Author: Leslie Hall

Well it hasn’t been a very quiet week, or month, here at Bluebird Grain Farms.  We welcome back the wrens, the warblers, bluebirds, finches, ducks, geese while balsamroot and lupine bloom across the foothills.  April’s full “Pink Moon” brought out the coyotes as the voice of spring frogs drifted from nearby vernal pools.  As I jot these notes here at the end of April, heavy clouds hang about the sky and one good downpour has just finished.  We will take another just like it!  April showers…

Both the flour mill and the grain cleaning line have been humming right along as a variety of orders ranging from 1 ton totes down to 1 pound bags leave the granary daily.  This spring bustle has likely been brought on by a series of things as overall grain supplies can become lean with the 2023 harvest well in the past.  Not everyone can plan precisely for annual needs; this goes for both consumers and suppliers alike and Bluebird often sees an uptick of interest in our own supply.  Sometimes we end up servicing new customers due to shortages elsewhere.  Sometimes a few of these customers become long-timers!

Consumer and supplier; concerns over this relationship have only grown as America’s subsidized food system once more appears to be flailing.  Most recently, the Avian Flu outbreak has reared up again and this time is spreading first to dairy cows, then to the milk itself. Now, the meat supply chain is suspect.  Probable cause: Cows (ungulates) being fed chicken byproduct. Carcass scraps are ground and mixed in with various other surplus, cheap feeds (byproduct). Hmmm.

Mentioning cows, the West  faces another season of drought in many regions.  Biggest water users? Cows.  Eighty percent of western water goes to thirsty livestock crops such as alfalfa.  Meanwhile, Bayer Crop Sciences after making a horrible decision to acquire Monsanto just before all the glyphosate (Round Up) lawsuits hit, now wants the government’s and yes, your sympathy?  They are pushing back against 100’s of lawsuits brought on by inadequate warning labels, and users themselves that have fallen ill with cancer.  Glyphosate is one chemical that is used on much of the nation’s croplands.  Although these things may seem distant from Bluebird Grain Farms, in large they drive what we do.

In last month’s notes I mentioned visiting our friends the Schmaltz family on their 5,000 acre organic farm in North Dakota. One might think there isn’t much farming to see in early March on the northern prairie, yet on a healthy farm such as the Schmaltz’s there are all kinds of things to see.  Despite being a snowless and dry winter there – what locals call an open  winter – just before we arrived it snowed 4-5 inches.  Our first morning following an emmer pancake breakfast, we bundled up and left Blaine and Suzie’s cozy farm house for some of their fields.  Along their boundaries  were neighboring operations that the Ag industry calls “conventional farms”.

That fast, we noticed that the adjacent fields, most fall tilled, had already lost the new snow.  (Sometimes it’s windy in North Dakota!)  Next, we noticed the snow had all lodged up in Blaine’s fields full of emmer stalks, sunflower stalks, cornstalks.  Because he has been working for years toward minimal till and full scale Regenerative Agriculture, the Schmaltz’s farm is now working for itself on a variety of levels.  Here, it was working for critical moisture and it really didn’t even have to work!

emmer stalks

Stalks of harvest Emmer wheat are intentionally left in the ground                         to hold critical moisture and collect snow.

By leaving the grain stalks standing tall from his combine’s stipper header, not only was blowing snow sequestered here, but the soil itself was sheltered from the cold and the ground hadn’t frozen as deep.  Microbial activity in the soil was allowed to continue year-round even in this harshest of climates.  Crop residue, and the consequential breakdown thereof builds soil biology.  Biologically active soils promote nutrient cycling and give crops available nutrients.  Nutrient dense crops give us nutrient-dense food.  Moisture sink, carbon sink, biology sink all equal nutrient sink.  Nutrient sink equals taste.  Let us not forget an important reason we like food!

What’s more, out on the Schmaltz’s farm this year-round crop recycling mimics natural grasslands, and what the prairie must have been like before it was farmed. Protected soils warm up earlier in the spring than those left tilled.  Spring planting and subsequent growth can thus begin earlier than on the bare soils nearby.  Conversely, in the sticky heat of a hot summer’s day Blaine’s soils are shaded and kept cooler resulting in less evaporation.  All of this plays into the finished crop: It’s health, it’s yields, and ultimately how it stacks up nutritionally.  We are talking about real food grown as close to Nature’s ways as possible.

Brooke, Blaine, and Suzie in North Dakota

Some long-time customers might have worried when I made the gradual transition away from full crop production in our tiny valley here.  We still farm here to a degree, but this productive and resilient farm system played out on a much vaster scale at the Schmaltz farm is how and where Bluebird emmer is now grown.  We feel fortunate indeed and think it is reason to celebrate.  This is not only a celebration of a healthy farm system and consistent supply of top grade emmer, but of long term and sustainable human relationships as well.  Producer/Processor.  Supplier/Consumer.  All of which is truly a celebration and appreciation of the Earth itself.

So nothing really has changed here at Bluebird.  When you receive your grains from us, you can rest assured we still have health in mind as we have from the very beginning, of both people and the land.

Hello May.  Full on planting season!  With the growing daylight and heating degree days, the growing season begins as the soils soften and the earth comes alive.  Here’s to your health,

Yours,

Farmer Sam

Join us for a field and granary tour May 25th from 2-4. Learn about our farm systems and how we process our organic ancient wheats. Memorial day weekend. Please RSVP Here.

Our New Website should be launching in the next month. Keep your eye out for a new look and feel and a whole new online shopping experience. Please give it some patience as I know it can take time to learn how to navigate new sites. Feel free to reach out if you have any issues logging into your account.

Need mulch? We have ancient grain husks for sale. We charge $10 per trash can or $50 per truck load. Give us a call 509-996-35626 to arrange a time to pick up- be prepared to shovel ( they are light). These straw like husks are great for mulch, chicken bedding, compost, and soil building!

March…here with all your vagaries of weather. Truth to tell, February seemed like March month-long with robins showing up fast behind the red-winged blackbirds! I can say for certain that I never recall seeing or hearing a robin up here in February. Thank goodness March is here because I’ve seen robins in early March before…and finches and nuthatches and… with delight, we hear the voices of great horned owls, barred owls, and the subtle whistle of the saw-whet owl along the creek bottom both at first light and again at night. All the more prevalent as momentum built toward February’s Full Moon. It’s a hungry world out there come March most every winter. This winter might appear to have been easier than most for a lot of animals and birds however, easy is a relative term as it comes from the human viewpoint.

As robins flit in the fields and pull up the earthworms that love our cover crops, snow squalls hit the mountains. Heavy snow, in fact, has encapsulated the North Cascades as we usher in this mighty and lionish indeed. It is hard not to give up on winter at this point, but the new snow is welcome as the overall snowpack remains behind what we’d like.  his El Nino winter is true to form like no other. Here in the Valley floor even though the snow has been lean winter-long, our soil is well saturated. Of course our traditional spring winds can take a lot of that away but quick!  Ahhh…here I am once more, discussing the safe topic of weather.

At this point it still looks to be an earlier planting season for spring crops. Our winter peas are already in and growing from last fall, but there is another field I may be sowing spring cover peas in as early as April – very soon for this climate.  Both fields will receive another cover crop of buckwheat later in the summer.

Meanwhile our milling and shipping has been lively here at the facility. We jumped the year off to a strong start and as we enter the final month of the first quarter, we remain busy. Our einkorn flour continues as our top flour seller, but the emmer flour is catching up fast!  Between the whole grain emmer pancake mix, and our finely ground emmer flour, volumes are only about 20% behind einkorn flour. Must be the rich, nutty flavor of that wonderful whole grain emmer!  And the fact that Dan mills it fresh to order – a mainstay here at Bluebird Grains since our very beginning.

Brooke and I will be at Chef’s Warehouse for a presentation to start March, then we head to the northern prairies to see dear friends and farm partners the Schmaltz family. We look forward to visiting their large, fully organic/regenerative farm. We missed our fall visit. It has been a lean winter there also, so it may be early planting for them as well.  In the drought winters, or “open winters” –  true regenerative agriculture shines as it preserves moisture and biology in the soils that is easily lost under a more aggressive and chemical based farming trajectory. No surprise; much of the wildlife moves onto their farm where the crop ground goes minimally disturbed, and much of the native habitat is left intact.

Every day it seems, I read more and more about our broken food system. Sad to say, I still read of the illegal use of under-age children being used/abused in some of the meat industry’s – and it is an industry – nastiest jobs. It is disturbing to read of the blanket contamination that herbicides have weighed upon our food systems – most recently chlormequat in small grains that make up a lot of breakfast cereals. With some irony I suppose, just when our government gets pressured to more clearly read the science and deem many herbicides “illegal” as they did this winter with dicamba, they turn around and allow for its use until current supply is gone!  In this country.  And how about “farms” where the crops never see actual soil at all – alive or dead?

As dire as these continued findings remain in this day and age, it is also the reason so many consumers want change, and are leveraging the change to organic, sustainable, non-toxic farm practices with their purse strings. Even the USDA has awakened to the fact that we might have to begin subsidizing better farm practices, albeit on a miniscule level as compared to the subsidizing of Big Ag. I hope I live to see the day this is reversed, and that the farm subsidies (your tax dollars) go more heavily toward soil-building farm practices and healthy food.

Fear not, here at Bluebird Grain Farms we go about our organic business as usual, with respect to our soils, our farms, and our customers every day. This will not change with or without farm subsidies! We are grateful to our partner farms, and we are grateful to all of you. As Spring leans in with the gathering daylight and more heavy storms, think of our giving soils and think of our Mother. It is time to organize seeds to sow!

Here’s to the return of winter, Ha! But we will see you shortly in the Spring.

Yours,

Farmer Sam

I could never have guessed that January would leave us in the same fashion it arrived: Gray, mild, soggy.  This, following our one stretch of sunshine during mid-month when temperatures dropped to 20 below zero!  My goodness, are we in North Dakota all of a sudden?  Or New England? Nope.  Still here in the “Sunny Methow.”  To be taken with a grain or two… our weather leaves little to complain about comparatively, in regards to how it affects the surroundings.  Sure, we’d take a stronger if not prettier snowpack and a lot more sun but we’ve no flooding (yet), no wildfires (yet), and surely no drought (yet!) The roads may be mucky but the ski trails are still good, as is the eating!

Weather is a frequent topic amongst us two-legged folk – often a “safe conversation”.  I wonder if any of the birds or other wildlife ever partake in this sort of chatter?  It seems as though a chickade’s varying song might express a mood, as might a coyote’s yip, or sharp bark or long-drawn howl in the moonlight.  However, since I don’t speak in their tongue I’m left to speculate.  Speculation happens to be a specialty of farmers.  In case you were speculating, this is where I bring my notes back to farming.

Right now, I’m feeling good about our soil’s moisture profile.  Truth to tell, I’m not sure whether or not our winter peas even stopped growing under the snow?  This important cover crop sown early last fall here in the home field, I speculate is simply grooving on this weather.  Come late – April, I’d guess for a thick, lovely crop of lush peas out there as they build back biology and fix available nitrogen.

In my January notes I touched upon the rise of interest in the Regenerative Farming movement.  Regenerative Farming is not new, although some make it sound so.  The term is actually newer than the real practice although the practice itself is becoming continually refined.  One of the long-standing premises of Regen-Ag is the use of continuous cropping and lots of cover legumes.  Although we have a very modern crop cleaning line here in our new granary, once in a while even with all the different screen sizes, air speeds, and pitches of our equipment, fragments of these cover crops make it through to the finished product.  If you happen to notice a broken pea, or a fragment of lentil or even a chipped bean in one of your grain orders – rest assured this is more a shout-out to good farming practices than a result of an inadequate cleaning line.  Cover-cropping and crop rotation for nutrient growth are absolutely real here at Bluebird Grain Farms.  We all embrace this, our crops embrace it and hope all of you will as well.

Yes, our cleaning line has been busy and so has our dang flour mill!  Someone keeps tagging promotions to our website here (Larkin?) and our first month of direct retail has been very busy.  We are grateful, even if it means 3 days of straight milling.  Our miller, Dan, loves consistency.  And his weekly runs of our different flours most of you know are very consistent.  This is one of the reasons our flour performs so well: Consistency, quality, and freshness.  Thanks Dan!

The pancake and baking mixes are quite popular this time of year, also.  As are the hot cereals.  And my favorite dish: Grilled wildfowl served with split emmer or our Potlatch pilaf.  Mmmm… I can not get enough!  This is my idea of comfort food.  Maybe with some lightly sauteed kale and onion, or longer cooked chard as a side.  And a heavy red wine, if so inclined…

I feel that this half-way point of winter here in the more northern latitudes is the defining line between last farm-year, and the one upcoming.  Long enough time has passed and the calendar has turned to a new year and despite cleaning and milling the past year’s crop, one’s mind has already turned to the coming growing season.  Our good friends and partners who are leaders of Regenerative Farming out on the prairie spend a good chunk of their winter in a heated shop working on all kinds of specialized machinery that enable them to farm proficiently in a minimum-till, continuous cropping system.  They have an amazing amount of equipment to maintain, and make sure it is ready to roll when the window opens this spring.  Based on the past year’s sketches, conversations, and jotted-down notes all come out their maintenance and re-fab projects have begun.  In this way, farming indeed goes year-round.  Being a shop monkey isn’t everyone’s gig – myself included – but it sure as heck helps when you want to run a good farm!

Farming is not only labor intensive but often is quite equipment intensive.  This is one of the more challenging parts of farming any sizable amount of acreage.  Most farm implements were invented by farmers, and based on necessity.  As cropping systems change, needs change and thus innovation remains alive and well.  What I love is when you get a brand-new piece of equipment and immediately begin modifying it!  This seems to be more prevalent in the past 20 years or so, as most equipment is now developed by engineers, not farmers.

The use of these large specialized pieces of equipment, one might think results in an excessive amount of resources.  True, the construction of this equipment takes resources, as does the operation.  However, under a Regenerative/Organic farm system, practiced farmers can cut way down on their carbon footprint not just by using less fuel overall, but by sequestering all the carbon in the crops through minimized tillage, and growing their nutritional needs through continuous cropping.  A lot of speculation with this system has come and gone.  These systems are proving to be sustainable and profitable.  Perhaps even more so in this day and age, when it is ever the more important to protect and enhance our soils.

Ode to the clever farmers worldwide.  Ode to our Mother Earth.  She not only feeds us, she keeps our minds speculating!  What more could we ask?

I leave you with my latest speculations: February will be drier here than January.  And Organic Regenerative farming will continue to grow in importance.

Yours,

Farmer Sam

Larkin and Brooke immersed themselves in the culinary world at the Vegas Fancy Food Show last week. Surrounded by top-tier food brands, they enjoyed discovering industry trends and connected with remarkable individuals in the food sector.

Farmer Sam has a new fiction piece called “Jack” that was published in Montana Quarterly. Check out this bold publication that covers everything from creative fiction to environmental and local stories from the big State of Montana.

February 14-15, 2024 The Methow Conservancy is hosting a a free two-part forum on agricultural issues facing Methow Valley farmers. Our friend David Montgomery is coming back to the valley. David Montgomery is the author of the books What Your Food Ate, Growing A Revolution, The Hidden Half of Nature, Dirt, and others. Professor Montgomery will explore an inspiring vision in which agriculture becomes the solution to environmental problems.

He will be joined by Three-term U.S. Senator Jon Tester who is a third-generation Montana farmer. Senator Tester will tell the story of his family farm and the choices they have made to adapt to a changing world and economy. He will also share his insights into what he sees for the future of farming.

Amidst the Methow Valley’s changing climate and shifts in agricultural land ownership, the ongoing conversation becomes increasingly relevant. The choices made by large landowners hold substantial influence over small communities, shaping the impact of these transitions on the local landscape. If the future of agriculture is important to you in this valley we encourage you to share your voice and join the conversation.

Happy February!

The new year has come in with the same sort of gray mantra as the old went out.  A pall of low clouds, frequent fog, and little snow anchors the countryside.  Some days have seemed more like March than December.  It couldn’t be much more opposite than the new year of last with its deep blue skies, cold nights, and ample powder snow.  What a difference a year can make!  As we slip into 2024, it’s hard to truly know what might lie ahead – weather-wise or otherwise?

One thing that has remained strong is the growing interest in the Bluebird Grain Farms story, and our operations here at the new site.  This was highlighted on the final Saturday of the year with heavy attendance for another of our Open Houses.  We offered two rounds of the operations tour when folks learned about our grains and saw how we brought them first  into storage, cleaned them, then milled or directly packaged them for shipping.  Lots of great folks came from all over – including some from right here in the Methow.  We welcomed one and all and are most grateful for all the interest and questions and being able to celebrate the farming ethics we adhere to, as well as the importance of healthy food.  It seemed to be an engaging and a fun time for all, or so I hope.  It was for me!  We look forward to many more of these sorts of gatherings in 2024.

Meanwhile the winter birds are a little nonplussed by this unseasonal weather.  The chickadees are going through their motions and visiting our feeder but once in a while, I will catch them singing what I’ve always thought to be their “spring” song?  It has been a gentler start to winter  for the quail and other ground-grazers looking for seeds and grasses.  With the small amount of snow covering the ground, scratch marks along the edges of the trees reveal quail and other birds at work.  Deer easily munch bitterbrush and sage while coyotes yip at night, perhaps wishing for easier meals?  Ravens soar, always looking to cash in on an unsuspecting mouse, mole or leftover snack from coyote or cougar.

We closed the processing operations of the granary for the holidays.  We only shipped out retail orders during the week, but we are back to full production as we welcome the new year orders already accumulating on our clipboards.  Our dedicated crew here is rested and will begin the new year of grains for real: Cleaning, milling, bagging and shipping direct.  We are anticipating a very good year in 2024.  Our grain supply is excellent and our processing capacity has substantially increased with our new line.  No matter how busy we get, however, we will never lose sight of our roots and why we began Bluebird 19 years ago: For the love of the land – more than ever – and for the love of good, fresh food.

As orders increase, it will be more of a balancing act on how far ahead we generate finished products.  The main pillar of our reputation is that of fresh whole grains and whole grain flours.  Whether it is our signature ancient wheats –  einkorn and emmer – or our more current varieties of hard and soft white wheat, or the red and rye.  Our goal is to process as much as we can, like we have always done, on a weekly basis.  This is the way we can send fresh grains and flour to all of our customers.  This is how we identify ourselves as a true custom mill.

Working with our stalwart farm partners that dedicate so much work into raising these nutritious grains in an organic/regenerative system, we’ve been able to hit that consistency of quality and nutrition that sets us apart from other operations.  This is what you pay for at Bluebird Grain Farms: Top quality, reliability, and swift customer service.  Our crew here at the Farm is first rate, and we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t all believe in the same ethics.  We look forward to serving you in a variety of ways in 2024.

As we enter the New Year the buzz around regenerative agricultural practices continues to build.  To be sure, there are different thoughts on what it means to be “Regenerative” but when all is said and done, more sustainable farm practices are becoming commonplace as many of our farm soils are literally “farmed out.”  More commercial corn and soybean growers are turning to biologicals as import fertilizer costs spike.  Many are already seeing positive results and at reduced costs.  Although the benefits of using biologicals isn’t new to many of us, I’m pleased to read more and more about this transition – be it forced or otherwise.  I truly believe most farmers of all types care about the land and want to do the right thing.  All of us are learning by the day, and learning something new.  This is what keeps farming exciting.  This is why we farm.  We have to work together to improve upon the increasingly damaged food system we’ve been under in this country following WWII.  Here’s to that challenge.  Here’s to collaboration!

Yours,

Farmer Sam

 

Bluebird Grain Farms Team

Here we are already in the swift current of 2024, thankfully still afloat- paddling to keep the canoe balanced and paddles synced. The river is flowing.  Bluebird spent the majority of 2023- AHEAD, the nautical term for, forward, full steam ahead.  We got established in our new building, worked on our new systems, learned about our equipment, and re-evaluated the not-so-simple task of cost of goods (thank you crewmate Janice).

Bluebird Grain Farms New Facility

New space, new cleaning line, new public interface, new packaging- we had a lot to work through.  Sam and Brooke underestimated the time it would take to get re-adjusted in our new location. We came into last year on beam ends, canoe tipped on its side.

Our stellar crew was critical in getting through 2023, they helped us get back in the flow. We are grateful for our employees who show up every day to paddle the boat.  The support from our community and organizations such as The Methow Conservancy helped us with local tours and open houses and helped us get the word out regarding our new location- thank you to their volunteers (that’s you Keith) and staff (Sarah, Bridger, Ashley).

Partnering with Friends of the Winthrop Library to bring David Montgomery and Anne Biklé to the Methow Valley was a  highlight for 2023.  With over 100 community members present, they shared their knowledge and passion for organic regenerative agriculture and why it matters. A big shout out to Craig Seasholes for his steadfast support in making this happen. Fingers crossed that their presentation inspired decision-makers to see the “agricultural potential” that the Methow Valley holds.

Sam Lucy and David Montgomery discuss the benefits of Organic Regenerative Agriculture

The autumn winds brought our much-anticipated new packaging, a culmination of years of design and implementation for 100% recyclable bags. Backpaddle- a sudden engineering issue emerged, causing some serious inconvenience. Buoyed by the promise of our supplier to rectify the situation, we navigate this challenge with optimism, actively working towards a solution. Let’s hear it for good relationships!

As we set our course for 2024, our compass points toward the horizon. We hope to continue to be your choice for premium, organic whole grains, flours, and dry product blends. We look forward to forging new connections and exploring fresh possibilities. Our motto this year: Flow 2024.

 

Brooke Lucy shows Bluebird’s new packaging