A postcard from Machynlleth

As many of you know, Loaf began in Tom and Jane Baker’s kitchen on Dell Road in 2009. They baked bread for the neighbours and taught the first breadmaking classes before moving into our high street bakery in 2012.

In 2016 Tom and Jane took parental leave which turned into a sabbatical as they travelled Europe’s bakeries and wheat farms looking for their next adventure. This led them to Machynlleth in Wales where they set up Rye and Roses.

We’re often asked after Jane and Tom so we asked them to send us an update. Over to you, Bakers!

Hello!

It’s so lovely to be sharing our news with you.

A lot has happened since 2009 when we founded Loaf in our house in Cotteridge. In 2018, we moved to mid-Wales to start a new adventure together with our son Reuben, surrounded by stunning countryside. After going travelling for eight months, we dreamt of having our own sourdough bakery and micro-homestead. And we’ve done just that.

Our new business, Rye and Roses (Rhyg a Rhosod in Welsh) is now thriving, supported by a fantastic community of customers, friends and neighbours. Tom specialises in baking sourdough bread and pastries. Jane grows ingredients for our bread, pastries and wood-fired pizzas.

We’re also lucky enough to be growing our own heritage wheat with friends, with the help of local farmers and Meirionnydd Vintage Club — old boys and their tractors. Wheat hasn’t been grown in this area for over 50 years. There’s enthusiasm for re-discovering old farming knowledge, and equipment and welcoming diverse farming back, one wheat field at a time.

Mid-Wales also has a strong Welsh culture, so as a family we are also proud to be learning Welsh — including Reuben (aged 5) who is taught in Welsh at school.

Trains go direct from Birmingham New Street to Machynlleth, so if you’re ever visiting the area, please come and say hello. You’ll find us at the historic Machynlleth Market on Wednesdays, and at our bakery on Fridays in the nearby village of Penegoes. Plus, there are some great places to holiday here – mountains, hills and seaside.

We’d love to see you, Loaf customers old and new.

With love from Machynlleth,

Jane, Tom and Reuben Baker x

New honey!

We’ve been looking for more local honey suppliers for years and at the recent Birmingham Beekeepers show at Winterbourne we struck liquid gold with not one but two apiaries!

Arden Forest Honey is a family-run business in the ancient forest of Arden with 40 hives pollinating wild flowers and local farms. We’re starting with their standard Wildflower honey but hope to expand the range if there’s demand.

Rea Valley Apiary could not be more local. Started and based in a back garden on Cartland Road, the business manages small colonies across south Birmingham. The current batch we have on sale is from the Stirchley hives, so if you have a garden locally there’s probably pollen from your flowers in this honey.

Both of them should be able to supply us with decent quantities over the year so along with Gareth’s honey we should always have the sticky sweet stuff in stock. 🐝

Migrant Help – this quarter’s charity

Every quarter we raise money for a different charity working in Birmingham, and between now and Christmas it’s Migrant Help. You can add a donation to your online order or at the counter when you visit us, or give a more substantial donation directly with Gift Aid.

We were told about Migrant Help by a customer who has been volunteering with them and thought they might welcome a bread donation. When we got in touch we discovered a national network with big ideas for dealing with a situation that is only going to grow.

More immediately, they are supporting hundreds of newly arrived migrants placed in hotels across Birmingham by the government, providing them with food, clothing and, importantly, activities. They are on the front line of the current Afghan refugee crisis and urgently need funds and resources.

One reason for running this quarterly fundraising is to find organisations we can work with long term, and we have a really good feeling about Migrant Help. Whether it’s spreading awareness to our networks or running cooking activities, we reckon we’re well placed to help them build something. We hope you do too.

Meatballs!

Last Friday Molly brought meatball sandwiches to the Loaf lunch menu for the first time and it went down very well.

“The meatballs were ace!” said Dave. And who are we to argue!

To keep it special, Molly will be making meatballs the weeks where she’s in charge of the lunch menu, which is about once a month. Watch the skies!

Loaf sponsors Bournville FC under 12 girls!

Calling yourself a community bakery is easy. How to be a community bakery is a whole other thing and something we revisit often. It turns out there are as many definitions of community as there are people and we’re always up for trying new things where we can.

Until Justin got in touch about Bournville FC’s under 12 girl’s squad, sponsoring a local sports team had honestly never occurred to us. Usually the clubs approach the chains for some corporate social responsibility money but that didn’t sit well with him, so he emailed us on a whim.

We quickly agreed that this was definitely something we wanted to do and as of this season the girls are playing in brand new shirts with Loaf logos. Nice!

Rach and Pete went along to Rowheath playing fields on Saturday to cheer them on and get some photos, more of which are posted below. It’s totally grassroots with parents shouting encouragement from the sidelines, but these leagues feeds into the professional clubs with scouts often visiting the games.

We’re hoping we can make this an ongoing thing, with talk of special cookies for match days and match reports in the newsletter, but mostly we’re just happy to be helping these awesome girls out!

Follow the Bournville teams on Facebook.

Continue reading Loaf sponsors Bournville FC under 12 girls!

Loaf’s visit to Mill Farm

Six of Loaf went on a road trip last week. Here’s Sarah to tell you what we got up to.

Jonathan, the owner of Mill Farm near Worcester, has been farming for over 50 years, so he’s seen a lot. But in the last few years he’s had to radically rethink how he approaches farming. The industry has been ravaged by politics and overwhelmed by the constant demand to supply more at lower margins. The land can’t bear it and something needs to change.

His neighbour Emma, inspired by the work of the South West Grain Network, convinced him to start growing heritage wheat varieties and a second yield was harvested this year. Emma contacted Loaf last summer asking if we’d like to buy some of it, and even if we didn’t, would we like to come and have a look around the farm?

She finished her email with the following:

“Our main aim is to re-imagine the food system where small-scale regenerative farming systems are producing nutrient-rich, tasty food in healthy soils, re-building short supply chains, and a new grain economy that is full of personality and traceability. If this aim resonates with you, then I look forward to hearing from you even if the purpose is simply to stimulate a Midlands bread and grain network.”

A couple of weeks ago we visited Mill Farm to meet Jonathan and Emma to find out more. We took some of our bread and shared a picnic under the shade of a massive oak. Sitting in one of the recently harvested fields, Jonathan told us about his plans.

One way to keep a farm alive is to get clever, creating a sustainable environment for better crops to grow without exhausting the land — from crop rotation to conserve the land, to wild flower areas to encourage pollinators, to making big decisions about what to grow and what to not grow.

Jonathan has won awards for his conservation efforts, and it really shows. We piled on the back of his truck for a tour around his fields, seeing how he has mindfully chosen to invest in the land, protecting the environment and conserving it for the future.

Growing heritage and ancient grains is a learning curve and comes at a cost, however. Can you imagine investing so much in such a large area of land with all that is going on in the world? Farming is highly exposed to such uncertainty. So much is out of the farmer’s control.

Jonathan could grow a standard commodity grain, but he and Emma want to do better. Fundamentally, they want healthy land, they want to grow grain that is tasty, they want to keep it interesting and they want to make a living from it.

I think that’s what resonates so much for me, because I see the same fundamentals in our coop at Loaf. We don’t cut corners and we aren’t chasing easy profits. We want balance. A great product that honours the grain and the land it grew on.

We were all so inspired to listen to how their new farming strategy is unfolding. It was a delight to learn from them, and we are particularly excited to take home some of the grains that they are growing.

As you’ll know, we are new to the heritage grain scene too. For us bakers this opens up a whole new world of flavour, texture and nutrition.

We really connected with Mill Farm on so many levels and look forward to bringing their grain to our loaves and onto your plates. We truly hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Paying a Real Living Wage

Over the summer we found the welcome pack from the Living Wage Foundation which had arrived at the start of the pandemic and had somehow been forgotten. Among other things it contained a sticker which you might have noticed in the shop window.

A few years ago we decided to peg our wages to the Real Living Wage, making it a fixed item on the balance sheet. If Loaf’s profits increase then we can of course pay more, but we won’t go below it.

So, what’s that all about and why did we join?

The Living Wage Foundation was set up in by Citizens UK and is independent of the government, though it has cross-party support. The rate is calculated each year based on the cost of living — the current rate is £9.50 per hour — and paying it is purely voluntary.

The reason it’s called the Real Living Wage is to distinguish it from the mandatory government National Living Wage, a 2016 re-brand of the “minimum wage”. This is based on a different calculation and is currently lower, at £8.91 per hour. While the naming might seem cynical, the gap between them has been reducing and the intention is that they eventually reach parity.

A key factor of the Real Living Wage is in the name. It reflects the cost of living in a society as opposed to simply surviving — a subtle but important distinction — affording a basic but decent standard of living without the need for government subsidies.

We decided to become an accredited living wage employer because supporting this cause is important to us. As a worker-owned business we set our own pay, but many of our peers in the food sector do not have this right.

Campaigning for a real living wage doesn’t just help workers live a decent life — it also normalises the conversation about wages and workers’ rights. Many of you are concerned about the provenance of your food, and rightly so.

What we ask is that you also concern yourselves with the people preparing, serving or delivering you that food. Are they being paid enough to live on? Is their employment stable with regular hours? Can they be fired with zero notice? Are they able save for a rainy day?

We’re not interested in shaming small businesses and we don’t ask you to interrogate your server about their wage packet. We just ask that Birmingham’s food and drink renaissance brings the workers along with it.

Rachel’s Sarehole Mill adventure

As a bakery, Loaf is very lucky to be able to make connections with mills and farms across the country. As you’ve seen in previous newsletters, we are passionate about developing our knowledge of heritage grain and forming bonds with farmers and millers. But you don’t need to travel far to find a mill with some real heritage: Sarehole Mill.

As a person who didn’t grow up in South Birmingham, I was pretty ignorant of the lore around Sarehole Mill — from Matthew Boulton’s metal flattening to it later inspiring Tolkien’s world-building. And despite moving here many years ago I only got around to investigating the nice green areas I would keep hearing about very recently. 

It came about as my wife had recently set herself a goal on the My Virtual Mission app, walking the distance between Paris and Berlin before the end of 2021. Signing up for the Run of The Mill 5k seemed perfect, with the bonus of blowing out some cobwebs from a year spent mostly indoors.

The 5k itself costs £10 to enter. Sarehole Mill is encouraging sponsorship, but it’s not mandatory. You have to start or finish at the Mill, but otherwise you can plan your own route, running, walking or jogging — you just digitally record your distance to show when you collect your medal. 

This obviously opened a whole host of options and gave us lots of room to plan a walk that would explore some new areas. We decided to use the Birmingham Tolkien Trail as our template, taking in the Cole valley and Moseley Bog.

We are also avid Geocachers which, if you are unaware, is a digital treasure hunt that is great for families and walkers. There are boxes hidden in plain site of various sizes and difficulty ratings. When found, these containers hold logbooks which you sign with your name and hide again for someone else to find. 

We have played for many years and there are a few around Sarehole Mill and south Birmingham, which was a great addition to the walk. There are quite a few in Stirchley as well, and they are usually grouped into walks so you can plan to pick up a few en route. 

Afterwards we took a tour of Sarehole Mill itself, and although the water mill is closed for repairs, you can still walk around the mill pond and visit the cafe. The bake house was full of activity as they also sell pizza and there was bread to buy in the shop, which was so great we went back for seconds. 

Run of the Mill continues until the 19th September and, as we seem to still be having some warm weather, I really recommend taking the chance to visit. The Loaf team plans on visiting the mill as soon as we are able and look forward to developing a great relationship in the future.

Loaf’s heritage grain adventure continues

Over the last fortnight you might have seen some ‘heritage grain’ sourdough and baguettes on the shelves at Loaf. This is part of a long-term project we’ve been working on to become part of the local grain economy, and we’d like to explain what that all means.

Heritage grain is a broad term. It can be understood as grain from wheat that is not popularly farmed in the modern era, the baking industry having consolidated around a small number of grain varieties.

For the baker, heritage grains can be fun to work with, behaving differently as dough and producing flavours not usually found in standard breads. Sometimes the difference is subtle, sometimes it’s dramatic. It’s wheat, but not as you’ve come to know it.

While there’s nothing to stop heritage wheat being produced on an industrial scale, it tends to be grown by smaller farmers in lower yields. The local grain economy (explored in-depth in the six-part Cereal podcast from Farmarama) is a movement to connect these farms with bakers to create a sustainable market for these grains. At Loaf we feel we’re perfectly positioned to be part of this, being an urban bakery with many growers in the surrounding countryside. 

During his furlough in January, and inspired by Cereal, Phil began making contact with local farmers and this month milled a couple of varieties for the shop. 

Last Thursday and this Wednesday we had a sourdough milled from Mulika wheat grain from Greenacres farm in Shropshire, one of the pioneers of heritage grain in the UK. It has quite a deep malty flavour with a slightly sour tang and we’re keen for it to become a regular on our shelves as feedback has been great. 

This week we also had some baguettes made with flour from Wildfarmed, a really interesting venture which was featured in a previous newsletter. Initial results were good but we want to spend more time with it. If you picked one up on Wednesday, please let us know what you thought.

Off to Somerset!

Phil’s enthusiasm infected the whole baking crew and when the opportunity arose to block-book the Advanced Sourdough Using Regional Grains workshop at Field Bakery, we jumped at the chance. 

Field is a bakery set up by Rosy Benson on Gothelney Farm in the Quantock region of Somerset, a family farm transitioning to an agroecological model. While baking for the local community they’re also keen to build a network of environmentally aware bakers working with sustainable grains. 

The course covered a multitude. Naturally we got to work with the wheat varieties, learning how to get the best of out them in the bakery. For example, they don’t perform like modern wheats, tending to be more delicate. Every variety is different so you need to be both attentive and reactive to the process, taking a bit more care as you guide it through fermentation.

There was also a detailed tour of the fields, which offered the bakers a rare chance to see where their raw material comes from. And there were pigs!

This is all contextualised by Gothelney and Field’s involvement with the South West Grain Network of farms, mills and bakeries from Bristol to Land’s End, working towards the goal of an alternative grain economy. 

We left tired but inspired and keen to help build something similar here in the Midlands.

More than a flavour

While these heritage grains taste great, it’s important to remember this is about much more.

A local grain economy supports farmers and bakers who cannot compete with large agribusiness and reduces transportation distances.

A wider variety of grain is more sustainable in a changing climate and creates a stronger biodiversity.

Finally, by growing this sector we can make these grains affordable to more people.

As a co-operative and a community bakery, we strongly feel that heritage grain is something we should be involved in. We will be spending the next year or so exploring this world, seeing how we can fold it into our values and principles. This need not be an exclusive, expensive luxury — many of these grains were historically the staple diet of ordinary people. We want to see if they can be again.

Meanwhile, on Dale’s allotment

Some of you will know Dale Hipkiss: member of Artefact, half of artist duo Hipkiss & Graney and ecological campaigner. Dale has long been a friend of Loaf, and for the last five years has been experimenting with heritage grains.

He started with a selection requested from the John Innes Centre, a gene bank in Norwich that stores “germplasm core collections which represent the global natural variation of highly important cultivated species and their wild relatives.”

Dale planted these on his allotment in Stirchley in 2016, replanting and bulking them out to see which grow best in this climate. He expanded to a corner of a field in Henley (pictured above) and this year is taking on another half an acre.

His long-term plan is to acquire some land so he can autonomously develop a farming system better suited to adapting to climate change. And, of course, he wants to turn his grain into food.

It’s safe to say, you’ll one day be be able to buy a Hipkiss loaf from us, made from flour that started its journey in an allotment in Stirchley. It doesn’t get more local than that!

Music to make croissants by

You may have seen the croissants being made through the window as you queue for your bread. Often this is Molly, as she’s the best at croissants. 

It is said* that viennoiserie is a state of mind as much as a technique, so if you’re struggling with your pastries maybe you need some music to help you focus. Molly has graciously shared her croissant-making playlist and the good news is it’s suitable for other non-pastry related tasks too! 

Here’s the playlist on Spotify (Best played on shuffle for maximum serendipitous juxtapositions.)

*It may not actually be said…

Introducing ASIRT

For the third quarter of this year we’re raising money for ASIRT, a small Birmingham-based charity that helps people in dire need of help due to their immigration status.

We asked Fiona at ASIRT to write about the work they do and how the money you raise will be used.

ASIRT (the Asylum and Immigration Resource Team) work to alleviate destitution caused by immigration issues. Many of our clients have no access to public funds, some are homeless, and where people have support it is minimal. For all of them, the underlying cause of this vulnerability is issues around their immigration status. Our clients often live in poor housing conditions, are without resources, have associated health conditions and are extremely vulnerable.

ASIRT’s specialist immigration advisers work on the core issue of regularising status, while ensuring that clients are accessing the support they are entitled to. Making sure people have a roof over their head and food on the table are primary concerns, particularly for our families. We advocate with schools, landlords, children’s services and other providers, and apply for funding for our clients’ basic needs.

The children we work with are some of the most deprived in the region. Many come from families who have no recourse to public funds and are supported by the local authority. This support gives a minimal payment to parents, and pays for temporary accommodation. Many of these children are entitled to British citizenship but their families are not able to pay the fees, which currently stand at £1,012. Often this means several children sharing a room with their parent(s), and not having access to cooking or washing facilities.

CW is originally from Nigeria — she has three children, two of whom are entitled to British Citizenship. She fled her abusive partner after he attacked one of her twins, but because she has no current immigration status, she cannot work, claim benefits or access hospital care. She and her three children are living in one room of a bed and breakfast. She is only able to use the kitchen at an allocated time, and the washing machine once a week. Unfortunately, the little boy still wets the bed at night, so this is very difficult to manage. The twins cannot access school lunches, and have very little money to spend on school uniforms, let alone luxuries. They have missed most of their schooling during the pandemic due to the fact that they have no internet access.

This family is, sadly, typical of our client group. Many of our children live with mothers fleeing domestic violence and with no recourse to public funds, leaving them destitute or at risk of returning to abusive relationships.

For single people there is not even this safety net, and many of them are sofa-surfing, sleeping on the streets, or in exploitative working situations.

We are currently focused on raising money for our hardship fund, which gives one-off grants to people for essential needs or to bridge a gap in support.

  • £45 pays for accommodation for a night before alternative support kicks in.
  • £30 covers food and other necessities such as nappies for a family of four over the weekend.
  • £30 for the train fare to London to get a new passport.
  • £40 – £70 to replace a passport.
  • £20 pays for a copy of a birth certificate.

Every penny that is donated to this fund will go straight to our clients to help them either meet their basic needs, or gain the necessary documentation to regularise their immigration status.

You can make a donation with your online pre-order or at the counter at our shop.

A Day in the Loaf

There is one week left to apply to join us here at Loaf! For those curious about what the job might entail, Nancy tells us what happened on her Thursday shift working in the shop.

I start my shift at 9am and, first things first, have a coffee. Today I had a lovely cold one that Phil had prepared in the bakery, early doors. It does get warm in here in the summer but caffeine is still a priority for me. Next I prep the shop area, making sure everything is clean and tidy and all the equipment and utensils we’ll need are ready. We have a few hours before we open to our customers — time to make lunches, prepare our filled croissants and get any pre-orders ready. Today we are serving mushroom and aubergine curry and a summer squash pizza. Yum! 

I’m also on hand to help the baker should they need it. When it’s so warm, sometimes all the doughs and pastries are ready at once and an extra pair of hands helps to keep everything in check. 

I pack away any deliveries which have arrived and check we have everything we will need for tomorrow either available or on order. I have a look at the email and social media to deal with any queries and post some pictures of today’s offerings from the bakery. Then I grab a bite to eat and a bit of a sit before it’s ‘go time’.

At 12 o’clock, we open the doors and usually have a good couple of hours of steady visits from our friendly customers. We are lucky to have lots of long-term customers who we have got to know over the years; it’s nice to see familiar as well as new faces when you’re working. By two o’clock the rush has died down. It’s now time to start cleaning and thinking about what needs doing for the next day, alongside serving customers. At this point in the day we also check in with each other, making a round of tea or, in this weather, reminding each other to drink water.

The rest of the day is taken up by prepping lunch and sweets for the next day, cleaning and doing hygiene admin tasks. I also add some products that need re-stocking to our order list and put a couple of points on the agenda for the next team meeting before it’s time to close the shop. I pack up a loaf of bread or two to take home – one of the perks of the job!

Loaf is the UK Worker Co-op of the Year!

A couple of months ago we were told that Beccy from The Active Wellbeing Society had nominated us for the Co-op of the Year awards. Throughout April we canvassed for the popular vote and then in June a panel judged us by a criteria known only to them. And on Wednesday the result was formally announced. 

We won! 

Because there’s no ceremony this year we recorded a short acceptance video. 

The award arrived last week and we’ve been displaying it with pride.

There’s also a nice casestudy on the Co-operatives UK website

Thanks to everyone who voted. It’s great to be recognised not just for what we do but for how we do it. 

Is the family farm the best farm?

In the world of baking you hear a lot of talk about ‘tradition’, particularly in contrast to the post-war industrial processes that dominate breadmaking today. But tradition can be an insidious thing, its origins obscured by the mists of history. Despite feeling right and proper, reverting to the traditional option isn’t necessarily what’s best.

Landed, the current Farmarama podcast series, is written and presented by Col Gordon whose grandfather rented, and then bought, a farm in the Scottish Highlands. Having grown up there, and recently returned to co-run his inheritance, he’s convinced family farms pave the way to an agroecological future  “in which rural areas are alive with culture, many more people work on the land, farms operate in sympathy with nature, and nutritious food is available to everyone in society”.

Progress is slow and he’s not sure he’s making much of a difference in the face of ‘Big Agro’. And then the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 happen. Like many people with more than a modicum of privilege he finds himself questioning a lot of things he’d taken for granted. In reading about BLM he comes across the phrase “the family farm is a colonial concept” which throws him, along with the discovery that the family farm tradition in the Highlands is only a few generations old. Prior to this, farms were run very differently. What if the family farm is actually part of the problem and there’s a better way to do things? 

We’ll have to wait to find out the answer as this is just part one, but it’s a really intriguing start and raises some pertinent and maybe difficult questions for those working to fix the food chain. We’ll be following with interest! 

If you’re new to Farmarama be sure and check out Cereal, their previous series on the Real Bread Campaign.

Wayne Caddy, the baker’s baker

On Monday, Phil will be attending a two-day ciabatta and baguette course run by Wayne Caddy. ‘Chibs’ and ‘bags’ are breads we’re generally happy with but always felt we could do better or at least more interestingly, so when this quite specific course came up we felt it was a good investment. Phil will be taking extensive notes and his newfound knowledge will spread through the team and into the bakery and the bread course. 

Wayne Caddy is a baker’s baker. As well as winning awards for his bread he’s a teacher and communicator, teaching at Sheffield’s School of Artisan Food and consulting as The Essential Baker

For the more casual bread aficionado, his Instagram account is a lovely mix of delicious photography and practical advice. These angel wings are a great case in point. They look incredible but in the comments he explains how simple they were to make. 

Like many teachers who found themselves unable to teach last year, he started a YouTube channel. Among the usual lessons he has a couple of examples of what we might call ‘advanced bread scoring’ by Rosie McCarthy, carving intricate drawings in the dough that reveal themselves upon baking. All bakers develop a knack and style for this, but these are next level.