WHEAT! is the working title of a project to document the vanishing family wheat farms of eastern Washington state, in a part of the state called the Inland Empire.
The genesis of this project was found in the reflection of Les LePere's declaration that he was earning more money making art, than growing wheat! Les was an exhibiting artist in Seattle when Tom Robbins contacted him to do a cover for his new novel, "Still Life with Woodpecker." About this same time, Les returned to Harrington to run the family farm with his older cousin Greg Knapp.
At Les's 60th birthday party this past summer I met his neighbors,
Linda and Reynald Mielke, who were described to me as the future
of the family wheat farm in Washington. This means, I think, that
they have lots of acres and expensive equipment. For example, they
talked a bit that first meeting about their decision to purchase
a pricey bankout wagon, not only to be more efficient,
but it also meant that their two teenage daughters, Roni Jo and
Alicia, who began driving wheat trucks at 13, would no longer have
to drive along side the combine for unloading. Linda, who learned
farming from her Grandmother, pulls the bankout wagon with an up-to-date
tractor, complete with a CD player that she is using to learn Spanish.
This past July, I accepted Linda and Ron's invitation to ride along, first in the combine, then in the tractor with Linda, on the first day of harvest. I asked if she was learning Spanish in order to work with hired help? No, she explained, she was just curious; and that they had one employee last year, but had to let him go since they needed his salary to live on.
And it was while I was riding along with Linda that their youngest
daughter, Alicia, who has been playing the flute for years, called
from the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp to say that she auditioned
and had been invited to apply for the academy -- an invitation to
spend her senior year at a boarding school for the arts in Michigan!
As I am preparing this first entry in this project diary, I learn that after a few days at Harrington High in a senior class of 21, Alicia, who had decided to stay -- after all, her great grandmother graduated from the same school -- had second thoughts and sent in her application to Interlochen at the last minute; and, within a few days, she was accepted; plus, she was offered a scholarship to seal the deal.
Alicia begins classes on the September 11th -- just about the
halfway mark of seedtime at the Mielke Farm; as it is for their
neighbors five miles up the Harrington-Tokio Road at the LePere/Knapp
Farm. And Alicia's sister, Roni Jo, also a senior, will have played
the first three Volley Ball games representing the Harrington Eagles.