Before some of the worst fires in the history of the Inland Northwest hit on Labor Day, destroying towns and scorching acres of wheat, grass and timberland, we had a chance to visit Mondovi Corner Farm just outside Reardan, Washington.
Many farmers are also volunteer firefighters, or they simply show up where they are needed with their tractors and bulldozers to fight the raging fires. Mondovi Corner Farm shut down harvest, too, but was not directly impacted by the fires.
Until Labor Day, harvest had proceeded as always on the 7,000-acre Mondovi Corner Farm which is operated by partners Todd Carstens, Hal Johnson and Ryan Wiater.
“We direct seed, and we have done so for about 25 years,” Carstens said. This means the ground is not tilled before next year’s crop is seeded. “If you think about it, tilling is like a giant earthquake to the organisms that live in the soil. And we are just beginning to understand all the good that those organisms do for us.”
Direct seeding (or no-till farming) also cuts down on soil erosion and helps preserve and regenerate nutrients the plants need.
Mondovi Corner Farm is part of Shepherd’s Grain, a grower co-op that was founded by Eastern Washington farmers Karl Kupers and Fred Fleming in 2003. The two saw a niche market for grain grown on a large scale but in a sustainable manner that would help preserve local family farms and the soil they depend on.
Shepherd’s Grain growers are certified by the Food Alliance and complies with strict standards for sustainability and land improvement, and they sell some grain locally.
In Spokane, pizzas from Bennedito’s are baked with this flour, and so are pastries and breads at Chaps, Clover, Central Food and Luna, just to mention a few.
While driving his huge green John Deere combine, Carstens mused about how farmers have become almost invisible as the farms have grown bigger.
“When I was a kid, I’d say 80 percent of the kids I went to school with here were farm kids,” Carstens said, while guiding his combine onto the next GPS track line of wheat field. “Now it’s the other way around. The farms get bigger and bigger and it takes fewer people to run them.”
But the basics remain the same: without good soil, there can be no good wheat.
“We believe this is the way to take care of the soil,” Carstens said. “Yields are high, it’s been an excellent harvest so far.”