On Thursday, September 27, 2018, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) held their 11th Annual Fall Harvest Tour that included stops at; Gone Fishing, Klamath Project FF pumping station, Skyline Brewing, a horseradish field & processing shed, a mint harvest and Wong’s Potatoes.
This year was the largest tour yet with nearly 60 people including representatives from U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley’s office were present. The tour began at 8:00am at the KWUA headquarters before heading out.
“The purpose of the tour is to introduce agriculture to those who may not otherwise have the chance to understand what goes into the ag businesses,” says Chelsea Shearer, KWUA Executive Assistant. “We show them the behind the scenes and educate them on the economic impact that Ag can have on a community such as Klamath.”
Attendees were provided a goodie bag full of information about the Klamath Ag Industry as well as some products grown locally that you can find on the shelf of most grocery stores: Lay’s & Kettle brand potato chips, Beaver Horseradish, Wrigley’s gum, Bigalow Mint Medley Tea, Beef Jerky, Garlic, and Pumpkins.
“Every single year this tour gets better and better. It is incredible what you will get to see today,” says Scott White, KWUA Executive Director during the meeting at KWUA before leaving on the tour.
The sucker fish assisted rearing facility, Gone Fishing, was the first stop on the tour. After a presentation by Ron Barnes, property owner & project manager and Dan Blake, US Fish & Wildlife participants were able to tour the facility.
Barnes spoke about the need and purpose for the facility. “What we are doing here is trying to raise the endangered sucker fish from Upper Klamath Lake,” said Barnes. “Millions of larvae move down the river but do not survive through that first year to recruit into the adult population.” Barnes continues, “We just don’t see young fish in the lake. So, the idea is, lets just gently remove some of the fish and grow them here until they are big enough that we can circumvent that mortality event. It’s an experiment for us in a sense as to what size that is put back in the lake so that they don’t die.”
FF Pumping Station – Straights Drain
The second stop of the tour was along Highway 97 south of Midland was the FF pumping station. This facility marks the end location of the Klamath Project – where all the irrigation canals drain to.
KWUA Board Member, Steve Kandra provided a tour and explained the history and purpose of the pumping facility.
Irrigation water begins its journey through the Klamath Project at the head gate located at the southern end of Upper Klamath Lake. Water not consumed by the project eventually finds its way to this pumping station where it can either be pumped back into the project for use or returned to the Klamath River.
“Water is tighter and tighter in the Klamath Project,” says Kandra. “If there is any water left in the Klamath Project it ends up here, but these pumps run less and less all the time. We don’t want any water coming into the Klamath Project unless we can consume it. We are getting more and more efficient with what we get.”
The third stop of the Harvest Tour was also the lunch stop of the day, Skyline Brewing. “What better place to hold it than at a local brewery,” said one of the attendees.
As attendees were enjoying lunch and a sampling of the beer - brothers, Ty and Ryan Kliewer began to tell their story.
The Kliewer’s have been homebrewing for years. In 2017 after much encouragement from friends & family coupled with the uncertainty in the Ag business, the pair opened Skyline Brewing housed inside a former milking parlor on their farm. The brothers discussed the trials and tribulations of owning a small family farm and added the brewery to help diversify the farm.
“We knew it was going to be a tough year,” said Ty Kliewer. “So, if we were to keep everyone around here we had to incorporate something different. So last year the week before Thanksgiving we started gutting the building. We put everything together in there reasonably, there is a lot more labor than there is cash in there.”
Horseradish Field & Processing
The fourth stop of the harvest tour included a horseradish field that was not quite ready for harvest and a horseradish trimming shed operated on Seus Family Farms. At the field, Scott Seus explained how horseradish is grown and cultivated as a 2-year crop and will have roots 18” deep into the ground. Requiring highly specialized and custom-built machines to harvest.
At the trimming shed the tour attendees were able to witness a recently harvested truck load of horseradish being unloaded and sorted. Attendees also sampled fresh horseradish.
“Because the roots are so unique in shape and size no machinery can trim the horseradish,” says Seus. “We employ dozens of people to trim the horseradish by hand, separating the larger roots from the smaller. Larger roots are kept whole, and smaller roots are sent to a grinder and turned in to what you see at the store.”
The tour of Seus Family Farms and fifth stop of the tour continued with a mint harvest. Seus explained how the harvest operates and where the crop goes following harvest.
Harvest is conducted with special built machinery, similar in appearance to a wheat combine. The machinery separates the leaf from the stem, keeping the leaf and discarding the stem back to the field.
The mint is then shipped to a processor where it is destined for tea in the European Union and extracted for mint oil used in flavoring foods such as gum.
The final stop on the Harvest Tour was Wong’s Potatoes located right along Highway 39 halfway between Merrill and Henley. Wong’s is a family owned business that has been growing, packing and shipping potatoes in the United States for nearly 90 years. Wong’s distributes product throughout the USA, Mexico, Canada and Pacific Rim countries.
75% of the Wong’s product is organic and can be found locally at Sherms. Wongs has recently secured a contract to supply most of the western U.S. WalMart stores with potatoes. Starting next week consumers can also purchase potatoes directly from the distribution center as well.
Tour attendees were able to watch potatoes being sorted as they came off the truck. The packing sheds were not yet in operation. Employees of Wong’s were processing “reds” and “yellows” and will begin russet potatoes next week.
This year due to low yields from smoke and lack of water, cellars are being loaded two feet lower than normal.
The 11th Annual KWUA Fall Harvest Tour was a great educational event. Like a field trip for adults. Most of the attendees have no connection with Ag other than living in proximity of the Basin and shopping at the same stores the farmers do.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” said a 2018 attendee. “I did not know what all Ag did, I thought they just put it in the ground and waited for fall. There is so much more.”
This is my 3rd visit with the KWUA Fall Harvest Tour. The first was with the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Klamath, and I learn something new every time. The horseradish field / processing and mint harvest were a first for me. I am born and raised in the Basin and I had never experienced either of those until this week.
If you have an opportunity to attend one of the Harvest Tours, through the KWUA, or any other organization, I recommend that you do so. Whether you are involved in Ag or not these tours are a great way to see and understand just what it takes to grow the food on your dinner table. Now is a great time to get on the list for the 2019 tour, contact Chelsea Shearer at 541-883-6100 or visit www.kwua.org for more information.