Palouse History

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. 

Sickles and Sheaves — Farming, Faith, and the Frye (Part 2)

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.


Palouse Harvest Memories

Richard and Don's grandfather, Karl Scheuerman, during harvest

Richard and Don's grandfather, Karl Scheuerman, during harvest

When I once asked Grandpa Scheuerman for explanation of harvest operations in bygone days, he retrieved his leather-cased sack-sewing needle—still razor sharp after many years in retirement, and an old photograph from his bedroom closet. The image (shown below) was labelled “Lautenschlager and Poffenroth, 1911”—surnames of familiar relatives, and I instantly recognized Grandpa standing under the wooden derrick clasping the handle of a pitch-fork. He then patiently described the role of each member of the substantial crew and introduced me to terms like derrick table, header-tender, hoe-down, and other agrarian vernacular from the steam-powered threshing era. Many farm families treasure such pictures today, and I have unrolled many that stretch as wide as a kitchen table. Grandpa delighted in relating tall tales of bygone August “thrashin’ weather” happenings—when the Moore brothers threshed a thousand sacks of grain in a single day the same harvest season R. R. Hutchison took that picture, the bumper crops of 1908-1911, and how Black field hand Otis Banks could lift a 120-pound sack of wheat with his teeth.

Among the few books I recall in my grandfather’s home were a Bible and ancient three-volume New Testament commentary in German, while our father’s most frequented volume may have been the weighty and exceedingly smudged parts manual to our dilapidated International-Harvester Model 160 pull-combine. I felt a bit embarrassed in a day of efficient self-propelled machines operating in every direction that in the 1960s we still resorted to an exceedingly faded red Rube Goldberg contraption of sprockets, pulleys, and straw walkers that Dad patiently guided through the seas of wheat during our annual month-long harvest. But the good feeling of accomplishment swept across all the crew with the cutting of the final swath that vanquished any boyhood unease over lost grain, equipment collisions, or other mistakes in the field. “No one should be deprived of harvesting,” artist-folklorist Eric Sloan observed in his illustrated 1971 rural memoir, I Remember America. “Beyond the value of feeling the fruition of nature all about you, there is the satisfaction of beholding the results of your own efforts.”  

Don and Richard "helping" during harvest

Don and Richard "helping" during harvest

Richard and Don's father, Don Scheuerman

Richard and Don's father, Don Scheuerman

Like most boys in wheat country, my brother and I started driving truck in the harvest field on teen farm permits that legalized our trips throughout the day to the Endicott and Thera elevators to unload grain loaded into our faded red and blue ’56 Chevy truck and older black Ford. The obligation came with explicit warnings about harvest time dangers—field fires, equipment collisions, and tragic combine tip-overs on steep Palouse hillsides that claimed the lives of more than one boyhood acquaintance. While periodic visits to the field by friends and relatives provided welcome breaks in the daily routine of waiting for the several “dumps” needed to fill a truck, considerable time for other pursuits is available when waiting alone in a draw of stifling heat or on a breezy hilltop. Perhaps our mother’s example had led us to be readers of paperbacks available on a large revolving rack at the local drugstore. While my brother was attracted to Ian Fleming spy thrillers, I found myself introduced to new worlds of former experience through historical fiction. 

1925 Scrapbook of Country Poems Fragement (Vol 2, Winter 1925, Private Collection)

1925 Scrapbook of Country Poems Fragement (Vol 2, Winter 1925, Private Collection)

The Galilean archaeological dig in James Michener’s The Source (1965)—a thick book I thought would last all summer, acquainted me with Stone Age wadi life in the fictional village of Makor where the Ur family matriarch comprehends the value of planting grains for self-sufficiency while the men travel widely to hunt. Having grown up hearing many tales of our Norwegian-born Sunwold great-grandparents on the Dakota frontier, I was also incredibly captivated by Ole Rølvaag’s stirring and often disturbing scenes in Giants in the Earth (1927) in which Per Hansa and his wife, Beret, struggling against storms, locust plagues, despairing homesickness, and the mystical universe of Old World thought. The Hansas, in turn, led me to meet Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson in a subsequent summertime encounter with Vilhelm Moberg’s magisterial four-volume Emigrant Series (1949-1959). The books dramatize the 1850s Swedish farmer immigrant saga of home building and barn raising, and planting and harvesting in Minnesota Territory. Experiences described on many pages reminded me of family tales my grandfather often spun about Palouse “sod-bustin” days as he rode in the harvest truck with us to see the hills of his youth—

“He liked to sit at the window and look out at his fields; this was the land he had changed. When he came the whole meadow had been covered with weeds and wild grass. Now it produced rye, wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, turnips. The wild grass had fed elk, deer, and rabbits; now the field yielded so much there was enough for them as well as for other people.”

Palouse Colony Farm Officially Recognized as Washington State Historic Site!

We’re pleased to report that our Palouse Colony Farm was placed on the Washington State Historic Preservation Office Register for the original barn and outbuildings and the property’s role in Pacific Northwest history as an important “clearing house” for German immigrants from Russia arriving in to region from 1880s to the 1910s. State Preservation Officer Mike Houser made the presentation at the October, 2016 meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. 

Richard and wife Lois (right) at the State Historic Preservation Meeting, Tacoma

Richard and wife Lois (right) at the State Historic Preservation Meeting, Tacoma

The barn (c. 1895) is the oldest building at the farm, which also includes the house and blacksmith shop, which was established by a German immigrant families from Russia’s Volga River region who arrived in the Washington’s Endicott-St. John area in 1882 and established the colony in 1889. The location became a thriving settlement that provisioned families coming from the Old Country to settle in the region, and according to historian Richard Sallet, some 100,000 first- and second-generation Germans from Russia followed to live in Pacific Northwest by 1920. Colony founder parents described the Palouse as a “Land of Milk and Honey” to their 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 recent years we have reestablished the farm to grow landrace grains using the same Old World farming methods used by the farm's original founders. 

Palouse Colony Farm and Heritage Grain Plots (Turkey Red wheat, Scots Bere barley)

Palouse Colony Farm and Heritage Grain Plots (Turkey Red wheat, Scots Bere barley)

The Eastern Palouse Uplands

"Morning Mist" curtesy of John Clement (photo taken at the eastern Palouse uplands)

"Morning Mist" curtesy of John Clement (photo taken at the eastern Palouse uplands)

The Palouse River headwaters are born in the clear stony brooks of Idaho's Hoodoo and Clearwater mountains and fed by tributaries emerging from the Thatuna Range located between the river's north and south forks. These eastern uplands are composed of the western buttes' parent belt quartzites and argillites that rose with the Rocky Mountains when the Cascade Range had not yet emerged above the Pacific waters. In the formative processes of this early Mesozoic Age of explosive Rocky Mountain strato-volcanoes, hot magmatic fluids under great pressure penetrated this younger earth's crust and brought certain metals in gaseous state nearer the surface to form soluble compounds like gold chloride and aluminum-iron silicate. In places where water penetrated to great depth these compounds dissolved, mixed with the magma, and were forced through fissures with other solubles like silicon dioxide, or quartz, to create veins containing precious metals and alamandine garnet crystals.

Where this petrographic drama transpired under ancient weathered surfaces as in the Hoodoos, these deposits were worn by water until soft yellow flakes, larger nuggets, and violet-red gemstones fell out into streams which usually held these heavy particles near their sources. As in other high places along the Pacific Slope, indications of this placer gold in North Idaho resulted in nineteenth century regional rushes as prospectors flocked to the rumored El Dorados. Dodecahedron-faced garnets and rainbow-colored "harlequin" opals have also been sought in the eastern Palouse as the region's only semi-precious stones. 

Sickles and Sheaves — Farming, Faith, and the Frye (Part 1)

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.


My Personal Connection with Landrace Grains

Somewhere in one of the outbuildings on our small Palouse Country farm in southeastern Washington, our parents kept a scythe (pronounced sigh, or sithe) in semi-retirement. The old implement appeared only when barnyard grass and weeds needed to be cleared, or when Dad thought his two sons had unnecessary time on their hands. We didn’t have a tractor-powered sickle mower like some of our neighbors, though a thoroughly rusted reaper-binder from our grandfather’s day rested securely in the branches of a cherry tree on the hillside just above our house. The dilapidated contraption with wooden reel, drive chains, and sprockets was an object of endless boyhood fascination. Although the machine had been abandoned long before Dad took over the farm in the 1940s, he had somehow mastered the elegant art of binding sheaves for decorative use or for us to enter into the Palouse Empire Fair, which to this day still has grain sheaf competition.

Our old scythe’s serpentine handle seemed taller than I stood so was awkward to handle. But Dad could adjust the weathered grips, which he called nibs, and would offer refresher lessons in swath, rhythm, and sharpening before sending my brother or me out to battle formations of wheatgrass and Jim Hill mustard. “There’s a right way, and a wrong way,” was his familiar refrain while demonstrating many tasks like this one for our rural edification, and as if watching some peculiar country dance he showed how to keep the heel down with each measured step to avoid sticking the point of the blade into the ground.

Located between the small rural communities of Endicott and St. John, Washington, our place was deep in the Pacific Northwest’s Palouse Country—a legendary grain district known for steeply rolling hills and a favored destination for landscape photographers from around the world. I suspect farms like ours held in common with many others a peculiar geographic nomenclature necessary for communication about what had happened long before, or what needed to be done with scythe, hoe, or other tool. Far behind the house we had the Huvaluck (Hessian dialect for “Oat Hole,” from Hafer, German “oat”), Windmill Hill, and Spud Draw where our clan had planted potatoes in an endless furrow during the week of Good Friday for at least three generations. The head of the draw led over a narrow hill aptly named The Saddle. With only a half-section, our farm was small even by 1960s standards but there could be no doubt where we might be directed to tend a thistle patch or harrow or rendezvous with the combine to unload grain since so many named features existed on that tussled 320-acre half-section.

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	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}    Volga German Scything Scene (1768)  Concordia Center for Volga German Studies, Portland, Oregon

Volga German Scything Scene (1768)

Concordia Center for Volga German Studies, Portland, Oregon

Over time I came to understand my father’s and grandfather’s familiarity with the land’s every twist and turn, and eventually my own, in terms that defy analytics. Nature writer Barry Lopez characterizes such natural relationships in Home Ground as “the unembodied call of a place, that numinous voice” when a hill, draw, or untilled sodpatch wildlife sanctuary seems to become “something that knows we are there.” This mystical relationship fosters a deep connection with landscape that predisposes some to feel a kinship of comfort and familiarity with certain other places—in my case the undulating Hessian Vogelsberg district in central Germany, and the steeply rolling Bergseite of southern Russia’s black earth Volga region; places inhabited by my ancestors long ago. People have perceived these forces since time immemorial, and they continue to inspire. The Lake District sustained Wordsworth like Suffolk enlivened Constable, and the Great Plains fed the souls of Willa Cather, Ole Edvart Rølvaag, and Hamlin Garland.

The broad hill rising westward from our house toward the entangled cherry tree reaper was steep enough to accommodate a spacious root cellar attached to our ramshackle porch. The cellar had been built not long after our paternal Russian-born German great-grandparents arrived in the Palouse in the early 1890s, so we were warned to stay out due to threat of collapse from the weight of the ground above. Our elders called these places zemlyanka, Russian for “earth-home,” which likely were successors to the medieval German grubenhaus (“dug-house”) their ancestors had fashioned in Hesse. Our people had lived in such places when first immigrating to Russia from Germany during Tsarina Catherine the Great’s reign 250 years ago. Some even inhabited such dens after arriving in the Pacific Northwest until a proper family home could be built.

The young are disposed to explore, so in our youth we ventured inside the cellar periodically to see dimly lit evidence of life from yesteryear. An exceedingly dusty pituvfka kitchen worktable stood against one wall with two rounded flour bins suspended beneath, and some old glass canning jars remained on wooden shelves. Most had long been empty, but a few held grain safeguarded by our grandparents. Perhaps these were remnants of the Hirsche Brei (“millet porridge” in Hessian) that Dad remembered eating with honey as a boiled wheat breakfast mush in Depression days. I learned later that usu Leut (“our people”) had brought ancient landrace grain seed from Russia’s Volga region and the Ukraine, varieties named for colors of kernels and glumes like Russian “Turkey” Red and Odessa White wheats, Purple Egyptian Hulless barley, and Green Russian oats. Perhaps the cellar had also served as Grandpa’s seed vault.  

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

2016 Spokane Food and Farm Expo

Palouse Heritage had the opportunity to present at the 2016 Food & Farm Expo in Spokane. Our co-founders, Richard and Don Scheuerman, participated in the event along with several of our friends and partners who have joined us in the effort to raise awareness about the benefits of landrace grains. 

Richard taught one of the classes at the event, titled:

Heritage and Landrace Grains:  Restoring the soil, our health and flavor with heritage and Landrace Grains

You can watch his lecture below. The accompanying PowerPoint slide deck is available by clicking here.