Thursday, April 14, 2011

North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project

The Mill
The following is a dedicated group of people that desire North Carolina to have local organic bread.  From the grain to the mill to the baker . . . all here in North Carolina.  I love this vision and have pledged to assist.  Read more but also go to the end of this blog to pledge what you can as well.

The People

Carolina Ground, L3C, dedicated to grains grown and ground on Carolina ground is real and tangible. From seed to loaf, we are working to rebuild sustainability in our communities.

An L3C is a sort of hybrid between an LLC and a 501 C-3, in other words, it is a mission-driven for-profit business; it's also know as a "low-profit" company. Carolina Ground, L3C will be structured as a bakers' owned co-op mill, but incorporated as an L3C. Because what we hope to accomplish with this mill is to enable the farmer to get the best possible price for his/her grain at an affordable cost to the baker-- to exist outside the commodities market-- it is our stakeholders -- the farmer and the baker-- that we want to see thrive, not necessarily the mill; although we need the mill to do well, exist in the black, provide jobs, ect... The L3C felt like the perfect fit for us and I think it is going to conjure a lot of dialogue (hopefully) about the way we do business-- a triple bottom line approach (with economic, social, and ecological value) whose ecological and social value are the direct benefits of keeping it local.

The Story

With only three days to go I think more of the story is in order. More details as to how these funds are to be spent would probably help. So, let us begin with the MILL. Where did it come from? And how did we end up with it? (because the brunt of the money we are raising is going toward paying for this mill!!)

Our mill was built by a small family-owned business in Austria, a company known as Osttiroler Getreidem├╝hlen. From their website, It was exactly 70 years ago, when family Green - now a line of mill builders - started to produce Good Mills - Green's flour mills with craftsmanship passed on by every generation.

Although our mill was built in Austria, it came to us via Australia through a line of bakers-- well two bakers in particular-- a mentor and mentee. I learned the craft of wood-fired brick oven baking and flemish naturally leavened breads from Alan Scott, oven builder and designer and baker of desem brot (the term used to describe this flemish naturally leavened bread). This was back in the early '90s. Back then, rediscovering the old methods of baking-- methods that predate commercial baking yeast-- was the carrot I was after. I was drawn to these methods because of the resulting flavor, texture, and nutrients that, in my opinion, trumps any straight dough method of baking. There was the oven too, whose radiating heat produced a carmelized crust, difficult to achieve with most any other oven. And there was the mill, because fresh flour was essential. I learned from Alan, and then I began my own bakery, Natural Bridge Bakery, using natural leavenings, a wood-fired oven, and a small stone burr gristmill.

Alan continued to inspire bakers but as the popularity of wood-fired oven baking took off, he shifted his time and attention to his ovens, as he was asked to build ovens for bakeries and home baker enthusiasts all over this country and beyond our borders. Eventually this work began to wear him out-- well, not his spirit, Alan was alway spritely, it was just his heart that started to wear. He began taking extended vacations back to his homeland in Tasmania, Australia, and eventually he moved permanently back to Tasmania, with the stated intention of slowing down.

But slowing down for Alan, only meant pausing long enough to find something else worthy of his attention. This something else was the final piece to complete the picture for the baker -- close the link between the farmer, miller, and baker.

My little craft bakery where I hand-kneaded my mountains of dough, hauled my wood from the culls bin of the local furniture factory, and tended to my cultures, still heavily relied on fossil fuels to deliver my grain grown a thousand miles away. So many of us bakers buy our grain or flour from distant warehouses...

As Alan had already built ovens for a handful of bakeries in Tasmania, the next step-- his plan-- was to bring in a mill, and connect the farmers with the bakers. He told me about this in one of our many email exchanges: I am getting involved and have an advisor on all this, a retired industry top man on milling so I went ahead and ordered a giant mill from Austria like Dave's with 48" stones and a capacity of a couple of tons a day, It is hand made by an old couple and just beautiful. It was originally going into a bakery that some of us are putting together but it is just too big. So I hope to buy a small lot of industrial zoned land a couple of hundred yards from me from the council and erect a prefab building for the milling operation.

This was his plan. That email was from April of 2008, just about the time when wheat prices started to skyrocket. I had just stepped out of baking, or was trying to, when wheat-- the baker's most essential ingredient-- went astray in quality, availability, and price, and it became blatantly obvious how disconnected us bakers were to our key ingredient. And around that same time, I received a sample of the bread wheat grown in NC from the USDA-ARS'a Uniform Bread Wheat trials, the first modern bread wheats to be bred for the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States. The resulting bake test was good. It was hopeful. As Alan continued to fill me in on his plan, literally, on the other side of the world, things here in North Carolina began to slowly take shape. Inspired by Alan, I asked for a meeting with Myron Fountain from the USDA-ARS to discuss these bread wheats. And then more meetings, this time with bakers. Eight of us bakeries pulled our chairs into a circle and began the conversation-- how different would it be if we could establish a relationship with our growers. How different would it be in quality, price, and sustainablity?

The result of our many meetings was the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project that received grant funding from the NC Tobacco Trust Commission (tobacco law suit settlement money) to lay the ground work for a viable grains economy in the Carolinas.

And then Alan passed away of congestive heart failure.

His daughter, Lila, called me and told me her dad's mill was sitting at the port in Hobart. It had traveled from Austria to Australia, although it took a circuitous route. It was suppose to go to Tasmania, but was sent to Tanzania by mistake. By the time it finally made it to Hobart, Alan was in the hospital with an ailing heart.

Lila said our project should use her dad's mill. He had inspired me to organize the bakers in NC around the idea of linking the farmer with the baker. We were doing what he had envisioned. Lila said we could pay the Scott estate when we were able to raise the money. And so this is where you come in. Thank you all for your pledges. We could not do this without you. Please continue to spread the word, as the clock seems to be speeding up with each passing hour.

from the ground up,
Jennifer Lapidus
Natural Bridge Bakery
Director - Carolina Ground

To learn more about this project and to help pledge, click here.


  1. These are GMO wheat seeds. To call your bread organic is blasphemy.

    USDA co-owns the patent to the terminator seed with Monsanto. No wonder they are so helpful.

  2. What is blasphemy to some may be a good start to others. Perhaps you can assist them in acquiring an heirloom wheat seed. I definitely appreciate your comment but also want to see a project like this succeed.

  3. Uh, sorry, I just saw this comment (many months later)-- "Fifty", you are absolutely wrong and uninformed. This is NOT GMO wheat seed. They USDA-ARS are Public Breeders, not Private Companies. Once GMO wheat is released (by the likes of Monsanto) our Public Breeders will no longer have access to those genes. This is a huge argument AGAINST GMOs. Dr Marshall is doing old school breeding. He is concerned with disease pressures, insects, yield, performance. He working on regionally adapted varieties. Private company do all their breeding in the midwest where large agribusiness will benefit. They want few varieties because each variety costs them money, and for them, money is the bottom line. Our public breeders are a dying species and your outspoken ignorance only serves to strengthen the sentiment of the ultra conservative and libertarians that feel that private companies can solve our problems. Our growers are served by our land grant universities, extension service, and our federal public breeders (usda-ars). And "Asheville Foodie"-- if you are going to try and promote the good works of those of us attempting to build a sustainable food system, please educate yourself enough to manage the discourse you blog generates. -Respectfully, Jennifer Lapidus