Idaho Teff producer charged with crime Wayne Carlson is accused of intimidating a rival teff grower from from Minnesota, an Eritrean,man. BY BETHANN STEWART - firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright: © 2010 Idaho Statesman Published: 11/09/10
A grain the size of a poppy seed is at the center of a turf battle that could end up in criminal court.
“Teff” is native to north Africa and a staple in Ethiopia, used for making the spongy flat bread called injera.
After working in Ethiopia for several years in the early 1970s, Wayne Carlson founded The Teff Co. in Caldwell, according to the company’s website.
He chose Idaho, the site says, because he “was fascinated by the geological and climatic similarities of the Snake River region and the East African Rift.”
He now works with many growers in the region. Some credit him with bringing teff to the United States.
Though so little teff is produced in this country it’s not even measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the industry is growing as Ethiopian and Eritrean communities grow across the country — and as the grain is embraced as a gluten-free alternative to wheat.
A rival teff producer — in the area to talk to local farmers about partnerships — says Carlson verbally accosted him in eastern Oregon, and now Carlson is charged with second-degree intimidation, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to enter a plea on Nov. 16.
“I don’t think that any crime was committed,” said Carlson’s attorney, Brian Zanotelli, who returned calls placed to Carlson. “There aren’t a lot of African Americans in Malheur County so people were probably surprised to see a black man and a white man arguing in a cafe.”
According to a police report filed in the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, on July 2 Tesfa Drar, general manager of Teff Farms in Minnesota, was having lunch with a farmer at the Starlite Restaurant in Vale, Ore., when Carlson arrived and sat next to Drar. Drar said he had never met Carlson before. They had talked on the phone, and Carlson had not been invited to lunch.
Witnesses in the restaurant said they heard Carlson ask Drar a lot of questions before telling him to go back where he came from and that Ethiopians were no good.
Witnesses also said Carlson was being threatening and that they were worried Drar, who is Ethiopian, would be hurt.
Drar reported that he was very upset by the conversation and worried about his safety. He also reported that four days after the incident he received threatening phone calls that told him “he had better get out of town.” He did not know who made those calls.
Carlson told the Sheriff’s Office that he had talked to Drar and told him to go back to his country.
The police report said Carlson was nervous and didn’t want to answer all of the questions he was asked and that he said he would need to talk to an attorney.
Bethann Stewart:(208) 377-6393