Wildfarmed Grain Armada

This week Phil has been on furlough and has been experimenting with a heritage grain of eyebrow-raising provenance. 

Readers of a certain vintage will remember pre-millennial electronic music duo Groove Armada. Andy Cato, of said duo, bought a farm in France, as semi-retired rockers are wont to do.

He was gifted a handful of heritage long-straw grain by a retired baker. Unlike the shorter varieties we’ve become used to, grown alone in vast monocultured fields, this grain is sowed directly into grass pastures where animals are allowed to graze. 

This is a ‘population wheat’, meaning there is a huge mix of different grain all grown in one field. Rather than picking through and selecting the ‘right’ grain, all is harvested and resown, letting nature determine which grain varieties grow best in that environment. This variety is the key to sustainability and also creates interesting complexities in the flour. 

Andy is now a full–time farmer with a sideline in electronic beats, and is growing his grain in farms across the UK, stonemilling the flour and selling to bakeries to “take back control of our food supply in a way that reconsiders the relationship between humankind and nature.” 

Read more about Wildfarmed Grain on their website.

Phil’s First Bake with Wildfarmed grain

Wildfarmed Grain is available in wholemeal and different sifted grades, according to the French type system, where different amounts of the bran are removed. 

I made a loaf using wholemeal and two of the more sifted varieties. This combination created something similar to our wholemeal sourdough, very flavourful from the wholemeal flour, but kept light with the addition of the sifted flours. 

It was strong and elastic to work with, and had a good oven spring. The loaf has a really nutty flavour and caramelised dark crust, very nice with lots of butter and honey!

Why we’re interested in this

Heritage grains and wild farm methods are interesting and fun to work with, but they’re much more than a hobbyist or gourmet pursuit. They fit in with a number of Loaf’s key aims. 

Firstly, they’re healthier and easier to digest than industrially processed flour, so that’s a no-brainer. 

Secondly, they’re better for the environment. Wild farming is no-till, so the microbiome of the earth is allowed to develop and mature, holding CO2 and water in the ground, and allowing the soil to live. 

Thirdly, they have the potential to create a sustainable economy of farmers, millers and bakers producing affordable bread for a mass audience. We’re encouraged by Andy’s desire to create not just healthy bread but healthy working conditions and healthier communities. 

We’ve sourced a supplier and plan to bring these grains to Loaf later in the year, both for our bakery and to sell in the shop, so look out for them. And if you have any experience or stories about heritage grains, please do get in touch. 

Three podcasts

This week we’re recommending three podcasts that we’ve enjoyed and been inspired by over the winter.  

Farmarama is a podcast dedicated to regenerative farming which they define as “taking a more ecological approach, observing the natural ecosystems on a particular plot of land and working with them in a way that recognises the place of people within nature, not outside it.”

Their 2019 six-part series Cereal is incredibly inspiring and eye-opening, examining the industrialisation of bread making over the 20th century and subsequent reduction in quality. It also highlights the great efforts of small scale farmers and bakers to resist this trend and revive long forgotten grains and bring back quality healthy bread.

Since listening to and being inspired by the stories in the podcast we’ve started connecting with local farmers and millers and have been baking with a number of heritage grains. The results have been very pleasing and we plan to offer them for sale in the near future, ensuring Loaf is fully engaged with the local grain economy. 

Slow Rise: A Bread-Making Adventure came recommended by Sian, one of our regular customers. It’s a classic Radio 4 book reading by a proper theatre actor – warm and cosy, like listening to a kindly grandfather in a potting shed. 

Robert Penn embodies a self-effacing curiosity about how fundamental things work, and here decides to grow wheat from seed to make his own bread, along the way researching the history of bread-making from the dawn of civilisation to the industrial processes of today and meeting with breadmakers across the world. Best of all, it’s in 15 minute sections, perfect for a brief stroll or while kneading your dough. Lovely stuff.

(His previous books are about wood carving and cycling, so he’s evidently doing a tour of Stirchley High Street. Expect the next to be on fudge or plumbing.)

We talk about Loaf being a “workers cooperative”, but what does that mean? This two-parter from Upstream is a great introduction to the concept, why it appeals and how it works, socially, economically and politically. It manages to balance the invigorating rabble-rousing theories of the likes of Richard Wolff with sober analysis and case studies of actual co-ops on the ground. Entertaining and inspiring and highly recommended.

Future Stirchley: A Street of Opportunity

Last month we were invited to take part in a film about how Stirchley high street has dealt with the pandemic lockdowns. Alongside clips of the people who live and work here, the film sees a Birmingham poet synthesise the hours of interviews into a spoken word piece. It’s a lovely piece of work produced in record time by Geoff of the Living Memory Project.

If something seems strangely familiar about the style, you’re not wrong. In 2012 Geoff made To Be Home, another film about Stirchley. Fascinating to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t.

Happy International Women’s Day

It’s nicely thematic that International Women’s Day follows so closely on from Real Bread Week. One of the early IWDs, in March 1917, saw a women’s march for “Bread and Peace” in Petrograd, then the capital of the Russian empire. 
They were protesting food shortages and demanding the end of WW1. The march was joined by striking female textile workers who swelled their numbers to take over the streets, forcing the Tsar to abdicate and kick starting the Russian Revolution

The revolution, as any A-level history student will tell you, had many causes, but it’s not a surprise to see bread and righteously angry women right there at the start. 

At Loaf we see bread as symbolic of something more than the making of a nice sandwich. The domestication of wheat for bread tracks with the emergence of western civilisation 9,000 years ago, following the twists and turns of our societies through to the present day. 

Bread is both a symbolic and literal representation of the need to be well fed, and where there are battles for equality, bread will often be found. Indeed, the tension between exclusive “artisanal baking” and affordable healthy additive-free bread within the baking community is perhaps an indicator for the broader state of food provision here in Britain. (We err towards the latter, in case that’s not obvious!) 

The other aspect of Loaf is our status as a workers cooperative. Nancy wrote about how this related to IWD a few years back, and the cooperative movement has always had women’s equality and empowerment at its core. The history of the Co-operatives Women’s Guild, formed in 1883, is particularly eye-opening, seeing them involved in campaigns for rights we now take for granted. 

So, happy International Women’s Day! May it be a reminder of both how far we’ve come and, in these strange times, how far we have to go. 

Four inspirational bakeries for IWD

There are many ways to run a bakery. Here are four with a mission to support women.. 

The Good Loaf in Northamptonshire works to “provide real employment opportunities to vulnerable local women so that we can break the cycle of poverty, unemployment and offending”.

Luminary bakery in London “work holistically with women, offering a safe space to train, trauma-informed support as they overcome barriers from lack of opportunity, preparation for employment, and guidance in building towards a positive future.”

Hot Bread Kitchen in “aim to create economic mobility for individuals impacted by gender, racial, social, and/or economic inequality in New York City, historically using the vibrant potential of the food industry as a pathway forward.”

Yangon Bakehouse works to empower women in the Myanmar. “By providing our apprentices opportunities to gain life and work skills, they gain dignity and confidence to move into the workforce as employees and small business owners.”

What is Real Bread Week?

Loaf is proud to be a member of the Real Bread Campaign which mirrors many of our aims and objectives as a community bakery. This week is Real Bread Week where bakeries and bakers of all scales celebrate and promote the benefits of good bread.

The campaign is broadly split into two areas. The first is that a healthy society needs healthy bread. The legacy of post-war industrial baking processes, when grain quality was low and needs were high, means most commercial bread is made with additives to shorten production times. It is then supplemented with artificial nutrients to compensate for those lost in the process. What should have been an emergency stop-gap measure has become an unnecessary and less healthy industry standard.

Real bread should not be a luxury, artisanal product (though there’s nothing wrong with a fancy loaf). It should be affordable and everywhere. At Loaf we’re proud of our Stirchley loaf, a healthy, tasty and simple bread that we keep affordable.

The other side to the campaign is to create a sustainable ecosystem comprising bakers and bread-eaters working towards the campaign’s aims. When Tom started Loaf a decade ago, one of his aims was to encourage more bakeries on more high streets. Since then we’ve seen much more competition emerge around Birmingham, which is great! We want to see a Loaf-style bakery on every high street and, pandemic aside, we’re always happy to offer help and advice.

Over the last year we haven’t been able to be as proactive in the Real Bread Campaign as we’d like, for obvious reasons. But being aligned with its ethos, and that of the co-operative movement, has certainly helped us to survive the pandemic thus far.

Real bread is nice and tasty, but it’s also important, and we should never forget that.