This last weekend, on our way back from the PA Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference (PASA)–which was totally inspiring–we stopped in on the McGrath’s Brick-Oven Bakehouse in Mecanicsburg, PA. The McGraths converted their garage into a small wood-fired bakery, using an oven very similar to the one we are about to build here at Little Hat Creek Farm. This is the most recent stop in a journey that has taken us to visit many wonderful bakers, all of whom serve to confirm our desire to serve our community and bake beautiful, living bread.
In December, Ben and I drove all over North America to visit friends and family. Along the way, we met Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery outside of Asheville, who inspired us with her open-hearted energy and delectable apple pie. Next, after a detour to sunny California to visit Heather’s family, we stopped in on Eric Schedler of Muddy Fork Bakery in Bloomington, IN (Ben’s hometown), who showed off his brand new brick oven and bakery, rebuilt with lots of help from his community after a disastrous fire in March 2014. And then we visited Stefan Senders at Wide Awake Bakery in Ithaca, NY, who hand-built a beautiful and sophisticated rotating hearth white oven. We stopped and visited the oven I baked in while running my first business Pannier Bread Company. While researching our new oven, we have talked to bakers in Hudson, NY and Elora, Ontario. And then, last but not least, right here in our own neighborhood, we welcome Great Day Gardens and Living Culture Farm to the fold!
Does it seem like craft bakeries are everywhere? Not quite. All of these bakeries are less than five years old, and they are all wildly successful. The bakers vary dramatically in their backgrounds, but have converged on a passion for good bread and connection to earth and community that has resonated with us. And they share freely of their knowledge and experience, drawing us and others into their budding community.
It occurred to us, when we were back in the car, that there are more than a few similarities between this emerging community of craft bakers and that of organic-type farmers. They share knowledge, create community, steward the earth, and are obsessed with food! One important difference, though, is that there are far fewer bakers than there are farmers. The young age of these bakeries suggests that craft baking is where organic farming was maybe 10 or 15 years ago. If we imagine the PASA conference in the early 00’s, there would not have been over 700 farmers there, eager to learn more about growing sustainably. Back then, the idea was still gathering steam — USDA organic certification only started in 1990! Fast-forward 15 years, and as PASA approaches its silver anniversary, the sustainable farming community is, in the words of Brian Snyder, PASA’s Executive Director, “hitting its stride.”
We want to be around in 15 years when the craft bread movement hits its stride! We will strive to make a meaningful contribution to that movement, by continuing to push the excellence of our baking, by sharing our experience, and by connecting with others. Support your local baker and help us change the meaning of “bread”!