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November 15, 2020

This week, we begin a storytelling series on corn and uplift the efforts of enterprising, quick-pivoting bakers dedicated to being active participants in their local community and agricultural economy. 

It’s difficult for me to believe it’s already mid-November. As we enter this possibly most challenging point in the pandemic—of holiday plans and annual traditions being upended—we hope you are comforted in the knowledge that today isn’t forever, able to find ways to make the best of things, and can begin new traditions for a most unusual year. Maybe you’ll join us on November 30 (find invite below) and will start to prepare an annual loaf of Anadama bread?

—Alyssa Hartman, AGC Executive Director

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.


Corn Stories

Floriani Red Flint Corn. Photo courtesy of Breslin Farms

November is Native American history month, and as corn is currently coming in from the fields, we thought it was a good time for a focus on this grain, the only one native to the Americas. Last week, the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, as part of their Virtual Indigenous Agro–Biodiversity Fair, invited Indigenous people to share their corn stories on Instagram. (The fair continues for another month and will be focusing on a different important seed and crop each week.) We will be uplifting these and other Indigenous voices, while also exploring how farmers in the AGC network are stewarding the corn they produce.

But what does corn mean within the context of AGC?

We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of crop diversity and the need to move beyond corn-heavy crop rotations. But, as is true of so many topics in this world we live in, it’s complicated. Our focus on small grains doesn’t stem from corn being “bad”. In fact, corn provides an essential factor of profitability for possibly every farm in the AGC network, in addition to being a delicious and nutritious food source. The trouble is that across the U.S. last year, farmers planted 91.7 million acres of the stuff, significantly more than any other row crop—that’s too much. A third of those acres were used to make ethanol, and a third for animal feed. The remaining thirty million acres is used for food products of various sorts, and only a tiny fraction includes corn that's similar to what Indigenous communities have grown on these soils for millennia. 

More than any other grain, corn needs people to survive; these plants require human intervention to pollinate and reproduce. The community handling of corn is an intimate history, but the commercial handling of this plant has turned corn into a four-letter word. Corn-fed beef doesn’t strike a universal chord of appreciation, and high fructose corn syrup is considered a dietary enemy. There’s a lot to discuss and unpack related to corn. This month over social media, we are formally commencing our ongoing conversation on the topic, turning to Indigenous peoples, AGC farmers, and many other voices to tell the story of this remarkable staple crop. We hope you’ll join us.

November Bread Meet-Up

Photo courtesy Paula Marcoux and Plymouth CRAFT

All are welcome to participate in the next iteration of AGC’s Bread Meet-Up Series on November 30th at 6:30 pm CT. Sign up here. (We promise we’ve got the zoom link sorted out this time!)

This month we'll be venturing back in history to the 1800’s and baking Brown Bread and Anadama Bread, New England classics made with cornmeal, rye and molasses. The ingredients demonstrate the prevalence of non-wheat grains in the United States at that time, and the baking styles show how common breads reflect the available equipment of any era. 

We’ll also be brainstorming about local whole grain holiday cookies, so please bring your recipes & ideas!

For a fun glimpse at the history of Brown Bread, please take a look at culinary historian Paula Marcoux's presentation on how this loaf was made in wood-fired ovens in the 17th century.

The Digital Edition of the November Food & Wine magazine is out, and we’d love for you to read and share. There are some nice quotes about Neighbor Loaves from Julie Matthei (Hewn, Evanston, IL) and Jenny Haglund (Bird Dog Baking, Ypsilanti, MI). The accompanying “bread village” sketch by Lucy Engelman shown here is very fun and—according to her instagram—was her favorite of the set she produced for the story.

Image: Lucy Engelman

AGC member Bang Brewing’s newly-formed Organic Brewers Alliance is making progress, thanks in part to their partnership with the University of Minnesota. So far, the Alliance has cataloged over 60 organic breweries and hop farms, 100 grain farms, and 14 maltsters which will be represented in a mapped organic supply chain database. AGC’s Brewing & Distilling Working Group will get an update from Bang co-owner Sandy Boss Febbo at its December meeting. We’re excited to see this effort developing!

Photo: Audrey Rauth

Mark your calendar for the Virtual Perennial Farm Gathering, Dec. 6-9, co-hosted by the Savanna Institute, which will feature show-and-tell talks, networking, and presentations ranging from specific agroforestry crops to environmental and social justice. 

See you for our next edition in three weeks!
Copyright © 2020 Artisan Grain Collaborative, All rights reserved.

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