Feeding our Soil and Communities: Visiting Shepherd’s Grain Co-op

Before joining Shepherd’s Grain and before meeting Bon Appétit, I never met anyone who ate the food that I grew. Before now, my grain was nameless; my farm, faceless.

While a year has passed since a Shepherd’s Grain farmer stood up to tell us this during last year’s annual Bon Appétit Management Company dinner in honor of our grain farmers, these words stay with me. I had learned much last year, and I eagerly returned for this summer’s eighth annual trip organized by Bon Appétit Portland District Manager Sam Currie.

I love this trip because – like many conscientious eaters today – I like to know where my food comes from. On our excursion to Eastern Washington, Bon Appétit chefs, managers, and I visited the Spokane Hutterian Brethren Colony in Reardan, WA, where the Grosses, Hofers, and Walters uphold their collective 460-plus-year family tradition in farming, growing crops on 9,000 acres and living a self-sufficient lifestyle.

We also visited the Centennial Mill in Spokane, where, through a series of steps (far more detailed than I’d imagined) Shepherd’s Grain wheat becomes flour. In the evening, our chefs and the Hutterities hung out in the kitchen, exchanging recipe for recipe and stories of colony life for stories of life in corporate and university kitchens in the city. And finally, we sat down to break bread together.

It’s a rare treat to be among 75 farmers and chefs who put the meaning of their work so eloquently into words. Look past the tough personalities portrayed on Iron Chef and the rugged independence that stereotypically characterizes farmers, and you’ll find more depth than just knife or combine skills. You’ll meet farmers for whom it means the world to meet the people they feed, and chefs who say that the day they spend with their grain-farmer friends is one of the best days of the year. As Karl Krupers (top photo, right), one of Shepherd’s Grain co-founders, said, “It’s not about how much money is in the bank, but about the people you’re dealing with. It’s about the relationships.” I am beginning to understand why Karl calls Bon Appétit and Shepherd’s Grain’s business relationship “a happy marriage” and why he says that when we come join them on the farm, it feels like coming home to family.

While more and more eaters are becoming familiar with the idea you should “know your farmer, know your food,” I am coming to learn that knowing where food comes from is more than knowing the names of people and places. In her recent Atlantic article about visiting Shepherd’s Grain, Bon Appétit’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Helene York explains that there are basic differences between conventional wheat farming and what Shepherd’s Grain farmers do. Instead of feeding the seed, no-till agriculture feeds the soil, the foundation for the plants that we eat to grow in, thus being a more sustainable form of agriculture.

And as I sat listening and eating Turkish Paneer and Farro Salad by one of our Seattle chefs, I thought about how food – for everyone there – is more than just about feeding our stomachs. Food grown and prepared by people who love about what they do feeds communities and fuels passions.

This is why Shepherd’s Grain grew from 33 to 44 co-op suppliers (comprising 73 families) this year and why the number of Bon Appétit staff who join this trip every year increases. Shepherd’s Grain – and the other farmers practicing sustainable forms of agriculture all over – are rebuilding our earth’s topsoil and also helping us strengthen our relationships with the land, what’s on our plates, and each other — which is the true foundation of our food web.

Bon Appétit at Nordstrom Executive Chef Christopher Patterson (right)

Here are a couple of spectacular recipes shared by Bon Appétit chefs at the Shepherd’s Grain farmers dinner that I think you would enjoy this summer:


Wenatchee Cherry Salsa

by Bon Appétit at Seattle University Executive Chef Shannon Wilson

Serves 7-8 people

1 lb Bing cherries
1 lb Rainer cherries
2 tbsp basil
1 heaping tbsp red onion
1/2 ea jalapeno
2 tsp local honey
Splash of white balsamic
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper to tasteJust toss ingredients together and serve!

Raspberry and Rogue Bleu Salad
by Bon Appétit at Nordstrom Executive Chef Christopher Patterson
Serves 7-8 People

6 oz Willie Green’s Spring Mix
2 oz Rogue Creamery Smoked Bleu Cheese, crumbled
3 oz Raspberries

For the candied walnuts:
2 oz white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of water
salt to taste
½ cup walnuts
1 oz white sugar

Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 oz balsamic vinegar
1 oz apple cider vinegar
2 tbl honey
2 oz extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, salt and pepper

For walnuts, combine 2 oz of sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, water, and a pinch of salt in a 2-quart sauce pan and place over medium heat. Cook until mixture is thick and syrupy, then add walnuts and cook for approximately 2 – 3 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to remove walnuts from sauce pan and place in mixing bowl, toss walnuts with remaining 1 oz of white sugar, coating thoroughly.For vinaigrette, combine all ingredients except for olive oil in food processor and blend, gradually add oil until vinaigrette is slightly thickened.

For salad, toss spring mix with vinaigrette, plate and garnish with raspberries, bleu cheese crumbles, and walnuts.

Farmer Paul with Bon Appetit Amazon employees