Come eat 🥖 & 🍕 with me tomorrow... FOR SCIENCE!
How I think of the "bread" component of Bread & Justice
Good morning bread friends!
In this Bread & Justice newsletter, I frequently write about issues related to social justice in our society. When I point your attention towards an injustice, I try to share some hope for how you could be a part of the solution and/or information about an organization committed to addressing that issue.
Today will be a different type of letter. I will share more about how I think about bringing you high-quality bread and how our food choices can contribute to a more just world. As well as an invitation to come eat pizza and bread with me tomorrow. More on that later.😎
When I first started learning about sourdough bread making a few years ago, I was primarily inspired by the ability to make bread in a slow & methodical way. As more people in my life have expressed concerns about gluten sensitivities, I've become increasingly curious about what is changing over time about our bodies or the bread we eat. Interestingly, science has increasingly shown us that this old method of preparing naturally fermented bread was indeed a healthier way to create bread. Research has shown that bread made slowly will unlock the bioavailability of many nutrients in wheat flour in a way that doesn't occur when big businesses create bread rapidly with commercial yeast.
Then as I began to grow in my understanding of how flour works, I grew curious to understand how it is made. Historically I've thought of flour as a commodity ingredient with little significance other than a tool for making certain foods. I suspect I'm not alone in that perspective. But once I started admiring the beauty of a simple bread made with only flour, water & salt... I felt that I should develop more respect for my primary ingredient. The first step was figuring out where flour comes from.
I started by purchasing "fancy" local flour from Meadowlark, which made my bread more flavorful and rich, but that was just the beginning of my journey of understanding flour. As I began to learn about Meadowlark's business, I was struck by how much they talked about their mission:
WE ARE FARMERS COMMITTED TO CULTIVATING A REGENERATIVE ECOSYSTEM BY GROWING REAL FOOD, IMPROVING THE HEALTH AND RESILIENCE OF OUR SOILS, PROTECTING THE SAFETY OF OUR WATER, AND INVESTING IN THE VITALITY OF OUR RURAL COMMUNITY.
The only challenge was that I didn't really know what "cultivating a regenerative ecosystem" meant or why it mattered. This is where the Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC) comes into the picture for me. I noticed that Meadowlark was part of a network of farmers, millers, and bakers working with a similar mission.
In order to understand their mission, I had to understand how it was different from the norm. The norm is to treat flour like a generic commodity. This has resulted in developing a commercial process that extracts as many nutrients from the soil as possible to grow grain... and then scrapes off the bran, peels out the germ, bleaches the flour, and sells all those things back to you separately.
This extractive process has been normalized in modern America to maximize corporate profits. Adopting a more human-centric and earth-centric approach to growing food requires considerable counter-cultural work.
Fortunately, UW-Madison and the Artisan Grain Collaborative (of which Bread & Justice is a member!) have been engaged in that work for several years now. They are working to bring to market new varieties of wheat that are economically viable and resilient on Midwest organic farms while being excellent quality for sourdough bread bakers.
This participatory breeding project started a few years ago, but yesterday was the first day I got to jump into the research process. Yesterday I was part of a crew of Wisconsin bakers evaluating some test grains all day. I can't express how fun it was to spend a day with my hands in dough alongside fellow Madison bakers from ORIGIN Breads, Bloom Bake Shop, and Madison Sourdough… not to mention Stephen’s Bread (cottage baker in Milwaukee), and Simple Cafe (Cafe & bakery in Lake geneva) who made the trip to be a part of the research. We had the opportunity to provide detailed feedback on five different types of wheat that the UW has been growing for this research. Our feedback included things like how the flour absorbed water, how robust was a starter made with this flour, how strong the gluten felt after mixing, and how the dough handled during shaping.
All five of the grains that we tested were winter wheat. This type of small grain is planted in the fall, overwintered, and harvested in the summer. Winter grains are essential for many reasons, including the environmental benefit they provide. These crops keep roots in the ground year-round, increasing the soil's biological activity, reducing runoff and soil erosion, and retaining more nutrients than is possible on bare ground. They also allow farmers more flexibility in planting times amid a changing climate. Because the spring weather has been increasingly unstable, extremely muddy spring fields can make it hard for a farmer to be sure they can plant on time for a successful crop. We're excited to be part of facilitating the use of more high-value winter grains on farms in the Upper Midwest!
You can read more about the project and details from the last in-person even before the one I was part of this week here on the AGC website.
Even more excitingly... you can be a part of the final step of this phase of the research by coming out to taste-test the bread that we made as part of this research. Tomorrow night (Wednesday March, 1st) the AGC & UW are hosting a free public bread-tasting event based on the few hundred loaves that we made. This is a way for you to provide feedback to the research team regarding which of the five winter wheat flours was most enjoyable to eat as sourdough bread.
Best of all... this bread tasting is being hosted in conjunction with the regular Wednesday night Pizza Night that Giant Jones & Origin Bread puts on. I've only eaten this pizza once, but it immediately shot to the top of my list of the best pizza in Madison. I'm VERY excited to go back and have it again tomorrow.
So... if you're free tomorrow night, I'll be at Giant Jones from 5-7pm tasting bread & eating pizza. I'd love it if you'd join me for both! ♥️
neighborhood baker :)
P.S. Bread & Justice’s bake for February sold out very quickly. Thank you all for your enthusiastic support. I'm delighted to share that by donating 100% of the profits from this month’s bake, Bread & Justice is able to donate $151 to YWCA of Madison. It is exciting to contribute to the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Thank you all for being a part of this work!