A new market for landrace grains

Don Scheuerman, co-founder of Palouse Heritage Grains, stands on the top of the hill overlooking his farm April 6 near Endicott, Wash. The company sells landrace grains to high-end restaurants and is collaborating with brewers.

ENDICOTT, Wash. — Don Scheuerman believes the future of farming lies in the plants that were grown in the past.

Scheuerman co-founded Palouse Heritage with his brother, Richard, seven years ago, and incorporated in 2014. The company sells ancient landrace grains.

Ancient grains technically are early grasses such as emmer, spelt and einkorn. Landraces are the strain of grains that developed in specific locations, Scheuerman said.

The early landrace grains are like the “great-great grandparents” of today’s modern wheat varieties, he said, adding they are low-input and require little fertilizer.

The company fills a specific niche, Scheuerman said.

“Our markets are the 49 percent of the people in Washington, Oregon and California who voted for mandatory GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling,” he said.

The company is not organic, but is aiming toward organic practices, Scheuerman said.

He stresses that the company is not against conventional agriculture.

“These are complicated issues without simplistic answers,” he said. “We don’t come down on (a particular side). We just picked our way and we don’t look back.”

The company also has a 30-acre seed farm, and three other farmers grow for the company, for a total of roughly 100 tons produced on 100 acres, Scheuerman said.

Scheuerman wants to enhance the farm’s value per acre, with an emphasis on sustainability and soil health.

“We really view ourselves as transitioning into soil that grows crops, as opposed to growing crops in soil,” he said.

The company sells the rare grains to a handful of high-end restaurants and collaborates with brewers.

The Scheuermans worked with Washington State University researchers, including Steve Jones, director of the bread laboratory in Mount Vernon, Wash., to identify historically relevant grains that have the desired characteristics for baking and brewing.

Newer heritage wheats with higher yields need to be identified to provide communities with access to regional food that is minimally processed, Jones said.

“The idea that commodity white wheat is the future has been with us for over 100 years,” Jones said. “Anything that does not go along with that old idea can have an impact.”

Jones appreciates Scheuerman’s approach.

“I really like the idea of somebody doing something,” he said. “Don is doing something.”

Scheuerman is a partner and co-founder of the new Grain Shed cooperative in Spokane with brewers Joel Williamson and Ted Benson and miller-baker Shaun Thompson Duffy in Spokane’s Perry District. It is slated to open at the end of April.

The co-op recently received approval for a brewery, Scheuerman said. In five years, he hopes to have “Grain Shed” beer in every store in the state.

The co-op is based on the “five pillars of grain” — bread, beer, pasta, pizza and spirits, Scheuerman said.

Farmers sell landrace, heirloom and ancient grains at a premium into the co-op.

The co-op isn’t interested in getting bigger, Scheuerman said. Its members want to get the model to a point where other small farmers can replicate it for their own food shed, he said.

“We’re trying to reconnect the rural to the urban,” he said.

Don Scheuerman

Title: Co-founder, Palouse Heritage

Age: 68

Hometown: Endicott, Wash.

Education: Attended Washington State University for three years

Family: Daughter, Nicole

Website: https://www.palouseheritage.com/

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