Author: Sam Lucy

Spring, spring, and more spring!  We knew it was early this year, and all the signs of that reality have been at play these past couple of weeks leading up to April.  Bluebells on the bare hillsides, bluebirds flitting in the sage.  Yellow bells on the hillsides, the yellow throat of the Meadowlark singing that timeless spring song.  Robins gorge after a wonderful late March rain, and new snow is caught up on the mountains as the northwest winds kick down the valley.  Canada-bound geese shift high overhead.  Three days of 70 degrees then nights fell back to the 20’s as snow showers dust the valley floor.  Springtime in the Methow – some say the most glorious of all.

Early fieldwork for any year this spring.  I believe I’ve only farmed here in March one other time in the past 30 years.  This spring I smoothed out last fall’s primary tillage I did on an abandoned neighboring field which I’ve committed to restoring. It felt a little weird to be on the soil before the aspen were budding but the river was on the rise and soil moisture was perfect and when it is time it is time – no matter how early it seems.  This neighbor’s field is just south of Winthrop and one I’d also first farmed, like our field here at Bluebird, soon after I arrived in the Methow 31 years ago!.  It needs a new irrigation system which we are currently developing.  There will not be any supplemental water available this growing season, so I must seed early.  As soon as the soil warms I will sow a rehabilitation crop of hardy triticale and spring pea mix.

The winter peas on the home field are just greening up with the first rain, and most look to have made the winter well.  Most of us, following the lean snowpack, are hoping for a wet spring indeed.

Our grain cleaning line and flour mill have been very steady through the first full quarter of the year here, and this has kept the crew happy.  It is with pleasure that we send out totes and bags of fresh milled flour and grains every day of the week to customers all over as well as right here at home.  Fresh whole grains and flours straight to order – always organic and always top grade – is what keeps Bluebird the gold standard for US-grown ancient whole wheat.  Our customers know this difference and we couldn’t be more grateful to all of you!

Global grain supply can be an interesting subject.  Many of you know that wheat is one of the most commonly grown commodities worldwide.  Since we are a global economy, what happens in one country far away can have a large effect locally.  In this case, I say local to mean the Northwest and to a greater extent our nation.  With recent events in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, the effect has actually been a downturn in commodity pricing.  This is the first downturn in a while. Combined with an uptick in the cost of production – at least for bigger-scale commercial and generally subsidized farms that rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides produced elsewhere – the strain is felt on many farmer’s wallets.  This is where price support, and more importantly tax-subsidized insurance comes into play.  This is what keeps farmers on the fringe, but still growing.  This is a farm system in desperate need of repair.

There is not a shortage of wheat worldwide.  If you aren’t concerned so much about quality or how it is grown, there is enough wheat stored for 2-3 years.  What really hasn’t changed is the fact that only a handful of companies own this supply.  Thus, they set the pricing and so forth, as with most commodities.  What is bothersome is the fact that people are still starving – right in our own country – while this supply in many cases is left untouched.  For the more successful farmers in this game, they sit on the year’s crops and wait for the upturn in prices.  For those that are strapped by debt, they sell at bottom pricing to companies that thrive on low-cost bargains.  This way, they own an even bigger amount of the supply.

In 1979 there was a book written by Washington Post journalist Dan Morgan called The Merchants of Grain.  Fascinating read.  And one that in many cases still pertains to the grain world today.

Alas, breathe deep Bluebird folks… we do not play the pricing game.  We work hard to pay our partners what they deserve, and they work hard to make sure we stay in business.  Relationships are all about relations and this couldn’t have been more demonstrated than when Brooke and I visited our good friends and partners the Schmaltz family last month, on the Northern prairie of North Dakota.  The Schmaltz’s are absolute cornerstones in the Regenerative Farm system.  Their farm largely works for itself now, wherein very little supplemental nutrients are brought in to support their vast crop rotation.  And they love what emmer does for their farm.  I will write more on this in my next notes.  Stay tuned!

Until then, welcome the slow awakening of Spring.  Enjoy the northern lights if you can, and maybe some of the upcoming eclipse.  Both are reasons to celebrate and good reminders of our place in this world.

Yours,

Farmer Sam

The cover crop of winter peas survived the snow.

“Not yesterday I learned to know

The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow…”

And so the final stanza in Robert Frost’s “My November Guest” begins.  A more appropriate beginning, and now ending of November can not be found.  Indeed this November began with “silvery mist and sodden lane” as wonderful days of rain settled into our little valley next to the North Cascades.  Settled in and dislodged many of the brown leaves; softened the summer-bristled bunchgrasses; quieted the entire countryside.  Perfect for the soil before the coming snow indeed.  Perfect as only Nature is.

No valley snow this November, but following the rain the clouds lifted, northern breezes stirred and the nights grew crisp and the days brightened as a very different November saw us through the Thanksgiving holiday.  Now as the full Beaver Moon begins to wane, skies hang heavy once again.  Like the beavers who are said to take to their winter lodges for the winter, we, too, may wish to “hole up” during this sort of weather.  But Lo, not here at Bluebird!

As orders roll into the Farm the liveliness of our processing and packing rooms reminds me more of the chickadees up in our home orchard.  These sing-songy little bundles bring to life the damp trees, and the gray skies,  as do the south-bound geese and the squirrels who remain busy collecting crabapples, wizened elderberries, and fir cones – adding to their winter stash.

The winter field peas loved the late fall rains and are thriving.  As temps now begin to lower,  hopefully we will get a nice blanket of snow before the temps get too cold – 0 or lower.  I do not want to test their hardiness too much.  The geese and a few ducks have been enjoying the leafy greens, as have the deer – both mule deer and whitetail deer.  Wild turkeys, meanwhile, climb all over our hull piles enjoying the feast there while we enjoyed roasted turkey inside by the fire!

Indeed, it is good eating weather!  As one of my Uncle’s more was known to say: “It’s getting awfully hungry out.”  Cold out, eat in; the comfort is palatable.  As fields rest, so must the farmers.  Ha!  Many farmers remain plenty busy even after the crops are all in.  One main reason we began Bluebird and started a processing and milling line together, was to spread the summer crops into year-round income.  We wouldn’t want to get too much rest!  And so during this dark, most austere time of the year, the bustle around the mill adds energy to these otherwise leaden days.

We appreciate all of our customers both long-time customers, and those brand new.  Some of whom I recently met at our November Open House here at the Farm.  It is always rejuvenating to see new faces, and hear new questions.  During our November tour some folks visited from Texas, others from Alaska, and many from right here in the Northwest.

Our next Open House here is Saturday December 9th.  There will be another Open House with granary tour again the final Saturday of the year on the 30th.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Until then, try and enjoy this time of the year.  I am always reminded that when there are 18 hours of daylight in June – 12 hour workdays are easily the norm.  So 8 hour work days in December should be okay, in return!

As the seasons go round and round there are so many things we are thankful for here at Bluebird – mostly our great customers and our loyal employees.  We realize that there are other companies you can get sorts of ancient einkorn and emmer from but we know most of you come to Bluebird because of our highest standards in quality and consistency.  This begins with our experienced, hard working US grower-base, and is finished in our customized processing by a caring staff here at our family farm.

We are aware there are many out there who do not have the good fortune that some of us have.  I encourage us all to reach out not only this time of year, but year-round to lend a helping hand, go the extra step for a neighbor in need, or anyone else that can use some random kindness.  If we are ever to have World Peace, it still needs to begin next door.

Peace.  And good will to all –

Farmer Sam

Quiet, crisp and clear is how October went out. More classic fall, days I can’t recall. Of all the months, perhaps October is the month with the most change. This year October began mild and sunny, with some warm rains mixed in as the month progressed. Then on the 25th we had our first snow. Then as the final week built toward the Full Hunter’s Moon, temperatures dropped to nighttime teens and the days barely reached 40. Love it!

With this swing so came the goings and comings of birds. We said goodbye to the bluebirds and meadowlarks and most recently the robins. And hello to the chickadees, nuthatches and nighttime owls. The murmuring of cloud-hidden geese could be heard as they pushed on their ageless, southbound journey. Coyotes, too, joined this cacophony of wild sounds each moonlit night. What beautiful, still land these voices remind us of – remind us of our good fortune to be able to call this place Home.

And grow peas! Remember last month’s peas – how we just needed to give them a chance! Alas, up they came and along the rows they run! The past four 15 degree nights have tested the little buggers endurance and strength. So far, they seem to be fine. Some of the southbound geese sure enjoyed them, including a pair of snow geese. Canada geese are grazers and just graze off the pea -tops and don’t destroy the crops. Snowgeese, however, will actually rip and tear out the plants so we were not sorry to see them move on!

Here comes November… with its “silvery mist and sodden lane”. Indeed. A cold, steady rain falls outside this morning as the wood stove clicks away inside and a glowing warmth helps me type these notes. November is the month I love even more than October; the bare and hollow month is not lost on me. These rains are just perfect for our soils. The late fall moisture sets the stage for winter as I’ve mentioned so many times before. These lovely rains soften and open our ground so that any snow will perforate straight in come spring. Already, I’m feeling good about next Spring’s moisture.

Right now, however, we are happy to have most things put away for winter. Our granaries are packed full of the yummy summer grains, and the pace of orders and our processing kicked up a couple notches last month. Dan has been milling great flours here each week, and begins most every week with a large volume of our einkorn flour. You folks can’t seem to get enough! He’s doing a great job and it likely is realized in your baking. Spelt, einkorn and Sonora flours are flying out the door!

The Washington State grown whole grain einkorn you also see in our lentil/einkorn blend, as well as straight whole grain berries for cooking. As with our emmer and spelt – the other hulled wheats – we de-hull the einkorn in a fashion that does not compromise the kernels themselves, and leaves all the “skin” on and therefore giving you the lovely aroma and taste and nutrition that true whole grains should.

Speaking of food, we had a great weekend last month with David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, authors of “What Your Food Ate” – their most recent book. Our friend and librarian Craig Seasholes instigated this collaboration with Bluebird, and good friends Martha Kongsgaard and Peter Goldman hosted David and Anne in their lovely home at Gunn Ranch. Over a hundred folks attended David and Anne’s book discussion at the Winthrop Barn Saturday evening, then several more joined us for a “farm walk” Sunday at our Bluebird home field. In depth but casual conversations flowed as we walked among the winter peas, and ended up in the granary for more talk.

“What Your Food Ate” is very well researched and clearly written and stands on the premise that what your food eats is what you eat, whether it be good or bad. Truth to tell the results, or consequences in many cases of what one chooses to eat, are not all that surprising but equally important. And this health, or lack of, all begins in soil. The good news is, we can grow A LOT of food in this country. Perhaps this is not so good – our government continually chooses to subsidize predominately unhealthy farming practices, thus unhealthy foods.

One fairly simple change that comes to my mind is this: How about we begin giving farmers the financial support for change? No one would lose except, perhaps, the pharmaceutical companies. If our government were to begin subsidizing sustained biology-building farming practices, all equipment manufacturers could still remain in business. As would the seed companies and many of the fertilizer companies, even if they had to shift to selling more compost and plant based nutrients instead of importing mined chemicals from Russia – among other countries – and at escalating costs. Hmmm.

“Sustainable” or “Regenerative Agriculture” is not simply no-till paintings that rely heavily on chemical inputs and herbicides. These same subsidies could shift and be used to buy cover crop seed, more specialized farm equipment, and easier access to the information that already exists for switching systems over to sustainable, regenerative farming systems. Plus, let’s use some of these vast subsidies for continued research on these systems.

What your food eats is what ends up in your apple pie, in your Big ole’ Thanksgiving bird, and in that warm, lovely stuffing. Did I mention the upcoming and favorite holiday of mine? Did I mention I love to eat? I can not wait!

To go with the holidays, Bluebird will be hosting Open Houses Saturday November 25th after Thanksgiving, then again on Saturday December 9th and December 30th. Open House and tour will begin at 10 AM, plan for about an hour farm tour, and this leaves until 2 PM to mingle and for all those who want to put together gift baskets, or purchase any other holiday grain gifts while sipping hot drinks and…eating! Feel free to sign up here if you are interested in attending one of our farm tours. Bring your family and friends!

I look forward to seeing as many of you there as end up making it! Until then gather round, hold hands, and thank Mother Earth for the bounty she continues to give.

Peace,

Farmer Sam

Farm walk and soil health discussion with David and Anne.

Goodbye sweet September… and that it has been.  From the very beginning to nearly the end.  Warm, dry late summer days filled the month up until the autumn equinox. Although these days were almost hot at times, the cool mornings and long quiet evenings were idyllic. On que, the equinox came and the weather moved in. Now as the month leaves us and we enter fall, lovely rains have descended on the valley here and soaked the tired soils, while leaving the first snows in the North Cascades. Love it.  Love this season!!

Robins flood the back lawn and orchard at dawn. Easy pickings for worms these days. A gathering of bluebirds crowded the fencepost the other evening and I’m guessing their time here is running thin and soon they, too, will be gone until next spring.  The swallows have left, but  poorwills still sing before dawn as deer shuffle across the hillsides. A large variety of hawks are migrating this time of year – soaring in the mid-level thermals. Also on either side of the equinox the sandhill cranes were passing high, high overhead on their southbound journey with their unmistakable chatter, except this one which ended up in our field. Same time every year; nature never slows down!

I completed the einkorn harvest here at the Farm on the first day of the month.  The crop turned out  full, nice and clean this year. Next I chopped all the left behind straw up so we could more easily plant winter peas, which I was able to complete mid-month with our no-till drill. I stuck the peas quite deep with the theory being the deeper I got them the better the plant nodules will survive winter. I fretted for a time whether or not I might have gotten them too deep? Alas, when the moisture came and settled in, a few peas began poking up – much to the delight of the local Canada geese! My hope is to get the peas up to a full 3-4” before winter. They’ve about a month of growing weather so…I’ll let you know how the peas do in my next notes.

Activity here at the mill has been mild but steady.  Downturn in the economy affects most everyone and though we perhaps haven’t been as busy as we’d like, with the change to cooler weather I have trust in our customers that we will be fine as we enter what traditionally has been our busiest time of year at the granary.  Our grain supply of all varieties is good.  We are grateful to our partners for this!  Harvest weather couldn’t have been better and it was a good crop year overall and we have Mother Nature to thank for that most of all.

Anyone who has read my Farmer Notes for long has read the same thing from me this time of year:  I LOVE FALL.  Love the slow wind down of summer.  Love the slow build up to winter.  Last fall here in the inland Northwest warm fall ran on and on into November when – that fast – winter rolled in to stay during the very first week.  Yikes!  I’m hoping for a more gradual transition this year.  That said, already we’re getting good rains and this sets the stage for next spring, as it mellows the soils, and will allow what snow we get to hopefully percolate in instead of run off.

Wait, talk of next spring already… Not so fast!  But one farm season really does lead to another if we are lucky.  And planning for the next often begins a season or two before.  This is why I mention the moisture.  This is why we plant winter peas as a nitrogen building fall cover crop.  This is one of the cornerstones of organic and now, regenerative agriculture.  A few months ago in my notes I discussed certifications and just what is in a name…?

As the catch-phrases get tossed around, please keep in mind that only organic production carries universal certification.  Still.  There are a couple of ‘regenerative agriculture” private certifications, but none that are USDA implemented.  That might be a good thing!  However, I do believe that true organic agriculture should be regenerative by design, and vice versa.  As the term “Regenerative Ag” becomes more commonplace, it might be informative to know that many non-organic companies are jumping on this catch-phrase in effort to leverage their brands.  These companies are neither “certified regenerative” and certainly are not certified organic.  You  consumers who want to know more about the story of your food might want to study labels closely.  Labels such as “All Natural” or “Pasture Raised” or “Eco-friendly” or… or… in most cases are baseless.  If you can’t physically see how something is being grown, then the next best thing is to rely on certifications to help you decide whether or not it is something you care to eat.

What these other meaningless labels do is actually de-base those of us who are dedicated – not to mention paying – to become and remain certified organic.  And now, some who are dedicated to determining universal certification of regenerative.  We will not see the passing of the current Farm Bill anytime soon for other reasons, but if/when it does pass, most of the money that has been set aside this round for support of “organic” and/or “regenerative” still is just lip-service when compared to the billions and billions dumped annually into supporting Big Ag.  Truth to tell.  Under an extension of the Farm Bill – the most likely scenario upcoming – cost share for organic certification would be one of the first things cut.

This September marks the 38th year of the Farm Aid concert.  Co-founded by Wille Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid concerts have raised over $70 million for family farms.  At this year’s concert all three co-founders played with an unannounced performance by Bob Dylan as well.  Dylan was said to have been an inspiration to the other three and as a result, we have Farm Aid.  Pretty amazing these “old geezers” – all of whom I love – have been singing about the importance of smaller farms, along with a host of other artists, longer than some of you readers have been alive!  Hmmm… what does that make me??

One thing you can count on is that here at our family owned and operated Bluebird Grain Farms  we will continue to be 100% certified organic.  All of us practice true organic agriculture and have the certifications to show it.  At the same time, we are practicing true regenerative agriculture.  So, with all that said… give peas a chance!!

Yours, Farmer Sam

Peas planted in Einkorn stubble after harvest add nitrogen back into the soil.

The summer of whacky weather almost skipped the Methow Valley altogether.  Almost.  As I type these notes at the close of August and half way into harvesting our home field of einkorn here, Mother Nature has ushered in a pretty hefty rain storm!  And a fast drop in temperature as follow up.  No real damage done, and an admittedly pleasant change from 90’s and intermittent smoke but this is not the time of year when we expect much in the way of moisture.  Still and all, I think we have had a far nicer and more stable summer than many other areas.

As I sat on the south porch sipping morning coffee this morning and breathing in the sweet, tangy aroma of fresh rain on dust – a unique smell all of its own – I watched a sharp-shinned hawk dive down and almost pick-off a soggy robin who was drying out on a fencepost.  Then a pair of hummingbirds zipped.  Then a towhee alighted in the bird bath.  My “bird of the month”, however, has to be the cedar waxwing.  We’ve two families here in our orchard and I just love their subtle voice that sounds more like an insect at times, than that of a bird.  What a beautiful bird these waxwings are.  I have no idea if and when they will leave?  The bluebirds have left and the swallows gather.  That fast, the season swings toward autumn and yesterday I noticed the first chickadee in quite a while.  In many ways the land is beginning to quiet from summer.  In others, not so much.  Just ask the building crescendo of coyotes who are working their way up toward this Blue Moon.  Speaking of, the weather cleared just in time so we got to see the stunning Super Blue Moon rise to the south above our apricot tree, and then early this morning set to the West behind the Butte.  A true marvel.

We will still get more heat here, and plenty of dry weather in the next month, but the bulk of summer has passed.  All the fruits are ripening and so have the grains.  The einkorn I was able to get before the storm is heavy-headed and cured out perfectly.  Had it cured just a couple days earlier…so it goes.  The past weekend’s heat did the trick but it wasn’t quite ready.  Monday I started; Tuesday it rained.  As I’ve mentioned before it is a wonder we ever get any crops in!  The rest of the einkorn is still standing and will dry out in a day or two.  In fact, a big wind is beginning to stir already so that will help.  All of this crop at the farm here is going to be used for next spring’s seed.

At his Lenwood Farms in the Basin, Brad has completed all of the harvest there and we’ve brought in a bunch of it already and our on-site storage is plugged at the moment.  We’ve also been able to clean up samples of the new lot: Sonora soft white, our Pasayten Hard White, and Methow hard red wheats.  They all have been sent to the grain inspection Lab and we had very good falling numbers (300’s) and good protein content (13 -14 %) on all.  We’ve cleaned and milled up samples from each lot and have already gotten them out on the market with positive feedback trickling in.  Soon, we will hull and clean up more einkorn. This year’s emmer harvest is about to begin.

Once I get the rest of the home field here harvested, I’m anxious to sow in winter peas.  I’ll  make another pass over the stubble and chop it up a little more, then direct seed the winter peas before mid-September.  I like to see them get up a few inches before winter.  This should give us a good nitrogen boost following this year’s grain crop.

Also, I’m looking forward to sowing some Native grasses along the cultivated field’s borders where we don’t have supplemental irrigation and have lighter soils that are otherwise too (stony!) to effectively produce on.  With the help of the local Conservation District, we are also looking into planting some pollinator species of drought tolerant shrubs and wildlife attractors.  Being close to the river, we have a myriad of birds and animals that might enjoy these enhancements.  We like to include all the creatures great and small on the farm here.

This is my annual reminder that schools are back in session now, and especially busy during certain times of the day.  Please be mindful of the little ones on the streets as they may not always be watching for you.  September is a great time of year.  Let’s try our best to keep it that way, as we enjoy the true bounty of the season at every meal.

Yours,

Farmer Sam

Nothing but clear, blue skies here as July winds down and we welcome August.  This was as nice of a July as any, in my estimation, with long sunlight, temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, light winds and NO smoke to speak of.  Some birds (quail, robins) are having their second clutches and these are already fledging.  Many young bluebirds, swallows, and wrens are  experienced fliers now, and some have left their nests for good.  One evening earlier in July we sat on our lawn and watched as new swallows tested out their wings and learned to take a few beats before gliding out to test their new world out that fast!  It was pure joy to watch.  I could almost feel their tentative curiosity and their exuberant thrill.

I mentioned July was the month when things really began to grow.  Truth to tell, our einkorn crop  at the home field here went from early 3-leaf stage and only about a foot tall, to an honest 4 feet tall in 3 week’s time.  Now the einkorn tosses, curves and dances in the evening breeze almost snake-like. The slender heads are all filled and lengthened out and just now are beginning to turn color.  The crop acts like it has been this way for months: Tall, proud, flush and strong… when in real time, it all has happened in less than a month.

Now the long summer sun is beginning the hardening and curing of the young kernels.  What this means is that what we call the “milk stage” of the einkorn seeds start to morph into the “soft dough” stage in a couple weeks time.  Then as the sun continues to work each day, that soft dough begins to harden and the kernels take shape.  For harvest, we like the grain cured and dried down to under 12 percent moisture – ideally right around 10 percent. This ensures easier threshing and definitely ensures longer-term storage.  This whole period – from milk stage to fully cured – takes about a month most years.  Which means our harvest for the einkorn up here will likely be at the end of August.  If we end up having real hot temperatures, as we can in August, it may be a little sooner.

South of here, Brad is well into his harvest and has threshed the Sonora soft white wheat, and is now into the hard white and red.  By the time that is finished, he will be harvesting his share of the einkorn.  Some of those grains he planted almost 2 months ahead of ours however, our grains began to really catch up this month and our harvest time will only be about a month different than his.  Nature.  Always amazing.

Out on the prairie, the wild emmer is beginning to cure as well.  That crop looks like excellent quality and will be coming off in about a month like our einkorn.  We all like to guess before harvest what the crops will yield and what their quality will be and how the soils fared and all that sort of thing.  However, until the grain is “in the bins” we really will not know how we did.  I think we will have good to very good crops this year.  I will not know for at least another month.  What we really judge our success on is customer feedback and ideally, customer satisfaction.

As we spend time still processing and milling to order last year’s crops, we are making room for this years’.  It sometimes stops me how fast a year’s cycle can go by.  One minute I think:  Boy, it has been a long time since the last harvest yet another minute I can’t believe we are already getting into harvest again!  “The seasons they go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down” and before long, some birds will have already left for the summer.  And fall field work will be upon us…

Hold on.  Lots of summer left here.  In fact, last I checked another full summer month and then some.   I hope many of you are out and about in the mountains and streams and fields enjoying this time of year.  For the most part, we are.  That said, we remain somewhat heavy-hearted as we lost a couple friends this past month – one older and sadly one far too young.  I would not feel right without mentioning our long time friend John Hayes, and all the fun times we had together over the years and I want to acknowledge all that he did for our Valley here in a variety of ways.  His sometimes wonky work will be realized and enjoyed for generations to come.  As well, we are most sorrowful for the loss of Kierra  Reichert who we had the joy of watching grow up alongside our daughter Mariah and many others.  Over the years, Kierra spent various times  at our home and she will always remain a young, curious, bright light long after her sudden death.  We will look for you in both dawn’s first light and the evening’s last sunlit clouds because we know you are there making it all the more precious.

Hold tight.

Farmer Sam

Einkorn pollinating.

Ahhh… the long, sweet days of June.  The early light of dawn, the extended soft light of dusk.  Some days even before first light, birds have begun to wake and as dawn strengthens a growing cacophony begins: Catbirds, Chats, Bluebirds, Sparrows, Warblers, Orioles and lest we forget, the ever persistent House Wren! Why I ever leave the morning porch I do not know.  But I seldom go inside, this time of year, until the last and most restless birds of evening have rustled to their roosts, snuggled in and all falls quiet at once.  Later, maybe the sound of a nightjar or poorwill will echo through the dark.

June is the month when things really begin to grow here in the Northern Climes.  This includes grains.  This particularly includes einkorn which I sowed back in mid-May.  As I’ve mentioned before, einkorn comes out of the soil as fast as any grain, but from then until past the Summer Solstice this grain spends most of its energy developing roots, like the wild grasses it is so closely related to.  Then all at once, here at the end of June, it takes on a healthy green color, bristles up and begins to reach for the deep, blue sky until in another month it will stand 40 inches tall and be fully headed.  By August the heads will have filled out and curing will begin.  At least that is how it generally goes up here against the North Cascades.

Our crops further south in the Columbia Basin are two months ahead of crops up here.  The hard wheats and Einkorn there are almost done filling and the month of July will hopefully cure these crops to finish and help dry them for harvest by August.  At this juncture, all the crops look healthy and fairly full.  So… we have the whole summer ahead before we see the final results.

I’m in no rush.  As we often have heard from many, and certainly from those that might be our elders at the time, it truly is about the process.  The entire process.  In this case from sowing the seeds to the plate from which we eat.  Our supply from last year’s harvest has held up well and aside from our soft Sonora wheat, we’ve not run out of anything and are enjoying such yummies as emmer and einkorn in summer salads tossed in with early spinach and such.  These chilled salads are a great complement to perhaps some fresh fish: Salmon, trout, flounder?

At the granary where we clean and mill all these Bluebird grains we still try not to get too far ahead of our order needs even with the grain cleaning.  This way we are able to continue to sell the freshest grains, and certainly flour to customers both large and small.  Our crew is doing a great job prioritizing orders, and filling them on a weekly basis.  All the while, they are keeping a close eye on quality and making sure the standards we’ve long abided by remain unaltered.

Consistency is the key to all our relationships: Producer relationships, employee relationships, customer relations, and relationships with quality food which all lead back to our relationship with the Earth.  Mother Earth, somehow and some way, continues to bestow remarkable bounty for so many, and this can really be sensed here in the month of June.  Not a day goes by that we take this for granted.  Good food is not a right; it is a gift.  Here at Bluebird we are honored to participate in the circle of healthy food and play our role the best we can, no matter how large or small.

What will July bring?  Clear skies and sustained heat?  Thunderstorms and heavy rain or hail which could decimate crops in a flash?  July may bring dreaded wildfires and big winds and smoke, or it might bring all the aforementioned?  Stay tuned.  July often seems can seem a long, long month all of its own.  It certainly is the one month of full-on summer in the North.  I hope July brings fresh air, even if it’s hot.  I hope it brings play time in the water whatever the activity might be.  As well as gardening, hiking, fishing, reading, working… For all, I hope July brings good health, and continues to grow out the wonderful foods that the long, full days of June kicked into gear.

I look forward to July’s review next time.

Yours, Farmer Sam

In episode 6, Deputy Don and Farmer Sam discuss how harvesting, storage, and the processing of ancient wheat profoundly impact the quality and flavor. Join them as they uncover the nuances behind processing emmer wheat. Get ready to deepen your understanding and appreciation for the journey from field to table, and the great lengths that Bluebird Grain Farms has gone so they can deliver you nutritious  organic food. 

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April, the reverse of November, is a month I love almost as much and for many of the same reasons.  Unlike many, I dig “shoulder seasons”… wherever that term came from?  Separated by half a year, November is the going-to-bed month while April is the waking up.  November often goes from crisp and sharp, to drab then white.  April goes from leftover white, to drab then on into brilliance.  What with spring creeks bulging and hillsides greening and early wildflowers popping up by the day… dare I mention birds?  Bluebirds, flycatchers, warblers just today.  Flickers, meadowlarks and a myriad of sparrows that can only be topped by the arrival of the  mighty hummingbirds.  Glory be, ole’ April, don’t shrug me off quite yet!

This April we even had a few showers – both rain and snow.  The slowly transforming month rolled all the way until these last few days.  Freezing nights prevailed, and days remained mostly in the 40’s, some 50’s and just now 60 and 70!  Later than many years, the aspen trees are now beginning to leaf out here along the creek.  One main benefit to this gradual spring has been the measured absorption of moisture.  As I believe I mentioned in March, most of the snowpack has all sunk into the soils and we’ve had very little run off or evaporation.  This is great in this semi-desert climate.  Now, the main river itself is beginning to swell as mountain snows begin to melt to usher in May.

As for farming; somewhat delayed but worth the wait.  I got on the fields a week ago and with some light harrowing and packing, I’ve been able to preserve that moisture a couple inches deep and where I set our seed.   The “old timers”… meaning some of the first white grain farmers here I presume… used to say: Plant grain when the aspen leaf out.  On the home field along highway 20 here I’m going to be planting our black einkorn seed stock for future production.  We’ve worked hard over the years to clean up this particular stock, and look forward to bringing it back into full production to go along with our lighter einkorn variety.   South of here, all our hard red and white spring wheat is planted and up in rows, as is the Sonora soft white wheat and the lighter einkorn.  It looks like the emmer crop will be seeded toward the end of May this season, due to the late spring.  Truth to tell, my heaviest emmer crop ever wasn’t planted until June!  I’ve said many times, Mother Nature always seems to even things out.

Here at the Bluebird granary we continue to do a lot of fine-tuning to our processing equipment, and though this has been on-going since we moved, I like to think it will soon come to an end.  The whole crew has been working on a bunch of details that – perhaps not anticipated in some cases – are vital to sustained operations in the long term.  When we work on processing and flow, whether for our cleaning line, our flour mill, our filling stations or packing, we learn more and more about the equipment we use.  We also are reminded of why it is so important to offer the fresh, well packed dry goods that we’ve built our reputation on.  Kudos to our great staff!

Whole grains mean whole food which means whole earth.  We might not pack up the biology of the soil in the actual “Creepy Crawlies” and microrize, but we like to pack all the nutrients that these balancers create and put this wholesomeness straight into your food.  As always, we look forward to a whole lotta fun upcoming in this next growing season.

Goodbye winter; sad to see you go.  Hello Spring; happy to have you at the door.  The next two months will be full of life, with new changes coming every day.  Here’s to it, and to your good health.  I hope most of you get a chance to get out and enjoy the rich smells and sounds and tastes of the season.  I hope to see you at our May 13th Open House or at The Methow Conservancy first Tuesday event June 6th.

Cheers, Farmer Sam

Sam Lucy, getting the no-till drill all tricked out for planting Einkorn.

As I referenced in last month’s notes, the March calendar would signify the “first day of spring.”  On que, that is when we could really feel the shift for the first time after a sustained and lengthy winter here in the Methow.  Nighttime temperatures still fall well below freezing but we’ve had a fair bit of sun and some daytime temperatures have reached 50 degrees.  The ebb and flow between cold nights and warm days has slowed the spring thaw to a perfect pace for soil absorption.  Our soils here are taking in winter’s bountiful moisture bit by bit and we’ve had little run-off with limited evaporation.  This is the sort of thing that makes a farmer smile!

If that weren’t enough, we’ve spotted the first bluebirds of the spring!  And robins and flycatchers and phoebes and meadowlarks and, and…. Surely there have been spring beauties spotted somewhere in the valley, and when I went for a walk up the butte yesterday, I could see small balsamroot bulbs beginning to awaken.  I love all the seasons here in the Valley but spring in the Methow is simply extra alive and full of wonders.  From now until June there will be new birds, new flowers, new smells, new sights and sounds each and every day.  Wind, too!  Although that hasn’t quite kicked up yet.

What this means is the early outdoor chores have begun.  Steve and Dan have dug out the remaining ice and snow from under our granaries and we’ve begun “cleaning up” the outside work spaces as snowbanks recede.  We’ve gotten in a couple loads of emmer from our partner Blaine and next week we will be bringing up a load of einkorn from Brad.  I can now officially say: we made it through another winter!  We’ve never run out of supply in the past and that includes the first winter here in our new digs.  We continue to refine our new systems, learn from our mistakes, correct most of them and are in great shape to continue to fill orders of all sizes on a custom need basis.

As the snow disappears different farm implements begin to poke through from where they slept the winter alongside our pole barn where more refined equipment is housed: (combine, headers, seed drill and such).  I can now see both of our field discs,  a seedbed maker, a couple plows… Which of course means I’m thinking about field work!  This spring we plan to plant 2 varieties of einkorn, as always spring emmer, and two kinds of hard spring wheat both our  red and white.  In fact, Brad is planting the wheat a bit south of here as I write!

On our home ground, we are a good month off from any planting.  Fields remain under snow, soils cold, damp and not fully alive by any means yet.  Once things dry up and warm up, I will pull soil plugs to test, and I plan to plant back our black einkorn on the home field.  This is the variety of einkorn we first cleaned up and planted our first field of years ago.  During the pandemic, we almost sold out of this variety before we knew how unique it was.  Fortunately, we kept just enough back to start planting it out again last year.  This year I’ll plant enough to give us ample seed stock to enable full production for 2024, with some limited quantities available for processing this fall.  Meanwhile, our lighter  “tan” variety  that we’ve been growing and milling the past couple years is still in ample supply, and we are growing more of this as well.

Last month I went into a fairly lengthy dissertation on different catch phrases and labels for different farming practices and food – some certified, most not.  This brings us to labels and the significance of what we consumers read, what we understand, and what we want.  As with any business, the consumer is always right.  However, as with many things, consumers aren’t always given accurate information.  One term that can be confusing is the term “whole grain.”  The only way we know if we are buying 100% whole grain flour or 100% whole grains – this goes for any grain – is if it is documented as such on the packaging.  This goes for organic and non-organic alike.  Of course, Bluebird has always been and continues to be 100% certified organic and sells only 100% whole grains and whole grain flours.  All the goodies from the field are in your food.  (Well, we may leave the mice and worms out!)

“Pearled”; “semi-pearled”; “enriched” are all terms meaning the finished product is no longer a 100% complete whole grain and therefore can not be milled into a 100% whole grain flour.  As I’ve mentioned before, we take great care in our cleaning line here while sizing, fanning, hulling and certainly grading, to keep your grains completely intact and uncompromised.  This process assures that all the goodies remain in place straight to package, or straight to our flour mill where no extraction takes place.  The nutrients and flavors that are in the whole grains remain in our products all the way to your kitchens.  We are about nutrition and good food.  This means whole and complete foods.  If this were not significant enough, well, March just happens to be “whole grains month!”

As the earth begins to awaken – slowly or not so slowly depending where you live – please take some time to reflect on the significance of winter.  Without the dormancy of winter, our beautiful soils would not get the chance to ever rest.  And just like the human body, without rest and good food, we become compromised and tuckered out.

I hope to see some of you at our May 13th Open House!  I look forward to answering any questions about our operations, and surely will learn a lot from you visitors.

I dedicate this month’s Farmer Notes to our dear friend and neighbor Gary Smith who passed away earlier this month.  I am reminded each morning of Gary as I sip my delicious cup of whole bean Mukilteo Coffee from his and his wife Beth’s wonderful roastery on Whidbey Island that they began long before we started Bluebird.  I would trade every cup from here on just to see his face once again…

Cheers, pal.

Your farmer, Sam

February may be the shortest month by calendar days, yet this year as it draws to a close we are reminded of the long winter here in northern Washington.  True to February form, we did finally get a little more sun this month with a handful of warmer days that highlighted the gathering daylight.  Red-winged blackbirds returned on schedule to the local wetlands between the 16th-18th like every year, but hold tight blackbirds – temperatures are diving once again toward zero.  This late freeze will once again solidify the snow crust that we’ve been able to walk across month – long  As well, it reminds us of how much we love our stove!

Historically February is not a big moisture month here; it remained dry and I don’t believe we plowed snow more than once.  Mountain snowpack was stagnant, or at least didn’t build much for the month, which means what had accumulated earlier in the winter accounts for most of what is in the mountains now.   Although I feel good about the moisture recharge here in the valley since the ground never froze, and we’ve already seen melting snow percolate down, the mountains are falling behind winter averages.  Good news: plenty of winter is left up there!

In the valley it has been a relief not to be shoveling snow every other day, and we’ve been able to eventually clear out some extra areas and gain access to our grain tanks.  We even brought in a truckload of grain this month.  This is something we never were able to do up at our old facility during the winter.  We needed it, too, as orders have started out very strong this year and we want to avoid joining the “supply chain” refrain.  Our crew is cranking away and as we flip the calendar page into March, all aboard will be welcoming some easing of winter work stresses.

One thing we’ve done here at Bluebird to assure uninterrupted grain supply is to begin working with a couple other farms who believe in our brand, and share our values.  These farms work tirelessly to grow highly nutritious food while continuing to improve their soils as we do on our ground.  These farmer to farmer relationships we’ve developed the past few years are inspirational, educational, and remain a comfort to me in many ways.  This was one of our original goals when we began Bluebird – to one day offer a direct and favorable market for other farmers’ who work equally as hard keeping value and nutrition in mind.  Remember last month I mentioned relationships?  Relationships are paramount in everything we do – farming relationships are certainly no exception.   The core value that we share with our partners is how much emphasis we put on our relationship with the land itself.

A recent buzzword these past few years is “Regenerative Agriculture.”  As with a lot of terms, this term can be used in many ways and applied – accurately or not – to many situations.  Some might ask: Is Regenerative Ag and Organic Ag one in the same?  What does “Sustainable Agriculture” mean?  Or what does “Natural” mean?  To date, the only USDA certification is for Organic producers and processors.  Bluebird continues to be 100 % certified as both.  This means we are inspected annually by a qualified certifier that holds us to legal criteria set by the USDA organic program.  Conversely, there are a handful of organizations that offer their own stamp of approval for certain Regenerative Farms who meet their specific standards.  In some instances certain organizations, one of the qualifications is for the farm/processor to also be certified organic.

Phew!  Now that we got through all that, what the hell is Regenerative Agriculture!  What is in a label?  Let’s get to the Regenerative Farm part this round; we’ll get to labels next time.  The main premise of Regenerative Agriculture is to have a closed carbon loop.  In part, this means very little comes into the farm from elsewhere to support the farm’s soil health.  Cornerstone practices incude: Minimal tillage; a variety of crop rotations used to grow soil’s nutrient needs; mob grazing of livestock to recycle nutrients and aerate soils.  The goal: carbon sequestration; nutrient improvement, biological build up, moisture retention.  Any organic operation worth its salt strives for all of these qualities, as does any Regenerative operation.  Both would then be considered actually beyond “sustainable” – as actual soil improvement  is a step beyond sustaining it.  “Natural” is completely objective as far as when that term is used.

Now that I’ve added more confusion I will try and simplify.  Our farm partners are 100% certified organic.  However, even though our biggest partner is one of the leaders in Regenerative Ag innovation and implementation, he’s yet to pay out the extra money for the label.  Truth to tell, having visited this family farm now multiple times I can say if they aren’t practicing Regenerative Ag in all its forms, then no one is.  We are very fortunate to have him helping our nutrient dense emmer supply, and helping us take it to the next level while positively affecting climate change on a much bigger scale than we can here in th Methow Valley.  Meanwhile, what I’ve learned about my own farming practices through observing theirs, is endless.  This may be the biggest bonus of all!

Next time you take a bite of your emmer salad, soup, or hot out-of-the saucepan steeped in broth, nutty, chewy, sacred wild emmer, think of how relationships of care have brought this treat to your plate.  Relationships that were forged by the mutual love of the land and, ultimately, the love of good food!

One day in March the calendar will soon read: First Day of Spring.  Damn straight I’m hopeful – and I trust all of you are, too!

Yours, Farmer Sam

I first met Jolly Miller on New Year’s Eve the winter of ‘96.  That was a bigger winter than the one we’re in now.  We’d had 6 feet of snow; on New Year’s Eve it began to rain.  Brooke and I walked up the then – quiet Rendezvous to neighbor Lee Miller’s for a party.  Jolly was there and he was the life of the party.  Again 3 years later on the eve of the millennium change, Brooke and I made the same walk just after we’d traded wedding vows to our two dogs under a natural arbor, with candles, down along Pete Creek.  When we arrived at Lee’s word quickly spread and Jolly with great enthusiasm said “you did it”!  Then broke out his signature harmonica and played a celebratory tune.  Later at west coast midnight, we touched off some shotgun rounds and other fireworks and so began this century.

Years went by and we’d started Bluebird when I got a call from Jolly.  He said he was moving to the Valley full time after his recent retirement and wondered if I would need farming help?  Indeed I did, and a fruitful and enjoyable friendship ensued.  Aside from being reliable and flexible field help – predominately running his favorite of the tractors “ Big Red,” and then again his truck “Blue” at harvest, Jolly became somewhat of a “Bluebird” poster child.  With his broad, well soiled straw hat, western shirts, big belt and an even wider smile to match, Jolly showed up in many a Bluebird picture over the years including a long running ad we had in High Country News.

Jolly and I enjoyed swapping stories of which he had countless, even more than I!  We also shared the love of literature and we exchanged  many a book and discussed even more.  Right up until our last visit when we discussed the latest I’d given him.  I then told him I’d bring up some of my latest writing to review and he said: “Cool.”  Jolly passed on earlier this month; regrettably I never made it back.  I like to think that when he reflected back on his varied and colorful past, that he thought of his days helping us at Bluebird with fondness.  Jolly certainly added a lot of enjoyment to my days afield, and his love of music he shared with our daughters.  His kindness and loving demeanor will never be lost on the Lucy’s and the rest of the Bluebird crew.  Rest in peace, old friend.

As some of the first sunshine for the month makes the snow sparkle and I watch the finches and chickadees crowd the feeder, I realize time simply can not be stopped.  The beginning of the year we had continued snow and then perhaps the biggest meltdown I can recall.  Even compared to “96”!  After 25 below on the  winter solstice, temps hit the 30’s by mid-January.  It rained several times and things got sort of gloomy.  Alas, more moisture!  Something I try never to regret here in this Valley.  Lots of moisture as this long moisture cycle that began way back in early November has pushed into this third month of winter.  That said, high pressure is coming and with the sun I realize that even January – which can seemingly last forever – is slipping away too fast.

Through all the weather, Bluebird has kept on ticking.  Our crew has been working hard to keep fresh grains and flours milled, bagged and delivered despite the extra work winter always brings.  The new facility is holding up well.  We continue to refine some of our new processes and new improvements continue to surface.  We bagged and shipped our biggest single emmer order to date and did so with relative ease compared to the “olden” days.  Speaking of, I can’t imagine how we would have operated this winter up here on the Rendezvous!  Our relocation came just in time.  This winter would have been a continued nightmare for freight up here.  Now, trucks just swing off the highway, back up to our new freight door, load and go straight back out to the road!  Swell stuff alright.  Ask the freight drivers.

Farming is as much about relationships as anything.  First may be the relationships one builds with the land.  Also, it is relationships with other farmers and people as whole, as referenced in my opening.  And just as with human relationships actions speak louder than words and respect is paramount for sustainability.  The biggest honor for me as a farmer is the relationships I’ve cultivated (ha ha) with the land.  It may be more succinct to say, the relationship the land has allowed me to establish.  This is not a rosy relationship at times by any means.  Truth to tell, it is very one sided in this regard: The land is always right.  No argument.  The land is my teacher and I am the student.  The consequences of goofing off, however, are much heavier in the field than in the classroom.  If one treats the land with utmost integrity then at best, she rewards you with a quality crop.  But she doesn’t have to.  Disrespect the land and she will cost you big time in the end and you may not even see it coming.  Examples of this abuse and following consequences are far too numerous to count.

As I mentioned in my end of the year farmer notes, I wanted to begin 2023 by digging into what I believe to be true sustainable organic and Regenerative agriculture.  This theme will lead us to the relationships that we have established with a couple other farms and farmers.  I will explain how these relationships began and how they’ve come into play here at Bluebird.  Why are they so important to us, and the joy we’ve realized?  More than just a farm profile, I look forward to sharing some concrete examples of farmer innovation, tenacity and ultimately, success.

Until next time I encourage you to think about relationships of all sorts, no matter what course of business you are in or relationships in your daily lives.  What has been our relationship with the earth all these years for instance?

Peaceful New Year to you,

Farmer Sam