Westside wheat, barley among topics of grain gathering

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Communities looking to reinvigorate local grain economies are meeting as part of the Grain Gathering at Washington State University's Mount Vernon Research Center.

Communities looking to re-establish grain production where it isn’t normally grown are meeting this week at Washington State University’s research center in Mount Vernon, Wash.

The center’s annual Grain Gathering runs Aug. 21-23 at the center, 16650 State Route 536.

“It’s really talking about reinvigorating these local grain economies,” said Stephen Jones, director of the research center.

The gathering includes more than 40 workshops, panel discussions and demonstrations, including three cookbook authors as keynote speakers — Dan Barber, author of “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” Jeffrey Hamelman, director of King Arthur Flour bakery in Norwich, Vt., and author of “Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes” and food and travel writer Naomi Duguid, author of “Burma: Rivers of Flavor.”

Jones expected 250 participants, including representatives from Western Oregon, Western Washington, upstate New York and other parts of the United States “that are bringing grains back to where they went away.”

Registration is closed for the program, now in its fourth year.

“Every year it sells out about three months in advance,” Jones said.

Farmers want to connect with other farmers who are restoring grains to their rotations, Jones said.

“These aren’t big wheat farmers, these are farmers who may grow 50 to 60 different crops,” he said.

The conference also includes networking opportunities for millers, bakers, maltsters, brewers and distillers. At least 80 bakers are attending, Jones said.

Their efforts are starting to show success, he said. In the southern Willamette Valley, millers are working with schools and national companies to provide flour for artisan-style bread.

A private barley malting facility in Mount Vernon started a year and a half ago, and is working with the center and the Port of Skagit, including on variety selection.

“They’re growing faster than they can handle right now, so the demand for this is just off the charts,” Jones said. “The brewers and the millers are probably ahead of the bakers right now in terms of capitalizing on local grains.”

Infrastructure is the biggest need moving forward, Jones said, including drying, storage and cleaning facilities and seed.

“There’s a lot of missing infrastructure that went away over the years,” he said. “Basically, they would bin stuff up and take it down to Portland to be exported, but now it’s staying here, so there’s some storage issues and things like that.”

The center is working to develop a variety release program for western Washington, Jones said.




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