Friday, November 13, 2009

Wheat Harvest Blossoms

Earlier this autumn, The Seattle Times sent business reporter Melissa Allison and I to a small town outside of Spokane, Washington for an article about our state's wheat farmers.

Fred Fleming's wheat farm and 32 other Pacific Northwest farms banded together a few years ago, calling themselves Shepherd's Grain, to capitalize on the growing interest in locally produced food.

They market their flour directly to area bakeries and others, bypassing the global commodity market's unpredictable prices.

The Shepard's Grain farmers practice no-till farming, meaning they don't plow to kill weeds and aerate the soil. They plant on top of stubble from the last harvest, saving tractor fuel and giving the topsoil something to hold onto when the rains come.

Ever tasted one of Cupcake Royal's little frosted wonders? They're made with Shepard's Grain wheat. Familiar with Hot Lips Pizza in Portland? They were Shepard's Grain first customer.

For a Wyoming girl, this kind of assignment is a small slice of heaven. The rural towns east of the Cascades remind me of home. The pace is a little slower. The horizon stretches for miles on every side. Light is bright. The land is arid. The farmers are kind. I am able to breathe a little deeper.

Garrett Ziebell, 19, helps unload wheat during the harvest this month at E&F Farm, owned by Fred Fleming, near Reardan in Lincoln County. Fleming helped start Shepherd's Grain, an alliance of Pacific Northwest farmers who practice sustainable farming.

A road cuts through the countryside of wheat farms near Reardan, Washington.

Wheat is transferred to the silos at Nollmeyer Farm.

Garrett Ziebell, 19, rests during the wheat harvest at Fred Fleming's E&F Farm near Reardan, Wash.

Jim Nollmeyer walks toward a combine while harvesting near Reardan, Washinton. Nollmeyer changed to sustainable farming after witnessing the soil erosion caused by conventional farming methods.

Wheat fields are pictured at E&F Farm near Reardan, Wash.

Clifford Abell, 19, helps unload the wheat from the transport trucks near Reardan, Washington.

Soft White Spring wheat, a class of wheat, pours into a bed of a transport truck near Reardan, Wash.

Wheat fields can be seen out the windows of an abandoned farm house near Reardan, Wash.

Connor Palmen, 5, plays at Fred Fleming's E&F wheat farm during a dinner break in the fields near Reardan, Wash. His stepfather Jason Echelbarger, will likely take on the next generation of wheat farming at E&F Farm.

A truck rumbles down the road, transporting wheat from the combines to the storage facilities during harvest near Reardan, Wash.

Jim Nollmeyer, a longtime wheat farmer, climbs into a combine.

Click here, to read Melissa's story on The Seattle Times' website.

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All images copyright Erika Schultz or The Seattle Times