When Bill Myers began selling wheat berries at the Moscow and Pullman farmers markets in zip-top bags, people weren’t quite sure what to make of his product.
“They would look at it and pet it and love on it and then look at me and ask, ‘What do you do with it?’ ” he said.
So he bought a small grinder to demonstrate how to make whole wheat flour, milling it on the spot.
Five years later, Joseph’s Grainery is still making a name for itself on the Palouse. It added a new stone burr grist mill earlier this year, and Myers is already considering getting another one to separately grind grains and legumes – and handle more volume.
“This is an experiment and an alternative,” he said. “It’s a glorified hobby. Right now, we’re just growing the market a little bit at a time.”
When he started Joseph’s Grainery in September 2009, Myers wanted to specialize in whole grains. But he quickly learned that most customers don’t want to grind their own flour – even though they can do it with a blender.
So early on he expanded his product line, keeping the wheat berries, but adding pancake mix, cookie mix, cracked wheat cereal and a medley of flours – all made from whole grains or legumes.
“We don’t put anything in, and we don’t take anything out,” Myers said. “We don’t extract anything; we just grind it up. If you’re going to make a whole grain product, why break it down?”
Most of the wheat and barley Myers grows on the Palouse is barged down the Snake and Columbia rivers and into the global marketplace. Much is shipped overseas to commercial buyers.
But Myers holds back the best 1 to 2 percent of his crop to sell locally and regionally through his small, family-run grain operation.
Joseph’s Grainery is named for the men in the family. Joseph is Myers’ middle name. It’s also his father’s first name and the name of his grandson. But that’s only half of the inspiration for the moniker.
The other half is Joseph, son of Jacob, who – according to stories in the Old Testament – wore a coat of many colors, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, interpreted the pharaoh’s dream and saved Egypt from seven years of famine by storing grain.
“He’s always been my favorite Bible guy,” Myers said.
Myers, 63, is a fifth-generation farmer. He grew up in the house in which one of his two daughters now lives. Kendra Trump does the books for the family business.
Her sister, Kelli Collins, manages the website, tests recipes and makes videos for the Joseph Grainery’s YouTube channel. Online orders come in from Colfax, the East Coast and as far away as Bulgaria.
Myers encourages customers with questions to call or come visit. The business is in a hangar off Airport Access Road at the Colfax Airport.
The family homestead lies on more than 1,000 acres of wheat and barley 10 miles northwest of Colfax, near the community of Diamond.
In all, Myers farms some 3,200 acres, a mixture of land owned and leased. The wheat and barley sold under the Joseph’s Grainery label is grown on his family farm. When lentils aren’t in his rotation, he buys them from nearby farms. He trades with a neighbor for garbanzo beans, or chickpeas.
His grains and legumes aren’t organic. But Myers limits the use of chemicals and wants consumers to know his crops are not genetically modified. They’re stored in smaller bins, which stay cool throughout, allowing him to skip the insecticide treatment used on many commercial crops.
“We have the best food production system in the world (in this country),” Myers said. “I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the best. But people want to know where their food comes from. And they’re entitled to know.”
He likes the idea of selling his crops directly to consumers: “They want to know where it comes from. I want to know where it goes.”
He’s happy to hear Sue Hallett is making breakfast cereal with his soft white whole wheat berries. (See related “In the Kitchen With” story.) “Sue is doing exactly what I had in mind,” he said.
Joseph’s Grainery barley, beans, wheat berries, lentils, flours and mixes are available in 2- to 3-pound bags as well as larger 25- and 50-pound pails and sacks.
Until earlier this year, Myers was using four small machines, capable of milling 100 pounds per hour each, to grind his grains and legumes. But the equipment wasn’t commercial grade and typically wore out after about 1,000 pounds.
The new stone burr grist mill grinds 400 pounds per hour.
“The idea is to be as fresh as possible,” Myers said. “If you start eating this stuff, there’s no going back. Your body knows what it wants. It’s just satisfying.”
Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies
From Joseph’s Grainery
For the dough:
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cup soft white wheat whole-wheat flour
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the icing:
2 egg whites
2 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cookies: Beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Scrape the bowl and add the sifted flours. Mix well. Divide into three pieces. Roll out each of the 3 portions between two sheets of parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place on a floured surface and use a cookie cutter to form the cookies. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 additional minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool. Frost.
Make the icing: Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Sift powdered sugar to remove lumps and add it to egg whites. Add vanilla extract. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Use immediately.
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wheat Berries and Fruit
From Joseph’s Grainery
1 acorn squash
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 apple, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup hard red wheat, cooked
1 tablespoons honey
Zest from one orange
Juice from one orange
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup feta cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut acorn squash down the center, from top to bottom. Scrape out seeds and remove pulp. Place halves cut side down in a microwave-safe container. Fill with water to about 1 to 1 ½ inches. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. Set cooked squash cut side up in an oven-proof baking pan. Sprinkle squash with brown sugar. Once oven has reached 350 degrees, place the squash in the oven for about 5 minutes.
Meantime, add butter to a skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced apple. Cook until apple pieces have softened. Add all remaining ingredients, except feta cheese. Stir, then cover with a lid so ingredients steam and reduce, about 4 minutes. All liquid should have evaporated or thickened.
Retrieve acorn halves from oven. Spoon filling into each one. Sprinkle small bits of feta over top. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the filling is hot and feta is lightly browned.
Yield: 2 servings