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