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From the ground up 

by Kevin Taylor

This was a little different use of the balers,"

says Spokane County farmer Larry Tee who, with his son Brian, grew the wheat that made the straw that made the bales that made the houses that Scott Weston built.

"Instead of using the straw to keep the pigs warm, using it to build a house was unique," Larry Tee says. The Tees, who farm around Latah, put new knives on their balers and tightened the plunger inside. In layman's terms, this simply means that as the straw was picked up off the fields it was packed into tighter, straighter bales with cleaner, less ragged ends.

"You can't just have the typical farmer mentality to go out and do it as hard and as fast as you can," says Allen Reilly, a third-generation farmer and the Windermere real estate agent selling the two straw houses. "This is a precision building material. If the flakes aren't uniform from side to side, it takes more work to get a flat wall."

Reilly has farmer eyes and, running his thick hand over a straw bale at the construction site, points out where the straw was likely piled higher on one side of the window, perhaps because it was on a sidehill, or where the baler may have drifted out of the row, or where it went too fast.

"We don't normally worry about that so much,'' Larry Tee says. "I went to the first open house and stopped by a couple of times after that to talk to the construction guys. They were able to work with the bales."

He likes the new use of his straw and the preservation aspect of using this material instead of wood.

"I'm real happy that they are doing this," Tee says. "The wheat we made the straw from was planted in April, harvested in September. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree."

Each house only represents about seven acres of straw -- a mere speck given the scale of farming in the region.

"It is a market, but I just don't know how many people these houses will appeal to," Tee says.

So, someone asked, would it be fair to say he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

"That's the farmer way," Tee laughs. "Wait and see."

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