Overlook

“Header in the Wheat”—The 2019 Harvest Commences

Our grain harvest began the first week of August as we joined with our Palouse River neighbor Joe DeLong to cut our crop of Crimson Turkey (“Turkey Red”) wheat at his farm. The DeLong place is located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm between the communities of Endicott and St. John. We’ve been working with Joe for several years as he takes meticulous care of his land and is a master mechanic whose magic touch keeps equipment of almost any vintage purring like new. Below is a picture of the first round in the Turkey wheat with Joe at the helm of his Model 453 International Combine. (The “header” is the detachable assembly in front of the combine with sickle cutting bar and rotating reel that feeds the grain back into the machines threshing mechanisms.) Crimson Turkey is a high quality hard red winter bread wheat indigenous to the Black Sea’s Crimean Peninsula. Flanking the strip of ripe grain is a lower stand of green oats that Joe will use for livestock feed, and above is a colorful hillside of Sonoran Gold soft white spring wheat which should be ready to harvest in about two more weeks. The latter is one of the earliest grains raised in the Pacific Northwest as period accounts trace its origins to at least the 1850s after seed stock had likely found its way north from California. Sonoran is a Mediterranean landrace wheat that was introduced by the Spanish to Mexico as early as the 16th century and eventually became a staple of Southwest cuisine for flour tortillas, Indian frybread, and numerous other flavorful foods.

Crimson Turkey Harvest

Crimson Turkey Harvest

The picture below was taken this past spring when colorful native “sunflower” balsamroot set the hillside overlooking our Palouse Colony Farm ablaze in vibrant yellow and greens. The brown summer-fallow field covering the lower flat now hosts a fine crop of golden Scots Bere barley, the “grain that gave beer its name.” This ancient variety has grown in the northern British Isles since at least the 4th century AD when it was likely introduced by Roman legionnaires sent north to occupy the region.

Arrowhead Balsamroot overlooking Palouse Colony Farm

Arrowhead Balsamroot overlooking Palouse Colony Farm

Although we transport our grain to a cleaning and storage facility in the rural community of Thornton about eighteen miles northeast of the farm, grain handling modernization has recently come to our nearby hometown Endicott. In the early 1880s, Endicott was platted by the Oregon Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railroad, on its strategic branch line that tapped the fertile Palouse grain district along a route from the main NPRR transcontinental line at Palouse Junction (present Connell, Washington) eastward to Endicott, Colfax, and eventually Pullman and Moscow. A complicated network of feeder lines then tapped the northern and southern parts of the region. Construction of the central line, known in the late 1800s as the Columbia & Palouse, led to use of heavier rail than along other tracks which came to be an important factor many decades later for upgrading regional grain shipping operations.

Whitgro Unit Train Loading Facility, Endicott, Washington

Whitgro Unit Train Loading Facility, Endicott, Washington

With the merger of local farmer Endicott and St. John grain storage cooperatives in recent years into a larger entity known as Whitgro, a decision was made to construct a new storage and train loading facility in Endicott since the line there had been constructed with rail weight capable of carrying 110-car unit trains. The project called for construction of seven new immense steel grain silos to be located adjacent to a series of several other larger ones which brought total capacity in Endicott to approximately 3,100,000 bushels. The new storage facility was designed for rapid one-day loading of the trains which are capable of holding 100 tons of grain per car for a combined unit capacity of 420,000 bushels. Grain is trucked to town from farms and other elevators in all directions for shipment downline to tiny Hooper and then on to Portland for shipment worldwide. Work commenced on the enormous project last fall and the facility became operational just in time for this year’s bountiful harvest. The two R. R. Hutchison photographs below show grain storage at Endicott about 1910 when men worked long hours to carefully arrange 110 pound sacks along the railroad in tall stacks and in wide wooden flat-houses. Makes one grateful for trucks and augers.

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Richard's Interview for the Off-Farm Income Podcast

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Our own Richard was interviewed recently for the "Off-Farm Income" podcast. It's a great discussion about our journey into raising landrace grains as well as old world farming practices, Volga German farming heritage, and Richard's highs and lows in high school FFA!

You'll definitely want to check it out:
http://www.offincome.com/ofi-606-if-you-like-bread-thank-a-german-dr-richard-scheuerman-franklin-county-historical-society/

P.S. Richard isn't exactly "technically inclined" as some may say. So when he shares our website at the end of the interview, he incorrectly states it as palouse colony dot com. He meant to say palouseheritage.com. Safe to say he truly is more comfortable involving himself with the "old days."

Gleaning’s Early Modern Revival

Through arrangements with the US Department of Agriculture made possible by my friend and fellow historian Alex McGregor of Colfax’s The McGregor Company, I was recently able to visit Washington, D. C. and document works of agrarian art in our national collections. Among many highlights was seeing the gritty paintings of 1930’s New Deal artists like Ben Shahn as well as classical European works. Among the most beautiful were paintings on exhibit in the National Gallery by Jean-Antoine Watteau who turned to prevailing art academy representations that emphasized the human form of workers rather than the conditions of their lives. Rembrandt van Rinj, Nicholas Poussin, and Bernard Fabritius also rendered the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz in exotic settings and costume with a sacred gravity far removed from the period’s gritty realities in rural Europe. Not until Enlightenment attitudes supplanted aristocratic sentiment were peasants more fully reintegrated with aspirations of the rising middle class through art and literature consistent with era’s ideals of fraternity, progress, and rights of the common man. Enlightenment literary attention to gleaning is also notable for its association with feminine aspects of harvest and the state’s professed benevolent concern for the destitute.

USDA Whitten Building Entry Court; Washington, D. C.

USDA Whitten Building Entry Court; Washington, D. C.

Studies of customs and laws on gleaning challenge conventional interpretations that conflict over the poor’s harvest share arose with the emerging market economies of early modern Europe. But very few and obscure references to gleaning are found the late Roman period with the term virtually unknown in documents from the sixth century AD for the next six hundred years. References to the practice that emerge again in twelfth century English and French village by-laws regulate compensation of workers, describe limits to gleaning in village commons typically reserved as pasture, and are not explicitly associated with the poor. The raking of stalks missed by wielders of sickle and scythe had likely become one of the several steps embedded in the typical harvest cycle in which all able-bodied workers participated. 

Jean-Antoine Watteau,  Ceres  (c. 1718); Commissioned for Pierre Crozat’s Paris Palazzo, oil on canvas, 55 ¾ x 45 ½ inches; Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

Jean-Antoine Watteau, Ceres (c. 1718); Commissioned for Pierre Crozat’s Paris Palazzo, oil on canvas, 55 ¾ x 45 ½ inches; Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

The dominant narrative has held that as private ownership of land and the enclosure movement weakened villagers’ traditional communal rights and the aristocratic great estates, capitalistic demands for productivity eroded moral commitments to the impoverished. But gleaning had become conventional harvest practice and had long since lost its distinct association with the indigent. Population increase since the seventeenth century and the growth of Europe’s cities created substantial numbers of landless poor. Rather than addressing the new realities with comprehensive interventions for public welfare, state officials variously enacted archaic gleaning laws that fomented conflict in the countryside instead of ameliorating needs of the dispossessed. Church leaders often invoked religious rhetoric to justify such government efforts by attempting to apply ancient Levitical imperatives and the story of Ruth to distinctly new economic realities emerging in Western Europe.

Most Flavorful Breads, Very Beautiful Implements

I was not surprised when famed culinary host Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s hit TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” selected Richland’s Ethos Bakery to feature for an upcoming episode. Ethos founders Angela Kora and Scott Newell manage one of our areas most popular eateries and one trip inside their attractive space offers proof through aroma and flavor of some of the finest breads, soups, and pastries available anywhere in the region. Small wonder Angela and Scott and their talented team were accorded such an accolade. We at Palouse Heritage were especially pleased because we have long been supplying Ethos with heritage grains like Crimson Turkey wheat and Purple Egyptian barley which they mill on site for the freshest baked products possible.

Ethos Bakery & Café Culinary Treasures; Richland, Washington

Ethos Bakery & Café Culinary Treasures; Richland, Washington

I first learned about Ethos after meeting Angela at one of the annual “Grain Gatherings” sponsored by Washington State University at their Mt. Vernon Research Center north of Seattle. These convocations draw participants from across the country while others hail from Europe and Australia. It used to be that use of agrarian folksayings, recounting tales of Old and New World seasonal farm labors, and harvest work songs were the obscure domain of cultural historians and ethnologists, but burgeoning interest in such topics is evident in sustainability and food sovereignty movements here and throughout the world. At a recent Grain Gathering session, groups toured test plots of heritage White and Red Lammas wheats, Scots Bere barley, and Lincoln oats, and learned about methods and marketability of artisan breads, craft brews, and other specialty food and beverage products. Even names of event sponsors suggest Old World associations—the Bread Baking Guild, King Arthur Flour, and Wood Stone, a custom builder of stone hearth ovens.

Conference presenters shared lines by the sixteenth century agrarian poet Thomas Tusser, and showcased a “Harvest Heritage” exhibit of art based on rural themes by plein air French Impressionists, American Realists, the Russian Itinerants. American folk art was represented in the once familiar Harvest Star quilt design and nineteenth century steel engravings of field workers wielding sickles. A notable modern depiction of this ancient tool is the sculpted stone bas-relief roundel carved by an unidentified New Deal era sculptor in 1941 for the Adams County Courthouse in Ritzville, Washington. Agricultural folklorist and artist Eric Sloan considered the crescent-shaped sickle in all its variations over time to be the most beautiful implement ever crafted.

Grain Sheaf Bas-relief (1941), Adams County Courthouse; Ritzville, Washington

Grain Sheaf Bas-relief (1941), Adams County Courthouse; Ritzville, Washington

Simple ancient depictions of sickle-bearing field workers gave way in a blended gradualism to medieval and early modern images of scythe-swinging harvesters. The social contract that had long governed and guided enduring social systems changed little until the nineteenth century. Inventions sparked by the Industrial Revolution led to the gradual replacement of sickles and scythes with mechanical reapers. This advancement in agricultural technology greatly relieved the arduous labor of harvest fields, but also compounded pressures of urban growth throughout the great grain growing nations of Europe and the America.

The horse-powered reaper developed by American Cyrus McCormick in the 1830s featured a moveable bar of small sickle sections that effectively cut grain stalks which fell onto a platform for binding and threshing. Just like anyone can enjoy today at Ethos Bakery & Café, exceptionally flavored heritage grains like Crimson Turkey were routinely held back by families to mill at home for delicious breads and other baked goods. Community elder Donald Reich of Colfax, Washington, recently told me that he remembered his immigrant father driving all the way to the Pataha Mill near Pomeroy to get their wheat ground into flour. How convenient we can go to places like Ethos and experience what they knew to be a treasure. 

“Give Us This Day”: Daily Bread and A Home for Every Orphan

This past week brought another opportunity to travel west of the Cascades to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula as Sequim was the site of an amazing organization’s annual meeting. A Family for Every Orphan (AFFEO) has long been endorsed by our families and Palouse Heritage as one of the most consequential non-profit groups focused on strategic solutions for the global orphan crisis. AFFEO is a leader in the concept of “indigenous adoption” through which caring families in other countries are challenged and equipped to promote domestic adoption in places where orphans have traditionally been institutionalized and shunned by mainstream culture. With the cost of Americans adopting children from abroad routinely ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, the expense of indigenous adoption is often less than $1,000 with funds needed for home repair and orientation seminars. In this way, AFFEO has facilitated the placement of thousands of children since it was founded ten years ago by a dedicated group of young people, many of whom have served in America’s armed forces.

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

AFFEO executive director Micala Siler, a graduate of West Point, is passionate about strategic interventions to place orphans in caring homes in countries where they presently reside. With approximately 10,000,000 orphans presently available for adoption worldwide, she described important AFFEO initiatives underway in eight target countries—Ukraine, Romania, Kyrgystan, Russia, Ghana, Uganda, Bangladesh, and India. As I listened to the various presentations made by Micala and other team members who had come at their own expense from various parts of the country and world, I marveled at how such a group of successful young people could gather with such a spirit of determination to make a positive difference in the lives of children they would never know.  

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

In recent years I have traveled to Kiev, Moscow, Singapore, and other places in order to better understand the global orphan crisis and promote adoption. When the AFFEO board first gathered together from their far flung travels in Sequim this past week, I was pleased to see a flavorful spread of artisan breads at their host’s welcoming table. Through mutual friends many on the AFFEO team know about our work with heritage grains, and in this day of war refugees on the Horn of Africa, Mediterranean boat people, Central American immigrant caravans, and other turmoil, I sometimes wonder how children and parents in these circumstances manage to survive. Of course some don’t. While attending the subsequent AFFEO presentations, I found myself drawn to the Fourth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). I recall reading some time ago that the last five words of that verse are a translation of a Greek term unique not only to the Bible, but in all of ancient literature. That we might be part of others’ “day-by-day” provisioning through whatever means available to us seems to be a task of utmost nobility. For these reasons, we are honored to donate a portion of all Palouse Heritage proceeds to AFFEO’s work.

Northwest Colonial Festival — Heritage Grains under the Big Top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

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

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

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

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)