Shepherd’s Grain started a movement years ago with a campaign enabling consumers to find the farmer who contributed to a particular bag of flour. The collective of Columbia Plateau Farmer-Owners, Shepherd’s Grain was early giving consumers a link to the folks who grow their food. Fast forward to 2022. Rather than call a number on a bag of flour, I can follow farmers, millers and bakers on Instagram. I can subscribe to farmer newsletters, order flour or grain directly or have great phone conversations about where to find their products. One such farm is Moon Family Farm in eastern Washington.
I first learned of the Moon’s when they contributed grain to our burgeoning Northwest Bread Baker’s group founded by the inimitable Katherine Kehrli. We were having a workshop with Mockmill Grain Mills and the Moon’s sent several pounds of both their Hollis and Sequoia grain for us to try. It wasn’t long before I placed my own order for 25lb of each. Since then, Cairnspring Mills has been milling the Moon’s Sequoia, finishing it partially sifted, which I use to make my scones and pie pastry. I mill the Hollis berries myself for use in my Whole Grain sourdough loaf. Having lovely flour to work with comes at a price. I’m happy to pay whatever is charged, but behind the bag of flour is a much deeper story, a much higher cost that’s paid each season. The following is a post from the Moon’s on Instagram @a_place_they_call_heaven. I don’t have the pictures referenced, but see for yourself on IG.
Even in the short days of winter there are always lessons to be learned by watching fields & crops.a_place_they_call_heaven Moon Family Farm
One driven home repeatedly in our open & dry country is that we must protect our soil from wind – our most powerful and destructive force.The bones of that protection are made by the wheat itself – the stubble left post harvest, strong & resilient enough to last through a fallow year, until the next crop takes its place. But only if we let it.
That forest of little straw is an amazing microclimate. It might only reach your boot tops, yet in that space is lower wind velocity, higher humidity, shade & protection for tender seedlings.
It’s quite sturdy enough to bear the brunt of blizzards, screeching winds, burning sun. It will shrug them all off, standing defiant to shelter its offspring. But it has to be nurtured in its own right to do so. What sets our farm apart from others is the effort we spend doing that – treating stubble as our zero-water desert cover crop.
We begin at harvest, using a special header to maximize height. I drill tractor & truck drivers relentlessly about where & how to drive in a field – to reuse existing tracks, to never enter a field unnecessarily. We reuse GPS lines, practice 100% no-till, hand hoe weeds. The goal is to touch a field as little as necessary, and to leave straw as untouched as possible.
The results of all that can be seen most readily following wind & snow. The first field is ours, qnd among the stubble is even, clean, protective blanket of snow. One that will melt slowly and soak uniformly into the soil.
The second field – not ours – has been worked & chopped excessively. There’s nothing left to protect it. The wind whisks the snow off, eroding topsoil, leaving swirled drifts of snirt. There’s nothing to shelter seedlings. There’s no shade against rapid snowmelt, or resistance to runoff & soil loss.
This is one of many posts highlighting the pains taken to protect the soil from erosion. This family farm, run by those who grew up on it, with young families to support, is held up with the desire to make things better. Yet, that desire doesn’t protect from a harsh summer, smaller harvest yields, aching hands and feet. I, as consumer, need to be part of a buffer created for them. Every time I grind that grain or make those scones, I’m playing a small part in this farm family’s life. Maybe someday I’ll be able to visit or meet them in person. To me, they are heroes-my kind of celebrity.