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January 31, 2021

And just like that, we’ve already reached the end of this first month of the year. Though time seems to be racing by, I hope you’re finding moments to cherish the beauty of this season—a time for planning, quiet evenings, and cranking up the oven. Stay warm, and read along with us as we highlight a beloved Chicago bakery, share a recipe and invitation from our friends in the Northeast, and offer an update on an exciting new Wisconsin-based project.

—Alyssa Hartman, AGC Executive Director

Last year was especially trying for ‘Laine’s Bake Shop—Chicago’s artisan bakery with a social mission. The pandemic has been difficult in many ways for most small businesses, but hardship hit even sooner for ‘Laine’s founder and owner Rachel Bernier-Green, when a collapsed kitchen ceiling forced her to close her production location in January 2020. Reflecting on the disaster, Rachel is grateful for the opportunity to step back and consider how her business operates and what she wants it to look like in the future.

After some planning and soul-searching, the bakery landed in a great food and beverage incubator space, The Hatchery Chicago, in February 2020. Their kitchen at The Hatchery is newly equipped with a mechanized cookie machine that will save employees’ arms from scooping dollops from thousands of pounds of dough, and they are saving for a roll-in oven to amp up their production capacity. The first phase of the bakery’s official re-opening plan, an e-commerce platform that’s shipping all over the country, is launching February 5th. You can sign up for updates on how to order here. Wholesale orders and gift packages to meet business-to-business needs are the other primary components of the bakery’s re-imagined business model.

Rachel is looking forward to welcoming back team members who haven’t been working in 2020 due to COVID-19. During their closure, ‘Laine’s has supported their people as best they can, offering compensation when possible, and assisting a couple of employees in finding other jobs. “Almost every team member lost a family member last year, so we didn’t want to put anyone at risk unnecessarily,” Rachel said. For the most part, the team is returning to ‘Laine’s over the next few months. This is a reflection of the strong connections that sustain this visionary bakery, which has since its inception focused on creating an empowering workspace and wealth-building opportunity for previously incarcerated Chicagoans. 

Rachel is a former accounting professional who baked and sold her first cookies alongside her grandmother as a kid. Working with a non-profit during college planted the seed of social enterprise; she liked the values-led work, and wanted to blend that into the fabric of a for-profit business one day. ‘Laine’s Bake Shop came to life as Rachel reduced work stress from her corporate accounting job by baking. Even when she was working 100 hours a week accounting, she baked. All that baking led to popups in partnership with community revitalization efforts in her south side neighborhood. As the business grew, she connected with community partners like Chicago Cred and Growing Home, offering apprenticeships as she built her brick-and-mortar business. Building her bakery by building people’s skills fit the logic and values she wanted to apply to and live out through her business.

In her demo for CRAFT at Chatham University's Grains & Revolution Conference, Rachel explained why she likes using rye flour in brownies and other baked goods. And yes, Rachel, 'fudgier' IS a word, at least according to the Scrabble dictionary!

Rachel chooses suppliers from a values-based position, too. The chocolate she buys is child-labor free, the spices come from a family business that grinds them freshly, the non-GMO sugar comes from Michigan, and dairy and eggs come from local farms. Grains and flours from AGC farms and mills fit right in with Rachel’s goals of doing business in a manner that supports the whole agricultural supply chain. And she loves working with the fresh flavors, too!

Rachel was featured in CRAFT at Chatham University’s Grains & Revolution Conference last fall, both in a panel discussion of women of color working with grains, and in a demo on how to bake her famous rye brownies. Watching these recordings, you’ll get a very real sense of Rachel’s fun spirit and serious skills...and yes, you’ll want those brownies! (Which, reminder, you can order straight to your kitchen—or couch—very soon!) Keep in touch with new projects coming from ‘Laine’s Bake Shop using the links below.


Bouquets of Valentines Flours

Thanks to our friends in flour, the Northeast Grainshed Alliance (NGA), we have a lovely Valentine crêpes recipe to share. Baking is an act of self-love, and community caring, and we hope you’ll share your love of local flour with others this heart-shaped holiday!

Grains to Institution Update + Wisconsin Chili Lunch

La Crosse County Health Department serving the Chili Lunch in 2019.

Alongside our partners at University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, we’re excited to ‘officially’ launch our USDA-funded grant this month, Grains to Institutions: Expanding Value Chains and Cultivating Resources for Upper Midwest Grain Growers. In the first of this three-year project, we will be gathering baseline data on any existing community-based efforts to connect institutions with regionally produced grain-based foods, beginning stakeholder engagement by launching Farmer and Food Service Focus Groups, and developing frameworks for future resource creation including institution-focused recipes and culinary guides, and farmer-focused food safety and processing materials.

The launch of this work happens to coincide with a longstanding event celebrating opportunities for institutions to continue purchasing local throughout the Upper Midwest winter: the Wisconsin Chili Lunch. Learn more about the Chilli Lunch and how you can participate here.

AGC Steering Committee member Sandra Holl, pastry chef and owner of Chicago's Floriole Café & Bakery, earned some well-deserved coverage from the James Beard Foundation this month. We really appreciate author Rebecca Treon's way of framing Neighbor Loaves as supporting restaurants, farmers, bakers and foodbank recipients "in one fell swoop." 

Sandra says, "I don't think food insecurity is going to go away anytime soon," and we agree. We're grateful for bakeries like Floriole who have kept their food security efforts going, and for the community members who have continued to donate Neighbor Loaves.

Image: screenshot feat. photo by Matt Haas

The annual Philadelphia Grain & Malt Symposium is being held virtually this year March 8-9, with additional “experiences” scheduled for March 5-7. Confirmed speakers include AGC members Jen Zimmerman of MN-based Maltwerks and Jeremy Beach of WI-based Cheese City Beer. Registration will be opening soon—stay tuned to the symposium's website to get your tickets!

Image: Deercreek Malthouse

On Saturday, February 6, 2021 the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) alongside partners, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the Colorado Grain Chain, will host a free virtual public forum from 11am-3pm CT to kick off this year's virtual Grain School. The speakers for this packed forum include Rowen White, Bob Quinn, Erin Love, Jordan Shockley, Richard Pratt, Nels Wroe, Liz Carlisle, Becca Joblonski,  Andre Basche and Rafael Mier.

Find details for other Grain School events coming up over the next couple of months here

Image: Rocky Mountain Farmers Union 

See you in two weeks for our next editionand as always, we invite your thoughts & suggestions!
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