I base this prediction on a conversation I had Thursday night with Richard Scheuerman, a Seattle Pacific University associate professor whos spent the past two years researching and writing a book on heirloom agricultural crops of the Pacific Northwest, and Lucas Patzek, a WSU agricultural extension agent assigned to Thurston County whos keen on reintroducing grain crops to South Sound farmlands.
We gathered at the home of Mark and Kathleen Clark, who live on the last vestige of the Tumwater pioneer farm of George Bush. It was a 19th century farm that included a fair share of grain-growing, probably on the prairie now occupied by the Olympia Airport. We were joined by Fred Colvin, a fourth generation Tenino rancher, and his wife, Katherine. They supplied the grass-fed beef that resurfaced as meat loaf on the dinner table, along with green beans and potatoes grown by the Clarks, and apple crisp made from heirloom apples picked from trees the Bush family planted all those years ago.
The get-together grew out of the Cascadia Grains Conference Jan. 12 in Tacoma, which Patzek helped organize, Scheuerman addressed and Clark attended. The conference drew 200 people interested in medium and small-sized organic grain farms in Western Washington to supply brewers, distillers, bakers, and produce feed for poultry and livestock farmers.
At the conference, Clark learned from Scheuermans research that the Bush family most likely grew a variety of wheat from the English white Lamma family, called Pacific blue stem, a wheat with excellent baking qualities imported from Australia to California in the mid-19th century before spreading to Washington and Oregon.
Intrigued by the discovery, Clark ordered a small seed packet from United States Department of Agricultures National Genetics Resources Program, which dispenses unusual seed crops for research purposes.
While Clark only has enough seed to grow a short row of wheat, hes still enthused about reintroducing wheat production to Bush Prairie Farm.
Patzek hopes to find other South Sound farmers willing to set aside small tracts of land to experiment with a variety of wheat, barley, rye and oats to see what grows best around here.
A lot of the pastures producing hay would be suitable for growing grains, Patzek noted.
We know that William Owen Bush, George Bushs son, had a green thumb when it comes to growing grains on Bush Prairie. He won a gold medal for his grain exhibit entry at the 1876 National Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pa., and again in 1893 at the Chicago Worlds Fair.
About the time Bush was receiving accolades, grain production started shifting to Eastern Washington where wheat became the main cash crop, Scheuerman said.
Today, for Western Washington growers to get back in the game, they need to tap into niche markets with high protein, organic products that counter consumer distrust of genetically modified crops.
Plus, grains are a cover crop that you can grow to reduce nutrient loss in the soil, add organic matter to the soil and break cycles of disease and pests.
The WSU Agricultural Research Center in Mount Vernon is the epicenter for grain-growing trials in Western Washington under the direction of Stephen Jones, who, along with fellow researchers, has identified some 160 wheat varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest from the 1840s to 1955. Theyre looking for breeds that can withstand our cool maritime climate.
The grain-growing resurgence in Western Washington is in its infancy, lacking the market value, granaries and mills to support rapid growth. But thats to not to say some test plots like the one about to begin at Bush Prairie Farm near Tumwater wouldnt be worth a try. ... ... ....
Last Tuesday was bittersweet for Tracy Griggs Farr, who for the past year lobbied the state Board of Geographic Names to officially name a creek near the Mason-Thurston County line after the Griggs family, which lived there until the state condemned their property in the late 1950s to build state Highway 101.
The original request came from her uncle on his deathbed a year ago. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, her father died Jan. 15, three weeks before the state board honored the family request.
My dad was aware it was coming, but he wasnt here for the announcement, Farr, South Bay area resident, said. Its all been very, very hard.
One of these late winter days, Farr plans to visit the creek for the first time, and reflect on all the family history she learned researching family ties to a small stream that flows under Highway 101 into Schneiders Creek.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com