Bird Dog Baking is Mark Bogard and Jenny Haglund—and George, the bird dog, of course. The seed for their bakery idea began growing in San Francisco, where Jenny and Mark were part of a team of 16 bakers working at Josey Baker Bread. “Bread is huge in the Bay area,” said Mark, explaining that in the four years they baked there, the baking staff doubled.
Long before the pandemic hit, they had decided to move to the Ann Arbor, MI area, near where Jenny grew up and still has family. Planning ahead while still in CA, Jenny researched farmers in the area because sourcing regionally was a primary goal. An early connection was Granor Farm, and farmer Wesley Rieth suggested that they should check out the Artisan Grain Collaborative. Other farm connections developed, including Janie’s Farm and Mill—just a four-hour roadtrip from Ypsilanti—where they planned to make their new home and business. In March. Of 2020.
Yes, they arrived in Ypsilanti a mere 24 hours before the pandemic shut everything down. They had planned to work out of a shared kitchen and sell at farmers’ markets, but the kitchen closed. Despite all that, a couple of things worked in their favor. First, they came into their new business knowing that an online presence was important—so they actually made their website before they moved east (one less task on the pandemic to-do list!). Second, Michigan has friendly cottage food laws that allowed them to sell what they baked out of their home kitchen. And, as we all know, people went a bit bread-crazy in those first weeks of the pandemic.
A neighborhood Facebook group post generated a hundred orders for their first delivery day. “We were expecting about a dozen people,” Jenny recalled. With some help from their mentor, Josey Baker, they quickly added a virtual shop to allow for pre-orders, offering cookies, granola, and two kinds of bread. Each week they made about 40 loaves, all baked in their home oven with a capacity of four loaves at a time. Josey also helped them get set up for Neighbor Loaves, sending them pans as they transitioned into baking at the shared kitchen, where the double convection oven fits nine loaves at a time. Growing Hope not only operates this commercial kitchen, they hold two COVID-conscious farmers’ markets a week in addition to other community work. Mark and Jenny are now baking bialys along with cookies and granola, plus four types of bread—around 300 loaves a week—selling through the Growing Hope farmers’ market and a local grocery store, in addition to their weekly deliveries.
As they grow, they’re striving for more flexibility in their sourcing, including being able to work with a wider range of diverse grains from small farms. “We’d like to get a mill or see another farmer even closer to us get a mill,” said Mark, noting that mills near them grind feed, not food. “We could buy a mill for 15 grand, but to be a mill as a business is a big job. We need more millers.”
Another hope is to see consumers increasingly demand a more diverse range of grains and pulses in their baked goods, such as millet and lentils. “We really want to prioritize health and the environment,” said Jenny. “The downstream effects are a much bigger picture than the bread. All the way down the line you’re building community wealth and taking care of the land around you. I think people are catching on to that knowledge.”
For more, check out this coverage from WDIV-TV Channel 4, and follow their social channels, linked below.