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Forest Grove farmer Lyle Spiesschaert welcomes members of the community to his farm on Sept. 14.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Lyle Spiesschaert stands in a field of rye almost as tall as him.Much has been made in the press — including, it must be said, in this very newspaper — about the divide between urban and rural Oregon.

It's a serious issue, as business-owners and advocates in city and country alike will admit. People in the cities are largely surrounded by like-minded people and rarely exposed to the rhythms, traditions and challenges of country life. The same is true of people in the country, including farmers, vintners and other agricultural producers, who seldom get to meet and interact with their customers in urban areas.

Lyle Spiesschaert describes it as a disconnect, and it's something he's been worried about for some time. He and Charlene Murdock, executive director of Foodways at Nana Cardoon, teamed up several years ago to grow and showcase sustainably grown heritage grains — grown in the Forest Grove area and consumed by people in the Forest Grove area.

Fields set aside for the Tuality Plains Great Grains project take up about 25 acres at Spiesschaert Farms.

"The crops we're raising that we're offering are (dark northern) rye, a heritage rye crop; purple karma barley, originally from Tibet; and a newer release from Oregon State University called purple valley — it's a purple barley also," Spiesschaert said. "One of the first crops we raised is a hard red wheat called red Fife."

Spiesschaert grows the crops. Murdock markets them. Great Grains from Spiesschaert Farms have made their way into bread baked at Slow Rise Bakehouse in Forest Grove, beer brewed at McMenamins in Hillsboro and more.

"My pleasure has been in getting those grains into (businesses) that I feel are important to the movement of transparency in food and drink," Murdock said.

Foodways at Nana Cardoon provides classes for people to learn about gardening and growing food.

Whether people are growing vegetables at home or buying produce at a store or farmers market, Murdock and Spiesschaert believe it's important for people to know where their food comes from — and shop local when they can.

"The initiative is to show farmers, both small-scale and large-scale, that raising food crops on our farmscapes that surround our city is an important thing to do," Murdock said.

"I just philosophically think that humans, we should be better connected to our food, and know where it comes from, and understand it, and celebrate the entire idea of food," Spiesschaert said.

That kindred thinking is what brought Murdock and Spiesschaert together as Tuality Plains Great Grains partners.

"I was really attracted to it for the connection," Spiesschaert said. "I call it 'reconnecting across the fence.'"

Spiesschaert means that literally. Development in northwest Forest Grove has crept up on, or claimed outright, land that has traditionally been used for farming. Spiesschaert Farms has a subdivision just across the fence line, Spiesschaert said.

Coexistence between farms, where sometimes work takes place at night and many activities kick up dirt and dust, and residential homes isn't always easy, he acknowledged.

"They don't know what we're doing," he said.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, community members will have an opportunity to see Spiesschaert Farms and experience Tuality Plains Great Grains up close and personal.

The third annual Celebrate Great Grains event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine. There will be live bluegrass music, hay rides, kids' activities, food vendors and more — but the star of the show is the grains themselves. Tastings will include food and beverages made from the Great Grains grown right at Spiesschaert Farms, 3150 N.W. Thatcher Road in Forest Grove.

"It should be fun," Murdock said. "Something for everyone."

The event has grown since it started in 2017. That first year, Spiesschaert said, only three acres were dedicated to Great Grains. Last year, that acreage exploded up to 20 acres. This year, it's 25 acres.

"It'll grow, I'm pretty sure, as the word gets out a little bit more," Spiesschaert said.

Admission to Celebrate Great Grains is free. Parking is free on-site, with multiple acres set aside for vehicles.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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