Surrounded by a sea of grain, Palouse Heritage is making its own waves in the local and regional food system with their landrace and heritage crops.
Located between Endicott and St. John., Wash., Palouse Heritage was established in 2015 by brothers Don and Richard Scheuerman who grew up on a small Whitman County farm. The company wholesales most of their grain to bakers, brewers and maltsters. They’ve partnered with a stone mill in Richland, Wash., to offer some whole grain flours, and they provide much of the grain used at The Grain Shed, a Spokane bakery and brewery that they co-founded and are co-owners of.
When Don returned to Eastern Washington in the early 2000s, the brothers began looking for an agricultural-related project to get involved in. One of the questions they asked themselves was how to do something that would enhance farm revenues on a per acre basis.
“Concurrent with that, we were looking at issues of food supply systems, soil issues, climate change issues…we looked at it in a very broad perspective,” Don explained. Some of the brothers’ goals included using a more holistic, natural approach to raising crops, keeping the supply chain local and focusing on retail venues for their products.
The Scheuermans based Palouse Heritage on four pillars: growing open-sourced, old landrace grains that typically require fewer farming inputs than conventional crops; integrating regenerative practices directly correlated to soil health; focusing on a vertically integrated system that takes place in a local and regional food system; and enhancing values on a per acre basis.
“We participate in virtually every link in the supply chain. I call it reconnecting the urban with the rural communities. It’s not only know your farmer, but know what your farmer’s practices are,” Don said. “By having a vertically integrated system, we capture the margins in the supply chain that does enhance value. We tell folks that we don’t grow bushels of wheat or tons of barley. We grow pints of beer and loaves of bread.”
The brothers eventually bought a 30-acre farm along the Palouse River where a German Russian colony was originally established in the 1880s. They collect seeds from around the world with the help of Washington State University, foreign seed banks and germplasm centers. They are looking for naturally drought-resistant varieties for brewing, distilling and baking that are culturally significant and are prominent in the history and economies of their home countries. The Scheuermans use their farm to determine which varieties are well suited to the Palouse and to grow out seed stock.
“We actually grow out seed stock on 20 acres, and then we engage a handful of other growers to grow under our specifications, our practices. Right now, we have anywhere from 100 to 125 acres per year,” Don said. “We convert all that internally to these varying revenue streams, product streams of raw grain to home bakers, commercial bakers and to breweries and distilleries.”
One of the reasons Palouse Heritage has been successful focusing on a regional market, rather than the commodity export market, is they also helped develop the outlets they needed, like The Grain Shed, for their products. One of the hurdles a grain farmer who is looking to add value to their crop has to contend with is that grain, in most cases, needs to be processed into a more consumer-friendly form — flour or beer.
“It is an added step in the supply chain that simply has to be dealt with if you are looking to add value to your product,” Don agreed. “There’s not a lot of assistance out there to do that if you are a small to medium-sized enterprise grower because there are capital costs involved, not the least of which is the marketing. That’s why, I think, what we’ve tried to do is just to have equity or different partnership forms with every link of the supply chain. For us, we see the end use in retail venues where the higher margins are. It is not easy. I like to say doing these things is not for the faint hearted. It takes a lot of resolve, a lot of hard work, a lot of tenacity, a lot of creativity.”
More information is at palouseheritage.com.