Kneading Conference West (part 2)
A perk of attending a multi-day baking conference is getting to start the second day eating the results of the previous day's work.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Kneading Conference West was hosted by the Washington State University Mt. Vernon Research Extension Center. There are classrooms, a lecture hall, labs, and kitchens in the main facility, but the campus is also made up of extensive orchards and cropland where numerous varieties of plants are developed and tested.
One of the things they are experimenting with is reestablishing older varieties of wheat. Steve Lyon, the senior scientific assistant of the campus, was kind enough to take us on a tour of their historical wheat garden.
The variety in height, color, and head size of the different wheats was quite striking.
Some of the varieties currently growing there are varieties first cultivated in the Northwest by the Hudson Bay Company.
This Steve and the "other" Steve -- Steve Jones, director of the facility, who I sadly did not get a picture of -- were great hosts, extremely fired up about the work they are doing here to reestablish a local grain economy in the Pacific Northwest. The current issue of Gastronomica, actually, has an article by Steve Jones describing what they are doing here that is well worth reading.
Back inside for a session by Andrew Ross, a cereal chemist at the University of Oregon, and Lee Glass, who has taught at WheatStalk and other bread gatherings, about the science of bread baking.
Really good stuff.
By the time I came back outside, Kiko's group was just putting the finishing touches on the clay oven they'd built.
The final session I caught was a panel discussion that Piper Davis of Grand Central Bakery, Julie Richardson of Baker & Spice Bakery, Byron Fry of Fry's Red Wheat Bread, and keynote speaker Andrew Whitley did about the business of baking.
I think I can best sum that session up with "It's hard. You better be really passionate about it if you want to get into this business because it is hard work, the margins are small, and as you grow it doesn't get much easier. Yes, you can hire people to help you out and do the things that you don't want to do, but then you have to deal with being a manager and running a business, which isn't what I originally set out to do. I just wanted to make great bread." Not that any of them suggested they wished they were doing anything else.
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A final bit worth commenting about is the people. The people there, from the hosts to the speakers to the attendees, were wonderfully accessible and friendly, eager to chat with other folks who shared their passion for making your own bread.
Lots of TFLers and folks familiar to the TFL community too: Breadsong, txfarmer, run4bread, mc farine, Theresa Greenway. All really accomplished bakers and good people. It was a joy to get to know some of them (you) a little bit and do hope we'll meet again.
Lots of nice compliments made to me about The Fresh Loaf too. At least half of the folks I spoke to there, be they site members or not, were familiar with the site, and nearly all of my conversations about TFL followed the same pattern. First there was the "Oh, you are that Floyd" reaction, then a few kind words about the site, and then a story along the lines of "I followed Debra's instructions to get my starter going," or "I was struggling with ryes and then I read Mini Oven's posts and it finally clicked" or "I really enjoyed reading Andy and Mark's posts about a day in the life of a baker" or "That yeasted beer bread reminded me of Ian..." Again and again I got to hear stories about how the posts you folks all make here have helped someone make a breakthrough or perfect something they've been having trouble with, so kudos to all of you who share your experiences and stories here. Do know that you are helping folks out.