The Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival, in its eighth year, takes place on Saturday, March 24. This year’s theme, “Local Grain, Local Flour, Local Bread,” speaks to the efforts of one dedicated group of bakers to bring locally grown and milled flour to North Carolina.
The first Bread Bakers Festival planted the seeds for the nonprofit Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to bring hard wheat to this state with the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project. The project’s mill, Carolina Ground, will produce geographically distinct, WNC flour once fully operational. Bakers from Annie’s Naturally, Farm and Sparrow Breads, Flat Rock Village Bakery, Loaf Child, Wake Robin, West End Bakery and Wild Flour Bakery met for dinner the first year of the festival, and left with the notion that they needed to work toward a common goal.
“And when the wheat prices hit the roof and everyone was stunned by not just the price hike but the poor quality and inconsistency [of flour, we realized] we all needed to come together,” says Jennifer Lapidus, organic grains coordinator for CFSA. “The confidence and enthusiasm behind local grain, local flour is huge,” she says. “And speaking as a retired baker, when you’re baking, you can’t just use any old flour. “
Eight years later, the coalition of bakers inches ever closer to the goal of naturally milled, local, organic wheat. It’s an effort that promises more than just great bread, Lapidus says. “To me, it seems like Asheville and the rest of WNC upholds the craft-food production in this area. We have a good handful of local, small-business bakeries. Now that we’re able to access local grains as well, we’re going to be able to close the loop and keep the money in the state and have the farmers benefit from our bakeries, too. This is going on all over the country in little tiny pockets, but we’re on the cutting edge — we’re part of this wave of pioneers.”
The Artisan Bread Bakers Festival will offer information on the mill’s progress — and you may even see it in action. Thom Leonard, a professional baker for more than 35 years and consultant for Heartland Mills, will present workshops on milling and baking with local wheat. Professor Stephen Jones, wheat geneticist and breeder from Washington State University, will lecture on the local-grain movement and recent results in the breeding of organic grain and perennial wheat. “We’re bringing in some serious rock stars, as far as I’m concerned,” says Lapidus.
The AABBF begins with a bread tasting and sale at the Magnolia Building on the A-B Tech campus on Saturday, March 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hands-on workshops and lectures take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the same location. For the full schedule, visit the festival’s website.