July 31st, 2014
This is an excerpt of another article originally published on Rodale Institute’s blog. See the full article.
In late fall 2012, a small container of the earliest wheat seed variety known to the Pacific Northwest was delivered to Chuck Eggert. The container was from Chuck’s longtime friend and associate, Dr. Richard Scheuerman. Richard is an associate professor of education and author of the book, Harvest Home: Puget Sound Heirloom Crops and Agricultural Origins. As an advocate for cultivating heirloom grains and an author on the subject, Dr. Scheuerman was looking for help in preserving the seeds and conducting grain trials in their native region. Chuck and Pacific’s affiliated farms jumped at the chance to join him and have started experimenting with heirloom barley and oats in addition to wheat. All are winter crops, planted in the fall and harvested in summer.
Steeped in deep cultural and culinary tradition, heirloom grains were 19th century staple crops for indigenous people of the region. These grains are unique because unlike many crops today, they have remained genetically stable for thousands of years and are free of any GMO alteration. In addition, the grains have thicker bran layers and higher levels of important trace minerals, so the foods prepared from them have enhanced nutritional benefits.
Chuck values being a good steward of the land and supports a cultural heritage rooted in connectedness. Working closely with Dr. Scheuerman, Chuck has not only agreed to bring these seeds back into cultivation, but also to grow them using old world agrarian techniques and traditions.
White Lammas Wheat
The farms’ heirloom grain trials have primarily focused on a soft white winter wheat originally from England called “White Lammas.” While the grain itself is a white wheat, the stalks are distinctly blue. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s been nicknamed “Pacific Bluestem,” though seed for that particular Lammas strain likely came from Australia in the mid-1800s. An Oregon farmer had kept this historic variety vital in the early 1900s. Nearly a century later, the same seeds landed in the hands of Dr. Scheuerman.
During the trials, the grain grew strong throughout the spring months. Once ready, the staff at Pacific’s affiliated farms use a harvesting method that mimics those used in the early 1900’s.
Barley & Oats
Pacific’s affiliated farms are also experimenting with some heirloom varieties of barley and oats. The heirloom barley is a hardy six-row landrace and is highly regarded for use in both brewing beer and baking bread. Scots Bere, along with other similar varieties, was raised in the Willamette Valley until the 1870s. It is well acclimated to cooler coastal climates, making Pacific’s affiliated farms a perfect testing site for trials.
The team at the farms first harvested the heirloom barley in the summer of 2013. Once harvested, the barley was returned to Dr. Scheuerman who in turn shared it with Washington State University’s Bread Lab and craft brewers in the region. To extend his work, Dr. Scheuerman has recently launched a small business, Columbia Heritage Grain & Trading Company, which works with a group of Pacific Northwest organic farmers to grow heirloom grain varieties.
Laurie Mooney, Landscape Design Specialist for Pacific’s affiliated farms, and her team have found that the heirloom varietals they have been working with grow best in the North Willamette’s rich soil conditions and mild climate without needing irrigation.
The farms look forward to continuing to experiment with growing heirloom grains in the Willamette Valley, saving the seeds and sharing when possible.
For more information, visit Rodale Institute’s blog. See the full article.