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From seed to loaf…How do we get there from here?

Bakers from all over the country joined together with millers, grain growers, and experts in soil and sustainable farming practices last month for the 2010 Kneading Conference held in Skowhegan, Maine. We were honored to take part, arriving each day as the sun was rising to fire up our Le Panyol wood fired ovens.

Over the past four years, we’ve seen the conference stem from a small passionate group of oven builders, bakers and local innovators, to an event that has gained national recognition.

Like a fine loaf of artisan bread, this year’s presenters, attendees and volunteers, yet again, rose to the occasion. Providing their own expertise, enthusiasm and open minds to make connections and close the gaps in our local food systems from the ground up.

Despite the wealth of technical expertise and convergence of forward thinkers, there was and always has been a very strong emphasis on history throughout the conference. Maine used to feed thousands of local residents from wheat grown in Somerset County back in the 1800’s. Now less than 1% of the demand is grown here on local soil. Yet, there are still doubts that there is enough of a demand to support wheat growing as a viable enterprise, especially for the small farmers who don’t have the capital to invest in the equipment and resources required for planting and harvesting this finicky, yet fundamental crop.

The conference therefore lends itself as a support
network “ soil experts supporting farmers, farmers supporting millers, millers supporting bakers, and bakers supporting oven builders “ full circle, from seed to loaf.

With this type of movement, along with other developments like the newly renovated grist mill and local foods grocery in Skowhegan, we have a shot here in our hometown to close the gap between our bakers who yearn for wholesome Maine grains, and our farmers who need their wheat processed in order to bring to market.

After walking away from the conference, we all get a sense of renewed hope and enthusiasm. By strengthening these networks, we are revitalizing our local and agricultural economies, making greater strides toward a more sustainable future.

¦meanwhile, eating really delicious bread.