels, blenders, brushes and erasers.”

What Nelson says she's trying to express is a "luxuriant textural carpet full of patterns, shapes and values" not unlike the antique carpets and weavings she remembers her father collecting while a diplomat in the Foreign Service who travelled throughout the Middle East.

The panels also suggest relationships, such as those Nelson developed while immersing herself in the grain community during Palouse visits from the East Coast, where she relocated in 2012. During one such visit she was introduced Tom Schierman, a St. John-area farmer and photographer who helped Nelson in her quest for Palouse vistas. He also introduced her to his cousin, Don Scheuerman, who co-founded Palouse Heritage — they grow ancient or landrace grains on their Palouse Colony Farm — near Endicott, Washington, with his brother, Richard Scheuerman.

Nelson has visited many private Palouse farms, talked with farmers, attended numerous grain-related events, including the Cascadia Grains Conference and the Grain Gathering, an annual event led by Washington State University to unite producers, consumers and anyone interested in grain. “From my perspective, as an observer and a visual artist," Nelson says, "these interdependent artisanal connections between farmers, millers, bakers, brewers and distillers are in fact, weaving people together quite like a carpet.”


Katherine Nelson,  Palouse Colony Farm  (charcoal on wove paper, 2017)

Katherine Nelson, Palouse Colony Farm (charcoal on wove paper, 2017)

Katherine at Art Spirit Gallery, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Katherine at Art Spirit Gallery, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Katherine and Tom Schierman, Palouse Colony Farm (July, 2018)

Katherine and Tom Schierman, Palouse Colony Farm (July, 2018)

Palouse Colony Vista (2018)

Palouse Colony Vista (2018)

Hands to Harvest! “Bringing in the Sheaves” in 2018

Few words conjure up richer connotations of summertime, country life, and abundance than harvest. During the past three weeks we have commenced harvesting our Palouse Heritage grains and are pleased to report excellent quality and yield. Ever being interested in matters of origin, I decided to investigate the derivation of the word “harvest,” and learned that it is derived from German Herbst (autumn). That word in turn descends from a root shared by Latin carp- (“to gather”) and Greek karpos (“fruit”). “Harvest” in the sense of reaping grain and other crops came into vernacular use during the medieval era of Middle English.

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Palouse Heritage Yellow Breton Wheat Harvest near Connell, Washington (July, 2018)

Palouse Heritage Yellow Breton Wheat Harvest near Connell, Washington (July, 2018)

Likely due to the light color of a wheat kernel’s interior endosperm, the word “wheat” in many European languages meant “white,” as with Old English whete, Welsh gwenith, and German weizzi. The Latin term “gladiators,” hordearii, literally means “barley eaters” since they subsisted on high energy foods like barley, oatmeal, and legumes. Roman legionaries were routinely outfitted with sickles in order to procure their livelihood throughout the far flung empire, and probably used them more often that their weapons. The helical frieze on Trajan’s Column in Rome (c. 110 AD) features a dynamic group scene of soldiers in full uniform harvesting waist-high grain with prodigious heads.

These days we don’t need to rely on sickles and legionnaires to bring in the crop. Good friends like Brad Bailie of Lenwood Farms near Connell, Washington, raise bountiful crops of organic Palouse Heritage varieties like Crimson Turkey and Yellow Breton. The latter is a soft red variety native to the northern France where for generations it was used for the prized flour essential for flavorful crepes. Farther to the northeast in the vicinity of Endicott, Washington, our longtime friends Joe DeLong and Chuck Jordan are harvestings stands of Palouse Heritage Red Fife, a famous bread grain originally from Eastern Europe, Sonoran Gold wheat, and Scots Bere barley that has become one of the most sought-after craft brewing malt grains.

Although there are some variations in climate and soil across the inland Pacific Northwest, this fertile region lies within the great arc of the Columbia River’s “Big Bend” easily identified on any map. While reading through some old newspapers recently I encountered the following poem titled “The Big Bend” by Louis Todd that was published in 1900. Little else is known about Todd’s life, but his literary expressions here make it clear he greatly appreciated this land of harvest time “golden splendor.”

 

No other river to the ocean

   Will a tale like thine unfold,

Of the wealth seen in thy travels;

   Of the wealth thy borders hold;

For thy thoughts the grandeur bear,

   And thy breath the sweetness breathes,

Of the boundless fields and forests,

   Of the richly laden trees.

 

And there grows within thy roaring

   All the fairest of the vine;

Luscious fruits in clusters hanging

   From the north and southern clime.

Great fields of wheat in golden splendor,

   Waving like a mighty sea,

Holding safe their precious treasure

   ’Till the grain shall ripened be.

 

Where nature works with freest hand,

   Builds her greatest work of art,

Will the feeble life of man

   There most smoothly play its part.

Oh, leave the dreary course you travel,

   Spurn the rocky path you go,

Join again your life with Nature,

   Where the fragrant flowers grow.

 

Palouse Heritage Red Fife Wheat Harvest (July, 2018)

Palouse Heritage Red Fife Wheat Harvest (July, 2018)

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Seasons Change and Crops Grow at Palouse Colony Farm

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Palouse Colony Farm Native Lupine and Yellow Balsamroot

Palouse Colony Farm Native Lupine and Yellow Balsamroot

This week’s post is a photo montage of recent scenes from Palouse Colony Farm where we were treated to an moist spring that benefited both crops and the native flora of the area’s river bluffs and natural grasslands. Bursts of yellow “sunflower” balsamroot (Balsamorhiza careyana )abound on the southwestern facing slopes while purple lupine (Lupinus spp.), and other wildflowers favor the longer shadows of northern hillsides. The nutritious seeds and stalks of the sunflowers have long been gathered by the region’s native peoples, while lupine blossoms served as a traditional grave decoration.

While elk have been known to frequent the canyon some miles upstream, this is the first year in memory that a small herd of about fifteen of these grand creatures lingered in the vicinity of Palouse Colony Farm. By winter they had headed eastward probably to range in the higher elevations of northern Idaho but we hope they remember the way back to our vicinity. Our bend in the river, which is the northernmost point of the Palouse, has also been home this spring to two pairs of nesting bald eagles. The males periodically swoop high above us when walking around the farm as if to make sure we’re tending to the business of the farm and check out the river for any fish that might be moving close to the surface.

Guardians of the Farm

Guardians of the Farm

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I always marvel at how well our landrace winter grain varieties mature in the spring after looking so scrawny in the fall. One wonders how Mother Nature equips the delicate leaves of the young plants to withstand the subzero temperatures that frequently descend throughout the region in December and January. Our father, who raised bountiful crops year after year on our family’s acreage just east of Palouse Colony Farm, observed that the first two weeks of February brought more frost damage to the crops than any other period during the winter. The pictures below show two of our grandchildren standing between stands of Crimson Turkey hard red bread wheat (at left) and soft red Yellow Breton, one of France’s famed crepe grains. The contrast between the sparsely filled furrows last November with the lush stand at the same place in June attests to the remarkable life-giving forces of land and air.

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Before and After: Palouse Heritage Winter Landrace Plantings at Lenwood Farm near Connell, Washington (Left and Right: Crimson Turkey™ and Yellow Breton™ Wheats)

East Meets West—WSU’s 2018 Farmwalk Tour and Our Seattle Damsel & Hopper Friends

This past June we were privileged to take part in Washington State University Extension Service’s Farmwalk 2018 program organized by Nichole Witham and Aba Kiser of the Food & Farm Systems Program headquartered at scenic Port Hadlock on Puget Sound. Thirty-five guests showed up on a breezy morning at the end of Grove Road between Endicott and St. John to learn about the history of the farm and tour the property.

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Founder Rob Salvino of Seattle’s Damsel & Hopper Bakeshop

Founder Rob Salvino of Seattle’s Damsel & Hopper Bakeshop

We were pleased to make the acquaintance of folks from across the state who shared our interests in health and heritage through landrace grain production, processing, and marketing. Several passed on greetings from our good friend in Seattle, master artisan baker Rob Salvino of Damsel & Hopper Bakeshop (4405 Wallingford Avenue North). Rob was the first professional baker to use the landrace grain flours that we had grown and milled courtesy of Kevin Christiansen at Fairhaven Mill in Burlington. Rob established a thriving business in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood that features both a retail sales area and subscription delivery service for an array of delicious whole grain breads, scones, pastries, and crackers made from Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold, White Lammas, and Crimson Turkey. His shortbread cookies are to die for!

I was surprised to learn that almost half the group had traveled from places west of the Cascades to find our place tucked away deep in the rolling hills of the Palouse Country. Several appreciated that our farm’s location even seemed beyond the pale of MapQuest though they did manage to join us in time thanks to the old reliable system of a green road sign that identified Grove Road. I remember Jack Grove very well as he lived at the Colony when I was a boy and was grandfather to our distant cousins who lived in other houses there. Mr. Grove related many tales to me of yesteryear life along the river, and some of these for a book to be published by WSU Press this fall titled From Hardship to Homeland. In a future post I’ll share some extracts from that work.

Palouse Colony Farm Manager Andrew Wolfe Speaking to Farmwalk Participants

Palouse Colony Farm Manager Andrew Wolfe Speaking to Farmwalk Participants

Thanks to Nicole, Aba, and the WSU Farm & Food Systems team for bringing producers, processors, and vendors on both sides of our state closer together through the Farmwalk program. Aba also coordinates the very successful Cascadia Grains Conference which will be held next January 18-19 in Olympia. I hope you can make it.

A “Farm to Table” Milestone—The Grain Shed Opens!

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After seven years of patient labor begun with extremely limited quantities of rare landrace grain seed, we were thrilled to attend a soft opening of The Grain Shed in Spokane’s South Perry district (1026 E. Newark) on June 9. The event marked the culmination of our vision to complete a heritage grain-based “Farm to Table” market devoted to principles of “flavorful authenticity.” Imagine the rich, warm aroma of artisan breads made from whole grain Crimson Turkey wheat, the progenitor of most all modern bread wheats, accompanied by a glass of Scots Bere ale (“The grain that gave beer its name!”).

Red Letter Day: The Grain Shed Opens

Red Letter Day: The Grain Shed Opens

Hat’s off to the remarkable cadre of committed souls whose dream for a place dedicated to serving healthy landrace grain products in an atmosphere of good fellowship was matched by months of careful planning and hard work. Palouse Colony Farm co-founder Don Scheuerman teamed up with Grain Shed co-founders, Joel Williamson, malster-brewer of LINC Foods,  brewer Teddy Benson, and renown Spokane artisan baker Shaun Thompson Duffy of Culture Breads. The result of these innovative endeavors is this first of its kind co-op producer/worker/service model in the region. 

Legendary Spokane Artisan Baker Shawn Thompson Duffy

Legendary Spokane Artisan Baker Shawn Thompson Duffy

Grain Shed-Palouse Pint Master Brewers Teddy Benson and Joel Williamson

Grain Shed-Palouse Pint Master Brewers Teddy Benson and Joel Williamson

Shaun designed the bakery’s enormous wood-fired oven where he applies the skills of a culinary artist to transform fresh-milled flour from The Grain Shed’s stone mill into succlulent Old World-style pastries and breads. Among his specialties are whole grain rye Volkornbrot and pain de mie, a soft French sandwich bread. As an indication of The Grain Shed team’s caliber of service, the informal opening was such a hit with locals that they sold out of both specialty loaves and house Scots Bere and Purple Egyptian ales. May the fates smile and allow you to enjoy the unforgettable experience of “flavorful authenticity” on your visit to The Grain Shed. Congratulations Don, Joel, Shaun, and Teddy!

A Mystic Sheaf and the Origins of Farming

Harvest season back home in the Palouse Hills often brings to mind bygone high school days. Trips from our Palouse Colony Farm to nearby Endicott lead past the school where I attended all twelve years, and where I served as principal in the 1990s. One of the great privileges of my education career was to return as a colleague with Mrs. Louise Braun, who had been my high school English teachers. She was a woman of capacious mind with expectations that students read and appreciate Shakespeare and Robert Frost with the same enthusiasm shown for sporting events. A native of tiny Viola in the Idaho-Washington Palouse borderlands, Mrs. Braun guided our uncharted literary journeys across time and place with the peculiar incentive—highly controversial among faculty and parents, that once a week we could spend class time reading Farm Journal, Field & Stream, or any other periodical of our own choosing. “Reading is the main thing,” she would say in the context of expanding young minds. 

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To my mind, our most formidable high school read was the epic poem Beowulf through which we battled for many days to make sense of alliterative Old English expressions that related ancient Scandinavian lore. This was a time before Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings had ushered in a resurgence of interest in classical fantasy literature. Mrs. Braun’s reminder that many of us had descended from these tribal peoples provided modest encouragement to continue our study of this oldest English long poem. The poem’s opening lines in Lesslie Hall’s modern translation, however, invoked intriguing agrarian reference:

Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements
The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,
How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.
Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers
From many a people their mead-benches tore.

Queries about Old English “Scyld the Scefing,” which may be translated “Shield Sheafson” or “Scyld of the Sheaf,” provided an remarkable glimpse into mystical realms also described by Tolkien in his legendarium of Middle-earth. The namesakes of the eponymous Scyldings’ (Sköldings) Danish royal house founder in Beowulf are associated with the crucial roles as historical protector of the people (Shield) and as agri-cultural hero (Sheaf). In the mythic past he arrived as a foundling from the west who washed up in a boat on the shore of Jutland’s Old Anglia. The golden child’s head rested on a pillow of grain stalks, and he would grow into a strong and wise ruler who was the ancestor of Beowulf. Like a medieval Triptolemus, Scyld also taught his adopted people the first principles of farming and husbandry. Tolkien further explored aspects this legendary figure who is also mentioned in lesser known works of Old English literature like William Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum (“Deeds of the English Kings,” 1125) and the eighth century Historia Langobardorum (“History of the Lombards”). Tolkien’s imaginative rendition drawn from these several accounts is beautifully expressed in the poem “King Sheave,” published posthumously with “The Notion Club Papers” in Sauron Defeated (1992): 

In golden vessel gleaming water
Stood beside him; strung with silver
A harp of gold neath his hand rested;
His sleeping head was soft pillowed
On a sheaf of corn shimmering palely
As the fallow gold doth from far countries
West of Angol. Wonder filled them. 

Tolkien’s telling, the boy ascended a hill and sang a song of “sweet, unearthly, words in music woven strangely.” His hearers marveled at sounds miraculously dispelling the darkness and terror that had long gripped the region. From “King Sheave” descended many sons and their nations—Danes and Goths, Swedes and Northmen, Franks and Frisians, Swordmen and Saxons, Swabians and English. In the magnificent Scandinavian epic of Beowulf, Tolkien found a magisterial Anglo-Saxon antecedent of mythic grain king and culture hero skillfully interwoven with dynastic history to form an English national identity.
 

Landrace Grains and Heirloom Fruit — Palouse Colony Farm and DeLong Ranch

Even after great holiday sales, we remain well supplied with our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold pastry flour as well as our long awaited Crimson Turkey bread flour, known back in the day as “Turkey Red” though it ancestral homeland is actually south Russia and Ukraine. Until this flavorful grain was introduced to the United States in the 1870s, virtually all bread in the country was made from soft white wheats and other grains more suited for making biscuits, pancakes, and flatbreads. Our crop yielded well and is already being used by several Northwest bakeries including Damsel and Hopper Bakeshop in Seattle, Ethos Bakery in Richland, and Culture Breads in Spokane.

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Two venerable elders now in their nineties and familiar with Crimson Turkey were raised on farms near our Palouse Country hometown of Endicott. Don Schmick and Don Reich now reside in neighboring Colfax, and I recently asked them about it. “That’s the grain we saved for our own use!” Don Reich recalled. “There’s nothing in the world that makes a bread so satisfying as flour from that wheat.” Don Schmick related a similar story and said that his immigrant farmer father made a annual trip every fall south of the Palouse River to the Pataha Flour Mill east of Pomeroy where the family’s precious Crimson Turkey wheat was ground into flour for the family’s needs throughout the year. Both men remembered that their mothers especially favored mixing about two-thirds of the wheat flour with one-third rye flour to make a delicious tawny-colored loaf that didn’t last long.

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

This past August we also returned to historic DeLong Ranch located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm and where we have worked for several years with neighbors Joe and Sarah DeLong to raise heritage grains. Joe’s ancestral connection to this scenic area is singular in significance to regional history as it is not only the oldest farm in the area, but also property that has been continuously farmed by the DeLong family since the late 1860s. Joe’s resourceful ancestor, also named Joseph DeLong, raised grain, extensive gardens, and livestock, and also planted an extensive orchard on fertile bottomland bordered by towering pines along the river. I have long been fascinated by the family’s remarkable saga and have written previously about it in previous blog posts and the book Palouse Country: A Land and Its People.

We’ve long been impressed by Joe and Sarah’s regard for the health of the soil and they have worked hard over the years to raise crops using natural rotation systems with minimum artificial inputs. The farm’s remote location also provides a rare glimpse into the “Palouse primeval.” Substantial virgin sod remains along both sides of the river that abounds with wildflowers in spring and summer and hosts deer, racoons, coyotes, eagles, and occasional meandering moose and elk. In addition to the landrace grains we raised this past year at Palouse Colony Farm, Joe and Sarah grew Red Walla Walla and Sonoran Gold wheats, and famed Purple Egyptian barley. Red Walla Walla is a rare soft red variety actually native to southern England that was traditionally used for biscuits, flatbreads, and for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers. 

An unexpected adventure during this summer’s DeLong harvest was a visit to his family’s ancient grove of plum trees that are clustered at the foot of a grassy bluff close to the river. I had noticed the ripe purplish red fruit while riding the combine with Joe near the fence-line that separates the trees from the field. He informed me that the trees likely harkened back to the senior Joe DeLong’s time and contained four distinct varieties faithfully recorded in old ranch records—Bulgarian, Hungarian, Egg, and Petite.

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

Grandma’s Plum Delight

Grandma’s Plum Delight

I mentioned seeing the trees at lunch time and Sara and Joe invited me to pick as many as I’d like since there were far more than their family could use. So armed with a large metal bucket from a nearby shed I ventured back to the spot in the hot afternoon and joined a herd of cows meandering through the plum trees. Indeed the trees were loaded with fruit and in no time my bucket was overflowing. I couldn’t tell a Bulgarian from a Petite but found that they all tasted wonderfully sweet. I had been staying in town with my sister and mother, and later that night when I reported on my discovery, Mom proceeded to tell me how to distinguish several kinds. The next day while I returned to the harvest field, she went to work making plum sauce as a topping for pancakes and breads, and also prepared “Plum Delight,” a crispy dessert with crumbly topping I remembered well from my youth. She agreed to provide me with her recipe which we share here with hopes it might grace your table sometime soon.


Plum Delight

Topping

  • ½  cup Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup melted margarine

Filling

  • 3 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tablespoon Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine plums, flour, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a bowl and put into ungreased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Combine all topping ingredients in another bowl. Mix until crumbly and distribute over the plums. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until crispy and golden brown on top.