Twenty -three years is a short time. Yet, entering my 23rd spring here in the Methow, I can say I’ve never seen as much water as we have here in mid-March. The snow and rain storms have continued on as this very moist cycle in the West reaches its fourth month. This is a true shift from last year causing one to think perhaps this is what a true La Nina year looks like!
To be sure we are mostly grateful with the stage set for major recharge and a delayed fire-season, we hope. As well, we hope for a gradual melt so as to avoid more land-slides that are a reality given the surrounding burn-scar left from two years of massive fires. Already the pliant soil has absorbed an amazing volume of water, but we’ve a long ways to go as a dense snow-pack remains on the valley floor with an even thicker blanket in the mountains. Alas, signs of spring grow with the gathering daylight. Robins… chatty robins this morning along one of the spring freshets above the granary here. Towhees, along with the usual spring suspects: finches, nuthatches, meadowlarks chipping sparrows and yes, we’ve seen our first bluebirds flitting about. That all recorded, we’re a good month away from any field work. This spring’s work will be as late as last spring’s was early. As ponders the bluebird in Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time”: He wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom…” And so the cycles go, farming here in the shadow of the North Cascades. I’m not too concerned; it would do little good if I was! As the years tick on I’m always amazed and grateful how Mother Nature tends to even things out. At this point we know we’ll have ample moisture. Our next hope is for sun!
A very worth-while trip down to the “Grain Brains” gathering at stunning 150 year old Paicines Ranch, now under the great care of Sallie Calhoun and Matt Christiano, who rescued it 15 years ago from being converted into a golf-course with the customary accouterments. The group of attendees were a mix of farmers, millers and bakers from different pockets around the nation, as well as aspiring young farmers. Greenhorns – a support group for young farmers organized the conference – after being prompted by Mr. Doug Mosel from the Mendocino Grain Project. Kasey White of Lonesome Whistle Farms did a swell job organizing shuttles, dining, curriculum etc. Much discussion focused around several topics including: What exactly defines “local?” How does each capture their best market? How do we preserve seed stock? How do we aid young farmers? Subsequently, Doug has spearheaded the “Grain School” – a collective that will serve as a future reference for young grain farmers. It seems incredulous to think there is a desperate need for such a group. Despite grains being a huge part of agriculture, at present there is very little schooling available from our Land Grant Universities for those wishing to grow non-industrialized grain i.e. farmer-direct or organic.
Mike Zakowski owner of The Bejkr in Sonoma California produced – among other loaves – a batch of wonderful einka bread loaves one evening in his tag-behind, wood oven that he carts all over to different events and farmer markets. A very accomplished, well schooled baker, Mike and I had a good time talking grains/breads etc. Also, I had the great pleasure of getting to know Jack and Ann Lazor from Butterworks Farm up at the tip of the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. Jack is a real Agrarian Elder who, among other things, wrote a book some time ago “The Organic Grain Farmer” and was the keynote speaker during the second morning. He spoke from the heart and true experience after 40 years of organic dairy and grain farming along the Canadian border. Great stuff; I could relate!
Back at home, the Bluebird staff has been packaging and delivering our fresh-milled products at a steady rate and with the usual eye for detail. Our grains continue to clean and mill well. We just completed a power-upgrade by installing a variable frequency drive on our main flour mill. Now, once the mill is running to proper speed it uses only the power needed to maintain that speed. Thanks to our electrician Tim Otonicar, we have plans to upgrade a couple other bigger motors as well, in effort to reduce our power foot-print.
We’ll begin cleaning seed this month for planting season – if and when it should arrive!! I’m reviewing soil tests, adding to my equipment wish list and – albeit mildly – beginning to feel the itch! I hope this finds all of you enjoying the “shoulder season” and preparing for the glory of spring. It is going to be a dandy here, once spring decides to come for good. Until then.
Yours, Farmer Sam