Farming, from Field to Pint Glass

By Erica Simek Sloniker, Cartographer and Visual Communications

Humor me and tell me you’ve heard the joke, “Why did the farmer win the award? Because he was outstanding in his field!”

Andrew Nelson outstanding in his field. Photo courtesy of Andrew Nelson

Recently, I was literally out standing in a field with a farmer — Andrew Nelson. He is a fifth-generation wheat farmer in the Palouse region of Eastern Washington, close to the Idaho border. He farms 7,400 acres of land with his father Bruce Nelson —who is a Nature Conservancy in Washington trustee. While he may not have had a specific award in hand, I listened to Andrew speak about the everyday workings of his farm.  He spoke of the specific depths you plant seeds, the moisture content of his soil, how the climate differs from one area of the farm to the next and how, in addition to wheat and legumes, he is growing barley for beer. More on that in a bit.

Farmers, like Andrew, are in the business of doing what it takes to run and improve their business. They are a savvy, industrious and innovative bunch. Andrew is also a computer programming consultant and has designed an app that helps him track the many different factors that lead to running a productive and efficient farm. When we visited his office space to show us some pictures, he had an adorable photo of his one-and-a-half-year-old son in a wheat field holding a piece of wheat. The Nelson Farm has a rich family history in the region and the sixth generation is already growing like a wheat stalk.

Andrew holding barley grain. Photo by Erica Simek Sloniker

Walking out to the barn to see Andrew’s barley, two barn kittens jogged over, rubbing on our legs looking for a pet. Protected under cover in the oldest barn on the farm, six large bags — and I mean LARGE - held grain from this year’s barley harvest. It’s not that unusual for a farmer to grow barley, but Andrew has forged a new business relationship with Postdoc Brewing, a brewery in Redmond, to sell his barley to the brewery. The grains are first sent to a maltster, someone who germinates and kilns the grain and creates the malt that is used in the brewing process. By selling directly to the brewery, a connection is made from farm to pint glass — where traditional tracking of commodity grains and legumes to their final product is not standard.

A farmer like Andrew is outstanding in his field because he is also a businessman, scientist, technologist and father. He is feeding his family and feeding the world, and helping deliver one good brew at a time.

A Postdoc Brewing hat atop a pile of barley. Photo courtesy of Andrew Nelson.

The Nature Conservancy is partnering with several local breweries, including Postdoc Brewing, during the month of October to raise awareness about the role trees play in water quality – an ingredient that makes up around 95 percent of beer.