The Maine Grain Alliance (MGA) was awarded funding to develop a format for ongoing workshops to establish contacts among farmers, millers and bakers committed to using locally –raised bread grains. Our purpose was to provide instruction and resources to assist growth in these crucial enterprises. The workshops are allied with our overall mission of increasing public awareness of the importance and desirability of Maine-based business and agriculture in a grain-based economy. We offer the Kneading Conference and the Maine Artisan Bread Fair each year to disseminate our message widely. The core of the workshop offerings will consist of formal laboratory tests of grain varieties produced locally to determine their suitability for commercial development by artisan bakers and we intend to assist bakers in implementing products using these varieties to develop strong retail and wholesale markets. Farmers need to know what bakers require, bakers must understand the realities of what farmers face on the face of the earth and millers are obliged to work with both to get adequate supplies of desirable flours through the system.
We committed to offering three workshops with the above goals in mind. All have been conducted successfully as described below.
Our specific objectives are summarized from the original proposal as follows:
- To develop techniques for analyzing the behaviors and flavors of varieties of local flours over the course of 3 workshops and conduct and proof-test these techniques in the lab with a wide variety of samples.
- To lay the groundwork for ongoing collaborations to formulate value-added, grain-based products. We shall assist bakers in developing product lines using local flours that will be acceptable in the marketplace and to assist farmers and bakers in market analysis.
- To streamline access and acceptance into the wholesale and retail marketplace, and to establish a strong constituency of stakeholders to address infrastructure concerns.
- To collect and categorize data and performance descriptions.
- To track acreage devoted to bread grain cultivation in the state, along with amounts of local grains used by bakers. We shall also track growth of use over the course of the duration of the grant with a follow-up survey.
- To disseminate information widely on our web site and by other means.
- During the course of the workshops, we will carefully document issues that the participants think are crucial for furthering our aims.
Interest in locally grown foods is increasing rapidly nationwide, but regional cultivation of grains has lagged, until recently. Skowhegan, Maine is a local focus of this movement. The Maine Grain Alliance (MGA) was founded in 2007 to resurrect a self-sufficient grain economy in Maine as part of a regional, sustainable, food system. Restoring sustainably-grown wheat to Maine is desirable, as local production stabilizes the cost of grains and flour, adds additional revenue to small farms, creates products unique to the locale, conserves rural landscapes, provides purposeful jobs, strengthens communities, and increases food sovereignty. Awareness of these benefits has been increasing among Maine farmers, chefs, and bakers. Over the past several years, a handful of Maine farmers have begun raising food-grade grains. Some are participating in trials conducted by University of Maine Extension’s Local Bread Wheat Project and at the time this proposal was submitted, three were growing wheat in response to requests from Maine bakers. Using freshly milled whole wheat flour can result in remarkably intensely flavored breads which are coming into favor by consumers. In today’s world, flour with distinct flavor is a revolutionary concept. Furthermore, the region in which any given strain is raised will affect flavor, further enhancing terroir. Associating a particular flavor with a particular locale trumps anonymous food made by chemists instead of bakers, a true celebration of Maine’s rich food heritage.
Surveys conducted at the annual Kneading Conference, a function of MGA, reveal that issues inhibiting the supply of local wheat from the farmers’ viewpoint are the lack of grain know-how, lack of infrastructure, and reliable markets (Supplementary Materials: “KC Survey”). For bakers, lack of demand stems from the unpredictability of unblended and unprocessed flours, and the cost of trial-and-error experiments for bakers. We sought to begin addressing these issues.
As stated in our project description, we developed a series of workshops to further the stated aims of evaluating Maine-grown grains for the baking community, assist farmers, millers and bakers in developing a critical mass to continue growth and to work with bakers to adapt to the new grains coming in. As the project evolved in time, we adapted to the demographics of the clientele we were attracting. Farmers were not plentiful among this group, so we elected to serve the baking community more heavily. The reasoning behind this shift was that the first step is to research and develop a vigorous market. Dr. Ellen Mallory has continued to work on keeping track of Maine grain acreage, varieties grown and new farmers going into production. The overall goal was to devise solid workshops with good take-home information. Each workshop had a distinct clientele, as will be seen in the detailed descriptions of each offering below, and were exclusively bakers. We decided early on that targeting farmers was out of our reach. Most of Maine’s wheat is grown in Aroostook county and unlikely to attend these workshops at this time. Such outreach is the task of Dr. Mallory and the extension. Our job is to help develop the market and make sure the farmers are aware that it is strong and growing.
The curriculum development was aided considerably by the work of Dr. Ellen Mallory, Extension Professor at the University of Maine and an MGA board member. The short treatise: Mallory, Ellen; Bramble, Tod; Williams, Matt and Amaral, Jim: Understanding Wheat Quality — What Bakers and Millers Need, and What Farmers Can Do (Please see supplementary submissions: “Mallory et al.”) was instrumental in driving the content. She had taken part in an earlier evaluation of wheat for baking grown as part of her own research at the Extensions. A survey done at the 2014 Kneading Conference (Supplemental submission: “KC Survey”) was helpful in guiding general planning of how the workshops should be conducted. It was clear that hands-on baking was paramount. The group surveyed is representative of our clientele and will be likely to respond to future workshop offers.
The first workshop was intended to get to the heart of the concerns bakers have about introducing locally grown whole grains. We decided that having a hands-on lab portion made a lot of sense, since the bakers could get their hands on the dough, feel it develop, look at the outcome and evaluate each loaf under single-blind test conditions. In addition, as there is considerable down time in baking while fermentation occurs, we thought that providing first-hand descriptions of the problems that millers and farmers would make good discussion material. Our database consisted of considerable interaction with professional bakers and discussions about the issues they have about local flour sourcing. Attendance was self-selected, as we did not review applications. As it turned out, and as can be seen below from the attendee list, all who applied were certainly appropriate.
The second workshop—
This was conceived as a way to assist bakers at all stages in their business development. We also hoped to reach individuals who might be at the stage of deciding whether or not to commit to baking. We offered a curriculum that covered all the bases, starting with the baking itself and including equipping the bakery, managing finances and taking on the task of market research. Again, we relied on the individuals to self-select and were not disappointed.
The third workshop—
This decision on what this should comprise was aided by fortuitous timing. One of us, (Dowse) had initiated a “production baking in the wood-fired oven” workshop at the Kneading Conference, and it has turned out to be highly sought after and has limited enrollment. Given that outdoor vending has become a growth business in the state, it made sense to take advantage of the baking MGA does each year at the Common Ground Fair to provide individuals with the opportunity to bake large quantities of bread for the volunteers under field conditions.
As hoped for, each workshop provided for increased skills among the bakers attending, but in understanding the nature of the growing Maine grain supply, the particulars of their use in baking and, possibly most importantly, the desirability of including these flours in their regular product line. The interest among the bread buying public is already there and growing, awaiting supply to begin to catch up with demand. Based on a 2013 survey of Maine and Vermont farmers, and grain users done by Dr. Ellen Mallory, as part of work being done under the auspices of her U. ME and U. VT-based Bread Wheat project, all of the 18 farmers and grain users contacted reported having made new contacts recently. All of the 5 millers and 7 of the 9 bakers said they had increased their use of locally grown grain. In 2007, there were ~512 acres of wheat being grown in ME, 100 of them organically. In 2012, the USDA reported 2,393 acres, 300 of them organic. (See full results in supplementary materials: “Bake test results”)
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Dissemination of information discovered and developed is paramount. When queried, the participants were in agreement that an online resource would be most desirable. Information that needs to be included comprises:
1) Listing the varietals tested together by name, location of field, type (winter, spring), harvest date, and availability either through direct purchase or distributor.
2) Organizing the varieties tested in each workshop by order of overall preference with a description of why each was favored or not.
3) Providing provenance about the farmer or the history of the variety that can contribute to successful marketing.
This expands on our original intention of listing strains with descriptions of their flavors and functionalities only.
Additional valuable information suggested as useful would include details on the baking protocol:
- Mixing technique: machine or hand?
- Were preferments used?
- Natural leavening or commercial yeast?
- Details of the actual baking– steam? Temperature?
- What additional grain varieties have bakers and chefs successfully incorporated into their formulas?
Materials that were central to the first two workshops are attached. They are also available on the MGA website: http://kneadingconference.com/ under the “workshop” pulldown. As far as the results on the wheat test, those will be available to MGA members in a members-only part of the site. We are working on preparing them for publication on the site. The above description of the first workshop presents them in a shortened version. These will be combined with the data taken in the earlier workshop sponsored by Dr. Mallory (in supplementary materials).
The Common Ground Fair director, April Bouchard, has been contacted with the thought of running a lead article in the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener about the baking workshop at the Fair and its contribution to grain growing and baking in Maine. We expect to be successful in getting this project off the ground. Photographs of the baking at the Fair will be posted on the site in addition to those attached to this report.
The Common Ground Fair director, April Bouchard, has been contacted with the thought of running a lead article in the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener about the baking workshop at the Fair and its contribution to grain growing and baking in Maine. We expect to be successful in getting this project off the ground. Photographs of the baking at the Fair will be posted on the site.
The first workshop was held October 28th and 29th 2013 at the Maine Grain & Bread Lab at the Somerset Grist Mill, Skowhegan, Maine. It brought together presenters and participants who have a stake in Maine’s emerging grain economy.
“Objective Evaluation of Varieties of Maine-Grown Wheat for Baking”
Dr. Ellen Mallory, Extension Professor at the University of Maine, reported on the research from the Northern New England Bread Wheat Project. In particular, she discussed how wheat is grown and the major production decisions farmer’s face, and included an overview of the UMaine research.
Sam Mudge, grain farmer, described the feedback from bakers and chefs that he needs, and his method for determining which seeds he plants.
Amber Lambke, owner of the Somerset Grist Mill, took participants on a tour of the mill and talked about the decisions that come up in the daily business of milling, along with describing the mill’s current product line.
Jim Amaral, baker and owner of Borealis Bread, conducted bread comparisons using 7 wheat varieties grown and milled in Maine.
Harold Dowse, Baker, Director of Baking Education for MGA and Resident Baking Advisor, assisted with presentations and oven and other equipment operations.
Curriculum development and workshop facilitation:
Wendy Hebb, MGA Program Director
Prof. Harold Dowse, Director of Baking Education for MGA and resident baking advisor.
MGA Board Member Lisa Stern provided in-kind assistance with food service.
Paula Marcoux, food historian (17th & 18th century production baking), food writer, baker. Her needs were to learn technical language and vocabulary to understand historic descriptions. (Massachusetts)
Paul Barese, serious home baker, contemplating opening a bakery, interested in educating himself about using local grains in a professional kitchen. (Washington DC)
Gregory Carpenter, baker/owner, Crooked Tree Breadworks. Talked a Michigan farmer into growing wheat and wants to be ready to bake with the first harvest, and wants to rebuild infrastructure in his region. (Michigan)
Karl Rau, owner/baker, Good Bread Bakery. He expressed a desire for help acclimating to the unblended local flours. (Maine)
Will Tewksbury, from Good-Will Hinckley, chef for the student agriculture program. Will uses 50% Maine Grains flour for all baked goods and wants to improve his techniques, become knowledgeable about the seed-to-loaf chain of events and add grain crops to GWH’s crop rotations. (Maine)
Allen Smith, baker/owner, Forage Market. Currently using Maine Grains flour and interested in learning how to control variables. (Maine)
The original plan to bring together wheat scientists, farmers, millers, bakers and chefs turned out to be an essential aspect of the success of the first workshop. Connecting the chain of events ending in an artisan loaf of bread, placing value on each link, and emphasizing the importance of direct trade to keep control of resources in the hands of the producers and local communities served by these resources, was an important part of the philosophical shift that participants described: moving away from fear of unfamiliar flours to a commitment to spend the time and energy to learn how best to use the available varieties. Limiting enrollment to 6 – 8 people, in a workshop where both hands-on experience and personal interactions are inextricably intertwined, was ideal. In such a small group, everyone benefited from the questions, suggestions, and concerns of the others.
During the two days, the exchange of information among farmers, wheat scientists, millers, bakers and chefs established a bond of mutual support that interested the farmer in planting the wheat variety most favored, and committed the bakers and chef to supporting the network of grain producers by purchasing local flour. Bakers in particular recognized that to increase demand for products made from local flour there needs to be patron education on the value and unique flavors of local grains, and that meeting the farmer and the miller at the workshop, hearing their stories and understanding the risks they take, helps them convince customers to try new products and to stay loyal to products that may vary according to the wheat varietal and season.
The rubric, in the format of an Excel spreadsheet, accompanies this resubmission as supplementary material (“Flour scoring sheet”).
Seven wheat varieties were made into bread loaves for comparison; time and space limitations and availability of seed reduced the number of varieties tested. We opted to forego crackers and only make breads for comparison for technical reasons. We compared whole wheat berries freshly milled into flour on site, with flour milled three weeks earlier. Additionally, we compared flours of 100% extraction with 85% extraction. The assumption going into the workshop was that bread flour should be 12 – 14% protein to make good bread with sufficiently developed gluten to provide loft for the heavier whole grain flours. Everyone was surprised that of the 7 flours tested, the one that was favored for flavor, and for loaf loft and crumb texture also had the lowest protein percentage – about 9.5%. At the most practical level, we found that common descriptors that compare flavors are helpful, but are limited and subjective. These will require refinement and standardization.
These results can added to those of a previous workshop set up by Dr. Mallory, again under the Bread Wheat project. A test bake was done with bakers Jim Amaral, Alison Pray, Jeffrey Hammelman (head of baking at King Arthur Flour) and Randy George. The results were as follows: Winter wheat varieties: Redeemer and Warthog were “excellent”, Harvard, Millennium, Nu-East and Overland were “Good” and Maxine, Appalachian White and Expedition “Had Potential”. Borden and Roughrider were “Unacceptable”. Spring wheat: All were “Acceptable”. Full details are in a supplementary submission (Full results in supplementary materials: “Bake Test Results”).
The Second Workshop was held on March 24-25, 2014 at the Maine Grain & Bread Lab at The Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan.
A Village Bakery
Presenters and topics were:
Dr. James McConnon, “Knowing your Market”
Jim is Extension Specialist and Professor of Economics at the University of Maine. He has conducted educational programs across New England Region helping entrepreneurs improve their business management practices. His research has focused on topics such as home-based and micro-enterprises, agri-tourism, and small business development. He currently owns and operates Wildwood Farm, a fifty-acre certified American tree farm. He covered questions such as: Who are your customers? How do you reach them? What prices will they pay? Who are your competitors? Practical methods and key elements for conducting market research were presented.
Dara Reimers: “Choosing and Managing Your Bakery’s Product Line.”
Dara is the former owner and head baker of The Bread Shack in Auburn and a second location on Lisbon St. in Lewiston, Maine called Café Bread Shack. She has been a frequent presenter at the Kneading Conference, and is a member of the Bread Bakers Guild of America. She did a hands-on presentation of baking techniques suitable for the Village Bakery, discussing formulation, efficient production methods, winning recipes and shared her first-hand experience in running a bakery. The baking portion had blocks of time during both days of the workshop. We used professional equipment, including our new Tayso steam-injected deck oven, typical of those found in village bakeries and a large Hobart mixer.
Patti Dowse: “Responsible Financial Managing for the Beginning and Expanding Business.”
Patti is the recently retired long-time owner and CEO of Erda Leather, Inc., an artisan business in Cambridge, ME, and is an experienced consultant for small enterprises. You don’t get to continue doing what you love (baking) if you don’t mind your bottom line! Are you really making a profit and is it enough? She covered: Cash Flow; Costing; Record keeping, with a discussion of available software; Generating and understanding financial statements; Employees- “Independent contractors”, legal requirements, costs, payroll services, workman’s comp.; Managing Growth (which consumes cash); Insurance.
Chris Caprara: “Equipping the new or growing bakery.”
Chris is the owner of Caprara’s Food Service Equipment in Winthrop, ME and a long-time friend and supporter of the Kneading Conference and MGA. His workshop consisted of an in-depth discussion of equipping a bakery, whether the individual was just starting out or was thinking of upgrading, expanding or moving. He covered which equipment is essential, ranging from oven choices to mixers, tables, dough handling machinery, racks trays, and small-ware. What are the comparative advantages of used vs. buying new? How important are warrantees and service contracts? How do you deal with three phase vs. single phase power supplies? What are some of the safety concerns when you have a business with employees? What sort of tools do you need to move large equipment around in your bakery?
Curriculum development and workshop facilitation:
Event organizer: Dusty Dowse (see above) with assistance from MGA program Director Rachel Crater. MGA Board Member Lisa Stern provided in-kind assistance with food service.
Sarah Cox, owner of Raising Grain in New Hampshire
Benjamin Jaworski, owner of School House Bakery in New Hampshire
Alanna Doughty, Manager of Pietree Orchard in Maine
Joe Silberlicht, Owner and Baker at the Kneady Baker in Maine
Justin Folkers of Forge Baking in New York
Janet Picarelli, Owner of Polish Princess Bakery in New Hampshire
John Gaidos of NH
Heidi Klingerhofer, Owner of Five Islands Farm in Maine
Derek DeGeer, Proprietor of Hootenanny Bakery in Maine
Anne McCormack, Owner of Village Bakehouse in Maine
Sonke Dornblut of Maine
Andrew Flamm, proprietor of Maine Street Meats in Maine
The Third workshop was held over five days, starting on Wednesday, 17 September and ending on Sunday, 21 September, 2014 at the Common Ground Fairgrounds in Unity Maine.
The Mobile Wood-Fired Production Bakery
Dr. Harold “Dusty” Dowse. Dusty is a long-time baker and is Vice Chair of the Board of the Maine Grain Alliance. He has a bakery with a wood-fired oven himself. He serves as Director of Education, and is Director of the Maine Artisan Bread Fair. He has presented at every Kneading Conference since its inception. Part of his contribution has been to initiate and organize the Production Baking in a Wood Fired Oven workshop at the Conference, a limited-enrollment two-day experience that is very popular. Last year, he organized a team of bakers to bake all the bread for the nearly 1000 volunteers who assist the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) to run the Common Ground Fair. The success of this project, which was enthusiastically requested by MOFGA to be repeated this year, led to the development of this experience. Lessons learned last year were applied to this year’s production and more was learned in the process. Barring the unforeseen, this project will be ongoing into the indefinite future.
Jabari Jones. Jabari is a professional baker, trained on the West Coast in wood-fired oven techniques as well as all baking technology. He provided hands-on instruction and training in baking techniques including timing of batches, mixing in large commercial units, estimating proofing times, modulating oven temperatures and forming loaves.
Jabari Jones, Professional wood-fired baker and co-organizer. Jabari is in the process of opening his own bakery since his move to Maine from the West Coast.
Zachary Winship, Owner, co-baker at Pebblestone Farm, Newburgh, ME
Jody Forrest, Owner, co-baker at Pebblestone Farm, Newburgh, ME
Natasha Colbry, Farmer and Baker at Spruce Mill Farm, Dover-Foxcroft, ME
(It is of interest to note that since this event, Ms. Colbry has had her commercial kitchen certified and is now selling bread a several venues)
Carol Lund, potential bakery owner, ME
Fr. Paul Dumais, Prince of Peace Diocese, Lewiston Auburn, ME. Fr. Paul has been associated with MGA for some time and is interested in starting his own non-profit. He intends to implement the MGA model, acquiring and oven like ours and doing fundraising and special events.
Alexandra Heller, professional baker.
Participants learned how to work in a field kitchen under canopies with portable equipment, how to manage successful baking without sophisticated temperature-controlled proofing boxes, how to deal with inclement weather and freezing nighttime temperatures. The overall requirement was to produce excellent bread in large quantities under less than ideal conditions. Part of the experience was to speak with fairgoers, starting on Friday, explaining what we were doing and what both MOFGA and MGA have as missions. MOFGA is pleased to have us there baking their bread on site, showing the value of locally-produced food and there is no better way to show the true meaning of what MGA’s mission is.
The team of bakers started on Wednesday with oven firing, mixing preferments and also produced a substantial number of fresh pita loaves for the early MOFGA staff and volunteers. Firing continued through the night, overseen by Dusty and baking began in the morning. We had two LePanyol mobile wood-fired ovens at our disposal, one owned by MGA, the other loaned by the Manufacturer, Maine Wood Heat. We baked through the day, producing about 12 full ovenloads of breads rich in whole grains. One was a 30% whole-rye loaf, the other was 30% whole wheat. All flour was certified organic, as is mandated by MOFGA. Flour was donated by King Arthur Co., yeast came from LeSaffre as a donation. Baking continued at the Maine Wood Heat and MGA booths through the day Friday and at a lesser rate on Saturday and Sunday. As we were faced with the prospect of sharing the Hobart mixer in the field kitchen, our bakers offered to mix doughs of many kinds for the kitchen staff. This was readily agreed to and made scheduling mixing much simpler for us. We mixed dough ranging from empenadas to pizza for them and our expertise was highly useful.
The three workshops concentrated on the consumer-side. It is crucial to develop markets for Maine grains before farmers can be convinced that is it is in their interests to begin producing these products. Bakers are certainly the largest group of consumers of rye and wheat, with barley a definite possibility for malters, brewers and distillers down the line. Bakers need to know how to develop customer interest in breads made from locally grown grains in addition to knowing the nuts and bolts of integrating these older varieties into their job streams. This is not a trivial matter at any level. Knowing that there is a solid resource of information and expertise at their disposal is a first principle. Taken in sum, the three workshops addressed all these issues.
Importantly, running these workshops has enabled us to develop a plan to continue them on a self-supporting basis as long as there is demand. We have written a formal business plan (see supplementary materials: “ Biz Plan” and “Sample workshop financials”). This plan addresses issues of implementation and staffing. We are in the process of scheduling four for CY 2015 and have titles and curriculum in place (see supplementary materials submitted: “Workshops 2015” and “Workshop Sample Financials”). Presenters are currently being recruited before dates can be set.
The problems that seem to crop up among farmers most often, both in our experience and in that of the Bread Wheat project are:
Lack of scale appropriate equipment
Lack of infrastructure to clean, dry, store and process grain
Access to quality seed of desired varieties (MGA has received funding for a seed-saver project)
Bakers had these concerns:
Educating consumers on the benefits of local grains and justifying the added cost
Learning how to bake with the new varieties in a cost-effective manner
Consistency of availability
The clear next step is to make certain that the farming community, especially small farmers, become aware of the burgeoning interest in local whole grains in Maine. Clearly, the bakers have gotten the message and are working towards developing their product lines to accommodate this. A long-standing problem, starting with the earliest artisan bakers in the state, has been finding sufficient local flour. Both growing and milling capacity has increased, but supplies have lagged behind both demand and capacity. The MGA partnership with MOFGA, most notably at the Common Ground Fair, with its three-day gate exceeding 50,000, has put this out most favorably in front of the future grain farmers of the state. Joint agricultural workshops are a distinct possibility and will be pursued.