Sunday, June 14, 2015

PEAS ON EARTH: A brief history of vines

Learning on the Land--Part 1

Learning on the Land is the community education program of the Blue Mountain Land Trust, a non-profit organization whose mission is to "collaborate with communities and landowners to conserve the scenic, natural, and working lands that characterize the Blue Mountain region." This series of outings offers a wide variety of topics and events to connect the greater Walla Walla community with the surrounding land. Peas on Earth is one of these.

Long before the first wine grape was grown in the Walla Walla valley, another plant grew on vines--peas. While wheat has been the undisputed agricultural king in the Blue Mountain area as long as the land has been farmed, peas have been among the other crops that have played important roles in the life and economy of the Walla Walla Valley. But their heyday as a agricultural headliner is almost a memory. 

Due to a loss of food processors in the region over the years, less and less acreage is devoted to growing green peas. Today, the H.T. Rea Farming Company, a four-generation family farm, operates one of the largest farms in the area that still grows green peas.

An abundance of rain in May caused pea vines to grow and swell; however a week of 100+ degree temperatures in June caused these same vines to stress which can be seen in the subtle yellowing. Time to harvest!

 Working ahead of the multiple viners, the swather (back center) cuts down the vines leaving them in neat rows. 

Next come the viners that crawl along the rows of downed vines, each one offset from the other, and in a multi-task operation pick up the vines, then shake, beat, roll and vibrate the pods which releases the peas into a holding tank.

 Finally, the spent pea vines and pea-less pods are spit out the back.

Yes, those pods look in tact, but when they exit the viner, they are indeed without the individual peas. 

As the holding tank fills up, a tractor pulling a large bucket-wagon pulls up along side the viner, and the peas are off-loaded. On this day, one wagon serviced seven viners which meant the driver was constantly busy collecting peas and then . . .

. . .dumping the full bucket into a waiting pea truck which will take them to Smith Frozen Foods where they will be processed. 

From field to frozen takes only four hours! Stay tuned for Part-2, a tour of Smith Frozen Foods, the lone green pea processor in the area where in 1952 there were 20 food processors in the Blue Mountain region.