The Wheat Farmer's Bread and the Baker's Crop

Photos by Franklin Furlong

by Kathleen Deason

Imagine a group of people who have not only made their own businesses profitable and livelihoods sustainable, but also know their work is helping to assure a vital community and healthy environment. Now that is success!

Wade Troutman is a fourth generation wheat farmer in northern Douglas County and a strong advocate for conservation of natural resources on agricultural lands. Jeff Weissman is owner of a Great Harvest Bread Company franchise in Seattle and passionate about baking quality bread from local, organic, and nutritious ingredients. In a successful direct marketing partnership, Wade is growing organic hard red spring wheat in Douglas County and Jeff is creating a spectacular hearty wheat bread round at his Great Harvest Bread Company in Seattle.

Wade inherited a rich legacy of conservation. His grandfather was witness to the Great Depression and the push to break out cropland in Douglas County during World War II. “My grandfather worked to build schools and churches and formed the local conservation district to protect the soil from erosion and land from overgrazing,” Wade explained.

Currently, Wade and his wife Jane own and lease over 5,000 acres in Douglas County. They raise wheat, canola, and other small grains. Wade chooses to practice conservation on his farm using minimum tillage, or direct seeding, to protect his farmland from erosion. Half of his farm is left in natural undisturbed native habitat or is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to provide habitat for a multitude of wildlife.

Four years ago, Wade experimented in converting forty acres of hard red spring wheat into organic production. This was not without challenges, he reports. “My neighbors said there was no way to reach the adequate protein without using commercial fertilizers.” Wade overcame the skepticism using chicken manure and then a yellow pea cover crop.

Jeff Weissman, who grew up in Great Falls, Montana, opened a franchise of Great Harvest Bread Company in Seattle in 1985. Great Harvest Bread Company contracts mostly with wheat farmers in Montana for dark hard northern spring wheat. However, because Great Harvest is a freedom franchise, owners can purchase products outside of the co-op, Jeff explains. “I was interested in supporting farmers in Washington State, minimizing transportation, and finding healthy organic wheat with no commercial fertilizers or chemicals.”

Jeff’s passion is to provide delicious hearty nutrient-rich wheat bread. He has a stone ground mill to process wheat into flour at his bakery. “Our bakery mills the wheat into flour every morning at low temperatures and bakes, preserving the natural vitamins, protein, and fiber. Using the flour within a day after it is milled assures the nutritive value and that it is satisfying and filling,” says Jeff.

When Wade was looking for a buyer for his organic wheat, Jeff Voltz, former director of Farming and the Environment, put him in contact with Jeff, as one of several Seattle-area bakers who were interested in purchasing locally grown organic wheat. Wade’s first year organic wheat profit was less than the conventional wheat. However, he found other benefits. “The initial loss was well worth it to build my relationship with Jeff,” said Wade.

Wade refers to his organic wheat as “Jeff’s crop” and Jeff refers to his bread as “Wade’s wheat bread.” Jeff points customers to a smiling photo of Wade and Jane in the bakery. Not only is this relationship a positive for Wade and Jeff, daily bread is no longer a mystery. Customers can visit Wade’s farm to see the wheat being grown and watch it being milled into flour and baked into bread at the bakery.

Great Harvest Bread Company has purchased Wade’s complete crop of organic hard red spring wheat. Wade is now working to increase organic production to 125 acres to meet Jeff’s needs at his franchise.

Both Wade and Jeff agree that the success of their business depends on the health of the environment; the community, including employees and customers; and their own economic profit to keep the business sustainable. This success is evolving, according to Wade. “Now, I need to find an organic dairy that would be interested in my yellow split pea cover crop!”

You can learn more about Wade and Jane’s farm–Open Heart Ranch, at www.openheartranch.com and the Lake Forest Park Great Harvest Bread Company Bakery at www.greatharvestbreadlakeforestpark.com.

See and hear a story about Wade and the sharp-tailed grouse at BirdNote www.birdnote.org/birdnote.cfm?id=1673.