Sustainable Agriculture

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!

The Great American Grain Gathering 2017

Bread and Cracker Making in WSU/Mt. Vernon’s New Bread Lab

Bread and Cracker Making in WSU/Mt. Vernon’s New Bread Lab

The seventh annual July 27-29 “Grain Gathering” sponsored by Washington State University’s Bread Lab at Mt. Vernon/Burlington in northwestern Washington State once again brought together a vast throng of folks interested in farming, baking, nutrition, and heritage. Representing 23 states and 7 countries, some 350 attendees heard presentations on a variety of topics including whole grain baking, bagel rolling, and barley teas! Huge thanks to Stephen Jones, Steve Lyon, Wendy Hebb, Kim Binczewski, and army of Bread Lab volunteers. The three-day event is a remarkable opportunity to meet others who share interests in restoring healthy local grain cultures and rural economies, and also serves as a grain reunion with fun and fellowship shared around delicious breads, brews, and other regionally sourced products. Newly featured this year were German muesli with fresh milled oats supplied by Wolfgang Mock who came from Germany, San Francisco baker Josey Baker’s sprouted, flaked breads, and a range of satisfying barley teas shared by Dr. Andrew Ross of Oregon State University. Andrew comes his interest in barley tea naturally; seems that this flavorful restorative beverage is popular throughout his native Australia and that brands like Robinson’s are said to be the secret of Queen Elizabeth’s beautiful complexion.

Speaking of beauty, you may recall from some past references in this forum how striking the view (and flavor) of the landrace soft red wheat English Squarehead, also known long ago here in the Northwest as Walla Walla Red. I still it’s pretty awesome and will include a view of it again here, but also compare it to a new contender recently raised in the Mt. Vernon heritage grain nursery—White Odessa, a soft white wheat from Ukraine. I took this photo during the conference and Steve Lyon reported it has been seeded late in the spring, so is still pretty green, but certainly a beautiful grain. Perhaps in a few weeks we’ll have some baked goods to sample!

White Odessa soft white wheat (2017)

White Odessa soft white wheat (2017)

English Squarehead soft red wheat, with Grandpa Scheuerman’s Palouse Colony helpers Zachary and Micah (2016)

English Squarehead soft red wheat, with Grandpa Scheuerman’s Palouse Colony helpers Zachary and Micah (2016)

“Food ethnographer” June Jo Lee opened this year’s Grain Gathering with an informative if sobering keynote regarding American dietary habits and related health issues. Among other points she made was that demographic data gathered for 2015 showed the first decline in US life expectancy since the Civil War! She noted heavy reliance on commodity foods like industrial flour that has been sifted and bleached in ways that remove nutritious germ and bran, as well as an increase in chemical additives to food and agricultural production methods. But she also noted reasons to hope for healthy alternatives: “Emerging regional food systems are critical expressions that bring together geographic, relational, and cultural dimensions. Change from dominant ‘big systems’ will be incremental but represent a viable alternative for those who care about their own health and that of the land.”  

The following day’s keynote speaker was Dr. James Scott, scholar of agrarian studies and peasant societies at Yale University, and author of The Moral Economy of the Peasant and numerous other books and articles. His presentation was titled “How Grain Made the Ancient State,” so as one ever interested in both history and politics I was pleased the conference featured information on a topic like this. I scribbled notes as fast as I could and most of what appears below is verbatim; should you find these matters of special interest I commend to you Dr. Scott’s many published works.

Wheat is the foundational grain of Western civilization, and my object is to offer some provocative reflection on that significant fact. It is extraordinary that in our day about half of human caloric intake is from cereal grains—wheat, rice, barley, maize, and others. Agriculture, therefore, has sustained world culture, and made possible for us to settle down in one place. But the traditional narrative may be misleading in some basic assumptions about how that all took place.

Cultivation of grains took place at least 4,000 years before any widespread settling down ten to twelve thousand years ago. It was resisted likely because it required considerably more work and planning than hunting and gathering. “Flood retreat” agriculture was likely the first approach to farming since annual flooding of the great rivers of Mesopotamia provided renewable soil for populations that lived along the wetlands. So why and how did the transition take place? It was by no means a rapid process as some have suggested. There are several theories to consider including the killing off of big game by hunters, or perhaps a cold snap in the weather that made life away from the wetlands more difficult. Whatever the reason, and there may have been several contributing influences, it appears we were forced into agriculture.

Hunting and gathering appears to have been widespread throughout the Middle East for several thousand years after the emergence of the “domos complex,” or Neolithic camps with houses, gardens, and domesticated animals. This was an entirely new phenomenon in human history, and the concentration of people, plants, and animals led to the first infectious diseases. These all came from animals as mutated forms of contagion came to infect humans living in close proximity to animals, a situation that continues to foster disease in many parts of the world today. The same is true of crops when plant populations of single varieties are crowded closely together.

The advent of agriculture also led to a narrowing of the diet, so we ask why every great civilization came to rest upon grain production—rice in southeast Asia, millet in China, wheat in Egypt, barley in Mesopotamia, and maize in the New World. So why not roots and tubers like potatoes, cassava, and sweet potatoes? Very possibly because (1) grains have the advantage of growing above the ground so are more easily found, (2) stands tend to ripen at about the same time, (3) can be easily dried and stored, and (4) have high unit nutritional value. So grain was the ideal commodity for government taxation and appropriation which formed the economic basis of statehood. Pastoralism keeps you out of state control. So grains came to mark superior cultures of specialized labor that formed cities. 


I took part in this year’s Grain Gathering event as part of the “Heritage Grain Production and Marketing” panel including Steve, acclaimed San Francisco baker Josey Baker, and Dan Abbott, proprietor of The George Washington Inn near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula. You may recall that landrace grains are pre-hybridized varieties of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other cereal “races” that adapted over thousands to particular regional “land” environments. In this way they developed flavors, shapes, colors, and other characteristics that distinguished them from those that grew in other parts of the world. The terms “ancient,” “heritage,” and “heirloom” are a bit squishy, but relate to a few relevant considerations. Many experts consider “ancient” wheats to be plant species that are genetically different and more primitive than true wheats, so these would include grains like einkorn, emmer, and spelt that retain their indigestible hulls even when threshed, which requires a dehulling operation in order to process them for consumption.

Grain Gathering Reunionizing (l to r): Wolfgang Mock, German miller and entrepreneur; Elizabeth DeRuff, San Francisco area Episcopal Grain Chaplain and Bishop’s Ranch director; Steve Lyon, WSU/Mt. Vernon Senior Agronomist; Richard Scheuerman; Katherine Nelson, Washington, D. C. agarian artist; Andrew Ross, OSU cereal chemist, barley tea brewmaster, and Australian surfer!

Grain Gathering Reunionizing (l to r): Wolfgang Mock, German miller and entrepreneur; Elizabeth DeRuff, San Francisco area Episcopal Grain Chaplain and Bishop’s Ranch director; Steve Lyon, WSU/Mt. Vernon Senior Agronomist; Richard Scheuerman; Katherine Nelson, Washington, D. C. agarian artist; Andrew Ross, OSU cereal chemist, barley tea brewmaster, and Australian surfer!

“Landraces” are true threshable wheats many thousands of years old so are also considered “heirloom” and “heritage” varieties in the general sense of the term. However, USDA publications sometimes reference any grain over fifty years old as an “heirloom,” which I suppose is fine if you have in mind things like Grandma’s quilt and favorite cookie recipe. However, with the advent of plant hybridization in the 1890s, it became possible for grain breeders to combine the traits of landraces to create new varieties in order to boost production, even if flavor and nutrition were less of a consideration. (Many of our family elders, for example, told us that their parents held on to landrace grains like Turkey Red because they made breads and other baked goods that tasted so great, while marketing their modern hybrids.) So here at Palouse Colony Farm & Mercantile we typically use the term “heritage” to mean pre-hybridized landraces—“Grains the way God made them” so to speak, and while their cultural associations across North America and throughout the world are fascinating, we especially appreciate that numerous studies have shown why they are important for crop disease resistence and genetic diversity in our age of monocultures, and have healthy whole grain goodness with rich varietal flavors, rather like fine wines!     

Grain Gathering Landrace Grains Nursery Tour, Mt. Vernon

Grain Gathering Landrace Grains Nursery Tour, Mt. Vernon

As part of our Grain Gathering panel on heritage grains, Steve Lyon and I also led a tour of the experimental plots Steve has carefully tended on properties adjacent to the WSU/Mt. Vernon Extension & Research Center. Two busloads of participants joined us for the short drive from The Bread Lab where were dropped into a marvelous time machine that transported us back to ages past in one of the largest landrace grain nurseries anywhere in the country. We could actually see varieties raised in Early America by George and Martha Washington at Mt. Vernon, and others with colorful names that harken back to medieval times and beyond—Talavera Bellevue, Bordeaux Blue, Red Marvel, Afghan Black-Awned, Orange Devon, and one of the first raised in the Northwest, Pacific Bluestem.

The conference’s Friday afternoon keynote was presented by Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder with Bill Gates of Intellectual Ventures, a research and venture capital think tank headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, which is also home to world renown Modernist Cuisine. The many culinary projects championed by Myhrvold and his team at MC have included a best-selling multi-volume book series that describes with masterful illustrations how modern technologies can explain and enhance time-honored methods of food preparation. Myhrvold, who also served for many years as chief technology officer at Microsoft, has completed among his many other accomplishments post-doctoral studies in astrophysics at Cambridge (!), so we’re delighted he has turned his broad interests to grains and baking.

He found time to make a trip recently over to the Palouse Country with a team to take pictures of summer harvest and capture some beautiful images that will appear in the long-awaited MC sequel, five-volume Modernist Bread of 2,600 pages, scheduled for release this coming November. At $640 for the complete set, I probably won’t be sending out too many for Christmas presents. My modest contribution was cultural information on heritage grains and a summary of research on their nutritional benefits. Consistent with his passion for the subject, Nathan is a rather animated presenter who informed us that the series has a total of 2,642 pages, 5,689 illustrations, and over a million words!

 

 

 

Ancient Grains & Harvests (Part 7)

This blog post is part of a series that I (Richard) am writing about grain and agricultural themes in classic art. The research I am sharing here will contribute to a new book that will soon be published under the title Hallowed Harvests. You can read other posts in this series here.


North African Threshers and Gallic-Roman Reapers

During the summer of 1914, a team of Italian archaeologists excavating near Tripoli near the ancient seaside village of Buc Ammera uncovered the substantial (19 x 13 feet) and well preserved mosaic floor of a Roman villa. Named for the area’s principal oasis, these and other smaller Zliten mosaics date to about 200 AD and include a colorful allegory of summer showing a winged, sickle bearing Ceres holding grain stalks, as well as depictions of everyday life that feature a remarkable threshing scene. Libyan coloni are shown beating pairs of horses and oxen to lead them around a wide pile of grain stalks. A large tree heavy with ripened olives shades an aristocratically clad woman who appears to supervise the operation as it takes place below a substantial Roman country villa. The artist’s depiction of the figures in action imparts a sense of their boisterous tasks that likely took place on the estate day after day beneath the hot North African sun.

Zliten Allegorical Summer Mosaic (c. 200 AD);   R. Bartoccini,  Guida del Museo di Tripoli  (1923)

Zliten Allegorical Summer Mosaic (c. 200 AD); R. Bartoccini, Guida del Museo di Tripoli (1923)

The shape of the one-handed sickle and mode of threshing in the Zliten mosaics suggest that the harvest methods known from ancient times had changed little by the third century AD’s cusp of Roman Empire expansion and continental influence. The era would witness displacement by the end of the first millennium AD of older unbalanced sickle forms long used as far away as Scandinavia and central Russia. The famous Maktar Harvester funerary stele inscription, discovered a century ago in central Tunisia, likely dates to the third century AD and relates a reaper’s prideful account of being “born into a poor dwelling and of a poor father” who nevertheless managed through years of hard work in the harvest fields and capable management of roving bands of itinerant harvesters (turmae mesorum) to become a Roman censor. Seasonal migrations of “sickle-bearing gangs of men” brought annual journeys to North Africa’s “Fields of Jupiter” and across the vast fertile plains of Numidia. The Harvester’s epitaph relates, “This effort and my frugal life brought success and made me master of a household and gained me a house, and my home lacks nothing.” Enduring rural values of hard work and honesty are implicit in the rather fulsome tribute, which the author concludes with counsel for his readers: “laedit atrox discite mortals… (Learn to pass your lives without giving reason for reproach).”

Pliny’s Natural History describes use of sledges, flails, and the hooves of horses to separate out the kernels on hardened threshing floors. He also notes the existence of a remarkable harvesting device he termed a vallus that he had seen in use during his time of Roman military service in Gaul. Pliny described it as, “a large hollow frame, armed with teeth and supported on two wheels, …driven through the standing grain, the beasts being yoked behind it. The result is that the ears are torn off and fall within the frame.” Twentieth century discoveries of limestone funerary bas-reliefs of this Gallic-Roman reaper, which functioned more like a stripper with stationary serrated teeth that collected ripened grain heads in the storage receptacle, have been discovered in Arlon, Reims, and Koblenz. The image of this remarkable device also appears on the decorative panels of Reims’ immense third century AD Porte de Mars. Standing nearly forty feet high, the city’s grand Mars Gate featured colorful calendar scenes, now substantially deteriorated, above the central vault that show rural labors associated with each month.

The appearance of an animal-powered reaper with adjustable height during this period and its depiction on such prominent objects suggest the machine’s significance to its owners for reduced labor. Flanking the Porte de Mars’ August picture of a worker tending this remarkable device are also the first known images of long-handled scythes, seen on the July panel both in use and being sharpened by Roman reapers. Archaeological evidence shows the advent of the scythe in Western Europe as early as the second century, though typically in the context of mowing hay. The earliest known picture of a scythe in a written work is from the Calendar of Salzburg (c. 820 AD) in which a barefoot worker is shown holding the tool across his shoulders. Archaeological remains of the heavy iron blades in the Rhine Valley, however, date to the late Roman period.

Trier Gallic-Roman Reaper Bas-Relief Reconstruction (c. Third Century AD);   Trier Archaeological Museum, Trier, Germany;   Wikimedia Commons

Trier Gallic-Roman Reaper Bas-Relief Reconstruction (c. Third Century AD); Trier Archaeological Museum, Trier, Germany; Wikimedia Commons

This cluster of locations suggests a core heartland of agricultural innovation during the late Roman period on the fertile eastern plains of the empire’s Gallia Belgica province. A principal artery of the Roman Via Agrippa highway network led from its capital at Reims (Roman Durocotorum) to Trier (Augusta) where it divided into routes further eastward to Koblenz (Confluentes) and Mainz (Moguntiacum). This panoramic region between the Marne and Rhine rivers, where the boundaries of present Belgium, France, and Germany converge, became a strategic Roman “bread basket” much as Ukraine’s black earth steppes and America’s Midwest prairie lands would supply their peoples. Historians attribute the Gallic-Roman reaper-stripper’s disappearance by early medieval times to such factors as inefficient cutting design, especially in times of high humidity, and the collapse of Roman administration in the wake of fifth century invasions by the Franks. But dispersion outward of technological advancements is evident in the appearance of an array of distinct sickle and scythe designs adapted to local conditions in places surrounding the Reims-Trier corridor to Germany, France, the Low Countries, and in southern Britain.

Porte de Mars (Mars Gate), Reims (c. 3rd Century AD);   Albumen print, 8 ¼ x 10 ⅗ inches (c. 1880);   Palouse Regional Studies Collection

Porte de Mars (Mars Gate), Reims (c. 3rd Century AD); Albumen print, 8 ¼ x 10 ⅗ inches (c. 1880); Palouse Regional Studies Collection

European farmers developed a remarkable array of blade sizes and edges (smooth or serrated), curvature angles, and handle lengths associated with prevailing smithing conventions and local crop conditions. In areas susceptible to lodging, for example, where stalks fell over from wind and rain, farmers could salvage more flattened grain with sickles, weedy crops were also often cut with sickles to avoid gathering unwanted plants, and sickles preserved taller straw if needed for thatching. Great areas could be harvested with scythes, however, and important considerations in places with shorter growing seasons, and lighter grasses were more efficiently mowed with a scythe for hay. No clear linear progression of sickle and scythe development is indicated in the archaeological or artistic record since a range of styles emerged over time based on local conditions and cultural exchange. But Danish scholar Axel Steensberg (1906-1999), eminent historian of ancient and medieval harvesting implements, found physical evidence of general trends originating with the diffusion of at least three basic Middle East Late Bronze Age tool designs (c. 2000-1500 BC)—the bronze sickle, short-handled scythe, and hook sickle. With the advent of iron smithing relatively shortly afterward and expansion of the Roman Empire, the sickle expanded northward during the Early Iron Age to become (I) the angular iron La Tène (Swiss) and Viking sickles of the Roman era; the (II) short-handled bronze scythe evolved into the short Italian crescentic and northern European short scythes; while the bronze hook sickle became (III) medieval Europe’s familiar balanced sickle with broadly curved, longer blade, and (IV) long-handled scythe (from Transylvania to Germany and Central Europe).

Mediterranean landrace grains spread throughout western and central Europe along Roman military and trade routes, and often grew together in such field cultures “mixes” as maslin (winter wheat and rye—French metail, Dutch masteluin), beremancorn (winter barley and rye), and dredge (spring barley and oats). Many farmers of late Roman and early medieval times planted single grain crops in two-year rotations (winter- and spring-sown) along with soil-enriching legumes like peas, beans, and peas that improved soil fertility and also provided cheap sources of protein. Farmers periodically rested, or fallowed, lands to conserve moisture, and these were kept as weed-free as possible by livestock, and periodic tilling. Depending on the area, rotations generally divided grains into higher valued bread cereals wheat and rye which were cut with the sickle for the most efficient harvesting, while the “lesser cereals” (French menus grains, Italian minuti) like barley, oats, and buckwheat that were sometimes harvested with a long-handled scythe. These latter grains could be used for food and fodder and while scything risked some loss from the shattering of stalks, use this larger tool made harvesting faster and easier.

 

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.