Finnriver Farm & Cidery Journal

... Keith Kisler takes us through his grain journey and how it came to be that he grows grain west of the mountains.

Growing Grains in Chimacum

Oct 1, 2019

I grew up on a wheat farm in Eastern Washington near Othello where my family has farmed for five generations. I spent my days under endlessly big open skies surrounded by miles of grain fields in every direction and by age eight, I was driving the old farm truck around doing errands and by twelve was spending 12-hour days harvesting wheat on the tractor during the summer. Those long days and the rhythm of that life have deeply shaped my way of being and that sort of childhood also taught me how to fix things, make do, and work hard. I wanted to raise my own kids on a farm so that they would learn some of these same lessons...it's gratifying that the boys are big enough now to start helping more!

I have always been enamored with the process, the challenges, and the spirit of hard work and camaraderie during the short but intense planting and harvest seasons. I suppose having ancestors who were German wheat farmers that migrated to the Volga River district of Russia in the mid 1700’s also has something to do with my adoration for farming grain.   

Twelve years ago, I started working with Dr. Steve Jones and his then PhD student Kevin Murphy at WSU, by planting small highly diverse trial plots of various grains like: wheat, spelt, quinoa, barley, and oats. They wanted to see what grains were well adapted to the Western Washington maritime climate and that did well in low input organic situations. Wheat has a rich history in Western Washington during the boom of dairy farms but was lost to consolidation as industrial agriculture and ease of transport made growing grains on this side of the mountains less necessary. By bringing back grains to bolster soil health and break disease cycles in veggie rotations, Dr. Jones hoped these studies would be valuable for growers, consumers and the environment.  

Dr. Jones went on to create the Bread Lab which operates within the WSU framework and is devoted to bringing wheat and bread back from the commodity-driven mandate that makes farms focus on yield and not on nutrition or flavor. These varieties of grains have deep vigorous roots that mine deep into the soil profile to capture micronutrients and allow water to infiltrate deep for use in the dry summer and to prevent rain events from washing overland carrying precious topsoil with it. 
 
So, that's why I’m growing grains here in the Chimacum valley. I’m excited people are able to know - through bread and cider - what this valley tastes like. My hope is that something deeper can shift a small or big part of a person which will allow them to be in a healthier relationship with their food and community and each other. I'd be glad to talk with any of you about grains any time!  Come find me in the fields...

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