Restorative Agriculture

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)

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.

Palouse Heritage Featured at Spokane’s Farm & Food Expo

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Spokane’s second Farm & Food Expo was held November 3-4, 2017, at Spokane Community College where we had gathered last year for what we hope will become an annual affair. Exhibitor booths filled the main hall and sponsors shared a wealth of information on topics ranging from bee culture and wool production to irrigation systems. Having done my stint in the Air Force back in the 1970s and with son Karl a major in the Air National Guard, I couldn’t help but notice the “Vets on the Farm” booth and learned about the Spokane organization’s good work transitioning returning members of the armed forces back into civilian life through opportunities in farming and ranching. And since a discount was available to vets for their bright red flag-embossed hats, I just had to pick one up.

Brother Don Scheuerman and I had been invited to participate on Saturday by book-ending the day’s activities with a morning session devoted to “Growing Heritage and Landrace Grains,” and closing out the program with a final session titled “Soil Biome and Gut Biome: The Restorative Powers of Heritage Grains.” Because it was snowing to beat the band by 4:00 p.m. and getting dark, I wasn’t expecting much of a crowd so was pleased to find standing-room only. Our morning session covered basic information on terminology, agronomy, and marketing of specialty grains. We pointed out that “heritage” and “heirloom” have become a kind of catch-all word for “old,” but that the USDA uses the term to mean any variety that was raised before the 1950s. Since grain hybridization was introduced in the late 1800s, that means many hybridized varieties would be considered heritage by that definition. (In the book Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest [WSU Press, 2013] I coauthored with Alex McGregor, we describe the contributions of legendary plant geneticist William Spillman who essentially founded the science of plant hybridization at WSC/WSU in the 1890s.) 

Landrace varieties, however, are what I sometimes call “Grain as God Intended,” since they are pre-hybridized plants that adapted to particular locales by the thousands throughout most of Eurasia before coming to the New World in the 16th century Age of Discovery. Our work these past several years with Palouse Heritage Mercantile & Grain Mill involves the cultivation, milling, and marketing exclusively of landrace grains like Sonoran Gold, Crimson Turkey, Purple Egyptian, and Yellow Breton.

Legendary Spokane Baker-Chef Shaun Thompson-Duffy and his Culture Bread Treasures

Legendary Spokane Baker-Chef Shaun Thompson-Duffy and his Culture Bread Treasures

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The Farm & Food Expo program included presentations by a host of other folks dedicated to local and sustainable food production including our good Spokane friends Joel Williamson, maltster at Palouse Pint (“Rebirth of the Local Malthouse”); Teddy Benson of Palouse Heritage / Grain Shed Brewing (“Brewing with Heritage Grains”); and Shaun Thompson-Duffy of Culture Breads (Old World Breads: From Millstone to Hearth”). Don and I attended all three of these sessions and were reminded why we have long been so impressed by these fellows. The very names of their topics indicate the stirring sea change that is underway in culinary circles across the country, and Joel, Teddy, and Shaun have joined with other prime movers in the region to establish viable connections with local growers of grains and other crops who are interested in stewardship of the land, rural economic renewal, and human health and heritage. 

In our closing session on restorative biomes to improve health and soil, we shared information gleaned from studies in the United States and Europe on heritage grain nutrition. Worth noting are summaries comparing primitive “pre-wheats” like emmer and spelt, landrace varieties like we grow at Palouse Heritage, and modern hybrids. This is a big topic, so stay tuned for the next post!