Crop at heart of valley gets own Wheat Festival

Some of the residents of Wheatland Village are retired wheat farmers who will share their stories.

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Historically, America's wheat farmers fed the nation and went on to feed the world. The mention of "amber waves of grain" often means patriotism and pride in a job well done, in the face of uncertain weather and even more uncertain economics.

Wheat is still the major crop in Southeastern Washington and area growers still feed the world.

A celebration of the farming traditions in the area will be June 13 at Wheatland Village retirement community. The first ever Wheat Festival will feature a history of wheat farming in the Walla Walla Valley, presented by Wheatland Village and The McGregor Company.

According to Tamara Gordon, marketing director at Wheatland Village, the festival came about because Wheatland Village has "more than just a couple of retired farmers here talking about how much farming has changed since they started in the '40s and '50s." Gordon said farmers now use satellites and GPS to help them rather than just taking a look to see that everything is aligned. Modern methods in a traditional occupation are honored at the festival.

Credit for the festival idea also should be given to former marketing director Mary Wollmuth and Cindy Dickson. The idea had plenty of promise and Gordon sensed enough enthusiasm to pursue it.

"The theme of our village is all tied to wheat," Gordon said. "All the different buildings are named after retired wheats, those that are not utilized anymore. They have developed new wheat strains that are more resistant to disease and work better in our climate."

The festival will include personal stories of several area farmers, residents of the village. There will be photos of the past and more recent farming. Several of them share their amusing stories about their careers in wheat farming.

In addition to the personal aspects of wheat production, the festival takes guests one step farther into the process of making foods from wheat.

"We will also have a tasting table, for all kinds of wheat things. We'll have bread baking, bread machines, so you'll have that aroma." Gordon also said they will be baking small loaves of bread for guests to sample the goodness of wheat products.

Displays of antique farm equipment, such as tractors, will be set up. "It's very hands-on," said Gordon. "You can see the equipment and get to taste the products. You can see where wheat farming has been and where it's at now. It's so at the heart of the valley."

According to Leslie Hammer, the communications, training and recruiting coordinator with the McGregor Co., the guest speaker at the festival will be Marshal McKinley, account manager at McGregor. He will cover the progress that different wheat varieties have made in disease resistance and yield potential. It's the first year for the festival, but it may grow from here. "It's fun doing everything new," Gordon said.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

IF YOU GO

Wheatland Village

1500 Catherine St.

June 13

1-3 p.m.

RSVP if possible by June 11 by calling 509-527-9600

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