GOLDEN WAVES OF GRAIN

A Wash­ing­ton fam­ily grows her­itage crops in a spec­tac­u­lar set­ting.

Farm & Ranch Living - - THE WAY WE LIVE THE LAGERS - BY RICHARD D. SCHEUERMAN

Ev­ery sin­gle day dur­ing my pri­mary school years in Endi­cott, Wash­ing­ton, my school bus passed by the Palouse Colony Farm’s beau­ti­ful un­du­lat­ing hills. I was just fas­ci­nated by the place. The farm sits along the Palouse River at the end of a steep gravel road that runs down a pine-cov­ered rocky bluff. The grassy slopes of the bluff abound with deer, pheas­ants and water­fowl.

My fam­ily de­scends from the first set­tlers in the area, Ger­man farm­ers from Rus­sia’s Volga re­gion who had im­mi­grated to Amer­ica’s Pa­cific North­west in 1889, set­ting up the Palouse Colony in the shel­tered canyon of the Palouse River. From seeds they’d brought, they raised golden fields of wheat and bar­ley.

I grew up in the 1960s, and I can re­call my Grandpa Karl Scheuerman and other fam­ily elders telling tales about mys­te­ri­ous hap­pen­ings and the harsh liv­ing con­di­tions en­dured dur­ing the early days of the colony. The north­ern lights scared the first set­tlers, as the multi-col­ored sky seemed to an­nounce the end of the world. And once, fear­ing a white­out bliz­zard, the teacher at the colony’s two-room school­house sent all of the chil­dren home early, ty­ing them to­gether to save them from stray­ing off the road to­ward the pre­cip­i­tous bluff over­look­ing the farm. I moved to Seat­tle once I reached adult­hood, but I of­ten thought fondly of that old fam­ily lore and my happy child­hood mem­o­ries of the area.

Dur­ing my many fall hunting trips to the Palouse, an idea took shape: What if I could grow the same grains that had fed my an­ces­tors? I vis­ited the Fort Nisqually Liv­ing His­tory Mu­seum near Ta­coma. While there, I learned that sig­nif­i­cant amounts of what was recorded as white, red and yel­low wheat and some bar­ley were raised dur­ing the 1820s and 1830s in the Pa­cific North­west. Through ad­di­tional re­search—in­clud­ing a jour­ney to the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Library in Mary­land—I iden­ti­fied the early grains my an­ces­tors had grown: White Lam­mas and Sono­ran Gold wheat. In 2014, my brother, Don, our cousin Rod Ochs and I started Palouse Her­itage, a small her­itage grain busi­ness. Our good friends lent us farm­land where we grew Sono­ran Gold wheat and Scots Bere bar­ley, two of North Amer­ica’s old­est ce­real grains.

A por­tion of the orig­i­nal Palouse Colony Farm was put up for sale in 2015. Since the 1990s, the land had been owned by a goat farmer who had the ground in pas­ture. Don, Rod and I pooled our re­sources to buy 20 acres of fer­tile river bot­tom­land, the orig­i­nal barn and an­other house where the Ger­man im­mi­grants lived while ad­just­ing to life in Amer­ica. Our land in­cludes 5 acres of the rugged bluff over­look­ing the farm that sup­ports na­tive bunch­grass, glo­ri­ous wild sun­flow­ers and other shrub-steppe species. It’s been my life­long dream to own this prop­erty.

We rolled up our sleeves in spring 2015, re­mov­ing weed-in­fested fence lines and fix­ing some of the orig­i­nal out­build­ings. Thanks to the help of neigh­bors and long­time friends in area farm sup­ply busi­nesses, we have as­sem­bled a rain­bow coali­tion of used farm equip­ment in­clud­ing a red trac­tor, box drills, faded green weed­ers, a cul­ti­va­tor, and a rusted disk that may have pre­dated the ad­vent of paint.

That first sum­mer we raised a bumper crop of Sono­ran Gold. This type of soft white wheat is thought by agri­cul­tural his­to­ri­ans to be the first ce­real grain grown here in the Amer­i­can West. We have yet to buy a com­bine, given the ex­pense, so we rely on a kind neigh­bor for cus­tom har­vest­ing. For the sec­ond year of pro­duc­tion, we also ob­tained seed for her­itage malt­ing bar­leys and for White Lam­mas wheat. We teamed up with Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity agron­o­mists Stephen Jones and Steve Lyon for some con­sid­er­able de­tec­tive work, and we learned that a con­sci­en­tious USDA plant ex­plorer had in­tro­duced White Lam­mas to the Pa­cific North­west in 1916 when he took a sam­ple of the grain with him to the area.

To­day, we grow 11 va­ri­eties of lan­drace, or an­cient, grains that we sell in the form of artisan bak­ing flours at palouse­heritage.com (our web­site) and to lo­cal bak­eries. We also turn our grains into culi­nary malts used for craft beer brew­ing.

One mean­ing­ful as­pect of our work has been re­dis­cov­er­ing how our an­ces­tors lived when they first came to Amer­ica. In ad­di­tion to grow­ing grain, they also estab­lished a shared com­mons for graz­ing and sub­stan­tial gar­dens. They tended long, nar­row fields to con­serve soil in three-crop ro­ta­tions of fall wheat, spring bar­ley or oats, and rye. Their Tur­key Red, the first hard red bread wheat in the Amer­i­can West, rev­o­lu­tion­ized U.S. culi­nary his­tory.

We re­vived this beau­ti­ful grain at Palouse Colony Farm in 2016.

Some of our im­mi­grant fore­bears first lived in sim­ple homes dug into the sides of nearby slopes to pro­vide win­ter shel­ter. Many of th­ese were later con­verted to im­mense tworoom con­crete cel­lars to safe­guard a cor­nu­copia of canned pro­duce and crocks hold­ing sauer­kraut, pick­les and tiny wa­ter­mel­ons. Two of th­ese cel­lars are still vis­i­ble on the land. Our fore­bears raised pota­toes and cab­bages, tended dairy and beef cat­tle and draft horses, and planted an or­chard that still yields ap­ples. They grew sun­flow­ers, us­ing the seeds to make cook­ing oil. They used the sun­flower stalks to cre­ate a kind of syrup. Ev­ery spring, bushy heir­loom hop vines burst forth in clus­ters along the base of the river bluff. The sum­mer buds pro­vided yeast for sour­dough breads.

Th­ese days, the en­tire fam­ily of­ten gath­ers at the farm: my wife, Lois, and I; daugh­ter Mary, her hus­band, Charles, and their sons, 7-year-old Zachary and 6-year-old Micah; son Karl, his wife, Sara, along with their daugh­ters, 5-year-old An­nalise, 3-year-old Emily and 1-year-old Macey; and daugh­ter Leigh. Don lives on the prop­erty, and we pile into the three bed­rooms in his old house when we spend the night. Zachary and Micah help me col­lect ap­ples from Don’s gar­den to stock our fruit stand. They also gather pota­toes, car­rots and beets that we use to make borscht.

Our 93-year-old mother, Mary, lives close by in Endi­cott with my sis­ter, Deb­bie. An­drew, Deb­bie’s son, also lives in Endi­cott, and he helps us with the farm­ing. Don’s daugh­ter, Ni­cole, of­ten stays at the farm, too. When the fam­ily is to­gether, we make sauer­kraut from cab­bage that we raise in the gar­den. The Palouse Colony Farm is spe­cial to ev­ery­one in our fam­ily, and Don, Rod and I are very hon­ored to be stew­ards of this mag­i­cal place.

The Palouse River’s shel­tered canyon has been home to the Ochs and Scheuerman fam­i­lies since the late 1800s.

Don Scheuerman op­er­ates a trac­tor, one of the farm’s do­nated pieces of equip­ment (above). A rod weeder, used to loosen dirt and up­root the weeds, awaits its next job (right).

Don Scheuerman’s daugh­ter, Ni­cole Scheuerman, finds a serene fish­ing spot along the Palouse River.

Crim­son Tur­key wheat makes ideal sour­dough bread. (Right) Richard Scheuerman; son-in-law, Charles Rho­den; and grand­sons Micah and Zachary har­vest White Lam­mas wheat.

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