Oregon Farm grows wheat for matzoh

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    Amil Zola

    This is a cut and paste from today’s Oregonian.

    ENTERPRISE — Why is this wheat different from all other wheat?

    Because it can be made into matzah, the thin, crisp unleavened bread, traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the Passover seder — when a child will ask the first of four traditional questions from the Haggadah, — “Why is this night different than all other nights?” The answer is that it was the night the God had the angel of death “pass over” the homes of the ancient Israelites while they were still in bondage in Egypt.

    Since at least 2008, Orthodox Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn, New York, have traveled to Wallowa County to inspect and purchase wheat — and this year, spelt — from Cornerstone Farms Joint Venture, one of the largest grain producers in the county operated by Tim and Audry Melville and their sons, Kevin and Kurt.

    Samuel Porgesz, the manager of a kosher bakery in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, said the Hasidim have meticulous requirements to make sure the wheat they use is absolutely kosher for Passover under Jewish dietary laws.

    ”The kosher law is that whenever we start the harvest, it has to be under rabbinical supervision,” Porgesz said. “Before we start the harvest, we make sure all the combines and all this equipment are clean of any previous grains. We want to make sure it’s not contaminated with any other grains. The second it’s harvested, it’s always going to be under rabbinical supervision.”

    He’s not a rabbi, but he knows what the rabbis will be looking for and makes sure conditions are ripe for their approval.

    ”I know the rules of what’s supposed to be done,” he said. “The rabbis inspect the grain before it’s harvested to make sure there’s no sprouts and splits.”

    On Sunday, Sept. 12, two Hasidic rabbis and their driver showed up at the Melvilles’ farm just outside of Enterprise. Porgesz had been working with the Melvilles all morning using air pressure hoses and vacuums to clean any grain from a previous harvest from the farm equipment.

    ”Samuel flew out yesterday and they had some grain stored in one of our granaries that we cut earlier this fall … and he helped us clean everything this morning,” Tim Melville said Sept 13. “The rabbis just showed up and that’s the way it always works.”

    The previous day, Porgesz and the Melvilles loaded wheat harvested about three weeks earlier into 2,100-pound sacks. They were to be loaded onto a truck — 22 sacks — and driven to a mill in upstate New York to be turned into flour for the matzah.”

    Every bag will be sealed and then we seal the truck,” Porgesz said. “We will check all the seals once it gets to our mill.”

    The Hasidim were in a bit of a rush this year. The harvest cycle put a bit of a crunch on them to get done in time for their high holidays. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was Sept. 6-8, starting their lunar year 5782. Then came Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — just a week later, sundown Sept. 15 to sundown Sept. 16. Less than a week later is Sukkot, when Jews commemorate the ancient Israelites living in tents in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. It’s also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths for the tents Jews put up in their homes to commemorate how they lived in the desert.

    ”We bake all winter long; we start right after the holidays — right after Sukkot — and we bake for about six months all the way to the Passover holiday,” which will be April 15-23, Porgesz said. “Afterwards, we start coming out to all the fields in New Jersey and the East Coast first — Virginia, Maryland and Delaware and upstate New York.”

    Danny Freedman, who drives for the rabbis, said it often can be difficult to comply with the weather and, at the same time, properly mark the holidays.”We have to go with mother nature,” he said. “The holidays (and kosher laws) we can’t break.”

    Porgesz may know what they’re looking for, but it’s the rabbis who must make the decision on whether the grain is kosher.”We have to finish up today because we have a holiday,” Freedman said. “Yom Kippur is Wednesday but we have to be home before. Not only because of the traveling, it’s because we don’t eat on Yom Kippur. … We fast from sunset to the following day at nightfall. … We do prayers for most of the day.”

    The rabbi in charge of determining the kosher status of the grain, who preferred to go by Rabbi Joseph G., was the youngest of the three, just in his late 30s. However, he’s the son of the grand rabbi and has been studying under his father since childhood.

    ”He has years of experience in this,” Rabbi Joseph said, as did his grandfather. “He has experience from before World War II” in Hungary and Poland, where the large Jewish communities were virtually wiped out in the Holocaust.

    ”He’s still learning now in some stuff,” Rabbi Joseph said. “I’m still learning; there’s always time to learn.”The main thing (I like) is that it doesn’t rain so often in the summer months” in the West, he said. “There’s the quality, and the (lack of) shrinkage. … Our flour quality measures the quality of the wheat. If there was rain during a stage of the wheat, the kernel inside might get core damage. Even if it’s not sprouted yet, if there was some germination activity … when some molecules and starches start to mature and it damages the quality of flour. … For the rabbinical, we try to make sure it’s not past a certain stage (of development) when it’s ready so it’s not a problem for us. Usually when there is rain, we see some mechanical, physical or structural damage unto the structure of the wheat and the rabbi will determine if it’s acceptable or not.”

    Even a little rainfall can begin the process of the natural yeast — leaven — starting its activity.”We can’t determine each kernel, but the rabbis are trained to look at kernels and see if it’ll be acceptable,” he said. “I was here three weeks ago and compare the sample that was taken to the lab and see if there was any damage from the rain.”

    A rainfall of only an hour or so seemed to have doomed one wheat field the Hasidim opted out of.”

    Although they didn’t take as much wheat as they’d have liked, the Hasidim did purchase spelt from the Melvilles for the first time. It was also the first time they’d grown the wheat-like crop.

    Tim Melville said he wasn’t hesitant about giving spelt a first-time try for his Jewish friends.”We’ve never even seen spelt before,” he said with a laugh.

    According to healthline.com, spelt declined in popularity in the 19th century, but the ancient grain is making a comeback in popularity as it’s being considered more healthy than modern grains.Porgesz said spelt is believed to be easier to digest.

    ”We also do a separate line of oat matzah,” he said. “It’s gluten-free; it’s totally different. We make sure everything is clean and people will see that.”

    Kevin Melville said the Hasidim don’t mix spelt with wheat.”

    They keep (spelt) completely separate and make matzah,” he said. “They do some with oats for people who are gluten intolerant. Some people consider spelt an ancient grain.”

    Porgesz said that in addition to the grain he’s able to obtain, the Melvilles — and the county — make him keep wanting to come back.

    ”They’re absolutely magnificent. Can’t say anything bad about them,” he said of the Melvilles. “Whatever we want, they do. … Whatever the rabbis want, we go the extra mile to make sure it’s what they want. That’s why we come all the way from Brooklyn; it’s very expensive. That’s one of the reasons. Of course, the other reason is it usually doesn’t rain out here during the harvest time.”

    The countryside also impresses him.

    ”I woke up this morning and looked out and saw those mountains,” he said. “It makes me want to come back every time. The Wallowa Mountains, the lake, sometimes I take a cabin at the lower end of the lake near the tramway.”And he finds things here you can’t find in Brooklyn.

    ”I have a house but not that kind of grass. (The yard is) only about 10-by-10 feet. That’s all we’ve got in Brooklyn,” he said. “Basically, that’s why we come is for the high quality and the cooperation.”


    Thank you so much AZ for sharing an informative, positive article.

    Shimon Nodel

    Taking it to a lab? Is this within the parameters of halacha? Is it within the bounds of sanity? Explain to me like I was born yesterday

    Amil Zola

    Mammele, I was quite surprised at the positive spin on this article. We are a state with few frum Jews and I’m a big supporter of Oregon agriculture. I wrote to them asking that they next do an article on the traveling shochet.


    I consider myself blessed to have left that plantation (commercialized tzorchei mitzva) a long time ago. My travel requirements used to mean a trip to some very lovely batampte bakery owners in Brooklyn to buy some kilo or two of wheat. Now I take a bus halfway and walk to Bais Yisroel to a mill that produces 3000 metric tons of matzo flour, all chasideshe chumros included. I first visit there rosh hodesh adar Isru chag sameach to all when it reaches your longitude


    As AZ probably knows better than anyone, this farm is located in the far northeast corner of Oregon, bordered by Washington and Idaho. For those unfamiliar, the politics of this area are about as far to the right end of the spectrum as Portland and Seattle are to the left and this particular county voted 2:1 for Trump. I suspect there is a real fascination and respect for guys who show up every year in Wallowa in Chassidish lvush with such a fanatical focus on the nuts and bolts of Pesach wheat production and this positive vibe was reflected in the Oregonian article. (Lets forget about the fact that some of the nation’s most well-credentialed anti-semitim are located across the state line Idaho.)


    @GH, I am visibly frum person [payos beard yalmulke], and I did business in Utah, Wyo, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and almost across the board frum people are respected, the only place that in encounted right wing hate was one or two right wing comments was in NW Montana, most of the hate the I encounted in the PNW was in the left wing area where they were very vocal about hate of Jews in general and Israel in particular.


    CS: Thats why I noted that the areas to the east of the I-5 corridor are a world apart from the Seattle Portland metro areas and some of the coastal areas. Several of the college campuses in those areas are hotbeds of BDS. In fact, there is an effort underway in the eastern part of the state of Washington to secede and form a NEW state called Liberty. Part of their manifesto reads as follows:

    “A group of coastal elites, one that detests our very way of life, dominates the political system of Washington state. These people view individual political and religous freedoms as just another problem getting in the way of executing their radical social and economic agenda, an agenda that is fundamentally at odds with how we in Eastern Washington desire to live….”
    We’ve also traveled extensively in the PNW and entirely agree that outside of Idaho I’ve never encountered a hint of the type of anti-semitism you apparently encountered in the Whitefish/Kalispell area of Montana which I’ve heard is also the home turf for some white supremacy groups (which typically espouse anti-semitic tropes).
    When visiting a fish hatchery near Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, we met a frum young guy wearing a kipah (more MO than yeshivish) who was working on a business startup for an organic/kosher salmon jerky production facility to be based somewhere in the region. I’m not sure exactly what he was expecting to learn from spending time with the federal fisheries biologists but he said he was treated with incredible respect and interest from those he met with throughout the region. While I think the jerky market is already saturated with several good products with good hashgacha, I was impressed by his enthusiasm and positive reception from the locals.

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