Neighbor Loaves began as a flurry of calls, texts, and emails with AGC staff and members, popcorning various ideas that might support the regional grain chain as the pandemic took hold, and working through the how-to's of implementation once a firm concept coalesced. The last weekend of March 2020, the first batches of Neighbor Loaves were offered by Madison Sourdough and ORIGIN Breads in Madison, WI.
As more bakeries throughout the Midwest joined and orders rolled in during April, Neighbor Loaves became much of AGC's work for that month: finding food pantries, connecting them with bakers, furiously asking questions we hadn’t previously imagined asking. Do you have a bread slicer? Do you need someone to pick up the loaves or can you drop them off? Do you have plastic bags on hand for packaging? Do you already source regional grains? Having a practical project when the world was so raw felt grounding and productive.
On an April 15 virtual call for regional grain value chain leaders organized by Cascadia Grains, we offered up our model and digital tools. From that conversation, a number of our friends in grain across the country decided to run with the initiative, including the Northeast Grainshed Alliance (who contributed a program logo, shown at right), Common Grain Alliance in the Mid Atlantic, Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative, and CRAFT at Chatham University in Pennsylvania. This work also spun off other concepts, including the very successful Community Loaves initiative in the Pacific Northwest, which connects regional flour and home bakers with food pantries, and a malt-based iteration at Deer Creek Malthouse in Pennsylvania.
Read on to hear directly from the Midwest farmers, millers, bakers, organizers, and hunger relief organizations along our Neighbor Loaves value chain in their words what Neighbor Loaves has meant to them.
Luke Peterson, farmer, A-Frame Farm, Madison, MN
Luke likes how Neighbor Loaves highlights the entire grain chain, and connects farm country to communities.
“Projects like Neighbor Loaves and partners like Baker’s Field Flour & Bread allow me to farm the way I do. Without our local partners, I may not be able to grow some of the small grains my rotations need.”
At AGC, we've found that this is a truth shared by many organic and regenerative farmers, and a barrier to more farmers adopting organic practices and diversified rotations. Growing crops in sequence serves soil health, and yet, markets don’t always align with this diversity. Farms are pressured to grow what will sell, so it’s important for businesses to understand the limits farmers face, and work with them to support farm viability. Success depends on diverse markets.
Jill Brockman-Cummings, miller, Janie's Mill, Ashkum, IL
“We have often said that bread is more than good. It is alive and brings life. It is a comfort in uncertain times and it was a privilege to partner with AGC.”
As reported in this recent Civil Eats op-ed, the Janie’s team was extremely busy milling to make up for lapses in global supply chains throughout the pandemic, and they continue to be. Janie’s donated flour directly to area food pantries, in addition to milling for Neighbor Loaves, and was a critical partner in making this initiative possible.
The director of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the food pantry that receives Muddy Fork's bread, told Eric that the food bank they source from doesn't provide them with bread, since it is not considered a USDA commodity. What Muddy Fork delivers is enough for one out of the six distribution shifts that they run every week, so the contribution is hugely appreciated, and there is clearly room for more bakery businesses helping support these efforts.
Wes Gardner, miller, baker & manager, Baker's Field Flour & Bread, Minneapolis, MN
At its peak, Neighbor Loaves really made a difference to Baker’s Field Flour & Bread. The Minneapolis bakery mills its own flour, and entered March last year doing 80% baking & 20% milling. Those percentages flipped as pandemic closures reconfigured shopping patterns. Being able to bake 120 fully-paid loaves a week for donation buffered finances tremendously. Now, they’re making about 40 loaves a month for The Food Group, a food bank that distributes to other feeding organizations in the region. But Wes describes the benefits of being a Neighbor Loaves baker as much more than monetary.
“The fact that we’re getting grain from a few hours away and into a community that doesn’t normally have access to fresh flour, that feels really good,” he said. The stability of the bakery and increased milling business allowed Baker’s Field to increase the acreages grown by some of the MN farms that fuel their mill, including AGC members Askegaard Organic Farm, Ben Penner Farms, and A-Frame Farm.
Pictured: Ben Penner talking with Montana Rasmussen of River Rock Kitchen & Baking Co. in St. Peter, MN, while making a delivery
Eric Schedler, miller & baker, Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, Bloomington, IN
“We are still making Neighbor Loaves and I don't see an end to that, both from my desire to see this continue as a part of the bakery's work, and our ability to get donations,” said Eric Schedler. Donations are still keeping pace with their commitment to produce 75 loaves a week.
Haley Traun, Farm to School & Community Director, REAP Food Group, Madison, WI
Last spring, AGC member REAP partnered with Roots4Change and Rooted to create Farms to Families / Fondo de Granjas a Familias, an emergency program to serve Madison-area Latino and Indigenous residents with local, nourishing foods.
“The concept of Neighbor Loaves—to support local agriculture, small businesses, and vibrant, connected communities—fits beautifully into our initiative to provide community food resources in the face of this devastating pandemic.”
This program is part of what inspired AGC to create Tortillas Comunitarias, an adaptation of Neighbor Loaves through which AGC member Tortilleria Zepeda prepared tortillas made with regionally grown and locally nixtamalized organic corn. REAP has distributed over 3,000 Neighbor Loaves and tortillas through the Farms to Families program.
Chef Fresh Roberson, farmer, baker & Neighbor Loaves Chicago Coordinator, Fresher Together, Chicago, IL
Fresh not only baked her own Neighbor Loaves, but also coordinated bringing on new bakers throughout Chicago, helping to connect them with sources for local flour, working through logistical challenges, and helping promote the program. This work resulted in new bakers getting their hands into fresh flour and new connections between bakeries and food pantries.
“My love language is serving my community, and I really enjoyed the thought-out full systems approach,” Fresh said. It was such a stress reliever to knead dough, and a real joy to be baking again for neighbors; the loaves went directly into a Love Fridge that’s right outside their house, one of many free food fridges in Chicago.
Thank you to the farmers, millers, makers, community organizations, and generous individuals who have fueled this initiative. You can continue to purchase Neighbor Loaves directly from the entities listed on our website.
If you’re interested in becoming a participating baker, reach out to Amy Halloran, AGC's Education & Outreach Working Group Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.