The Real Bread Campaign, part of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming,
is funded by the Big Lottery's Local Food programme and the Sheepdrove Trust.
Campaign members can read the Bread Heroes features from True Loaf 3 onwards in the past issues section of our site.
In Summer 2009, we popped in to see Duncan Glendinning of Real Bread bakery, The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath.
Why Real Bread?
Because it just makes sense - Real Bread offers us smaller producers a level playing field on which to compete. Real Bread can't be rushed, and no corners can be cut
You seem to have put a lot of thought into reducing the environmental impact of your business.
I am into the kind of environmental-consciousness you can't really go out and “buy”. Skip-scavenging, thrift and resourcefulness are our tools and it is amazing what you can achieve on a shoestring budget.
And you have a few ideas on breaking down the us/them relationship with your customers
We want to foster a sense of ownership of our bakery within each of our customers by involving them as much as possible in the process. In our small bartering scheme we welcome our customers' gluts of garden veg and fruit in return for a discount on bread, we have run free bread oven-building courses and in are planning some forays to look for wild ingredients. These ideas not only give the customer a unique insight into how we tick, it gets them wanting to come back for more.
What, if any, obstacles have you faced and how have you got around them?
Simple thrift allowed us to establish the bakery in otherwise uncertain economic times when banks weren't lending money to themselves let alone to a 27 year old with no track record in business.
What has the feedback been?
To be honest I have been overwhelmed with the feedback. It appears that whilst money is tight and luxury items are low on the priority list, there is still a hunger for good, proper food made in a caring way.
What’s next for you?
Watch this space - we are not short on ideas and we have some interesting projects in the pipeline.
The Thoughtful Bread Company’s shop in Green Park Station in Bath is open from Tuesday to Fridays from 11.30am until around 6pm (or until they sell out) and at the Saturday farmers’ market from 9am until just after lunch. http://www.thethoughtfulbreadcompany.com/
Real Bread Campaign members can read the full-length version of this interview (with pictures of the Thoughtful boys) in issue one of True Loaf.
Some critics say that growing bread making wheat in Britain is not really viable. What would you say to them?
If that were so how would we have been able to eat bread over the last 1000 years? My research and that of others both in the UK and on the continent has shown that with the right soil management and the right varieties, growing bread making wheat under organic conditions is a far more stable form of production than a chemically dependent one.
The way that you farm goes beyond the needs of basic organic certification. Can you give us a few examples of extra steps that you take?
Of our 600 acres, 400 are arable and 200 are grassland or part of our environmental programme: new hedges, new ponds, river bank field margins, nesting strips, owl hunting field margins etc. You cannot rush the system under organic conditions. It is possible to have a quicker soil fertility building period but we have adopted a two year break on the arable rotation. It takes a bigger block of land out of production each year but it allows the soil to rest and rebuild its strength and energy for the maximum benefit to the years when we are growing crops and drawing down on those reserves.
Why do you choose this approach?
Farming has to be a virtuous cycle. You can only get out what you put in. To get the most out of the land for our crops we have to slow the system down and always ensure that the natural inputs are greater than the outputs. This means building up organic matter and allowing the natural fauna in the soil to build up in sufficient numbers to break the organic matter down. It’s husbandry. An old fashioned term maybe – but it does accurately describe what we’re doing.
You describe the grains you grow at Gilchesters as ‘rare breed’. What makes them so special?
We have moved away from the modern short straw hybrids and gone back to growing tall straw wheats. These grains have been developed over the last 10 years in association with an organic plant breeder to produce varieties that are unique in the UK to Gilchesters.
And what about the milling of your grains?
Stone grinding: slowly opening the parcels of grain to ensure all the minerals and vitamins as well as the gluten quality remain intact.
What, if any, obstacles have you faced and how have you got around them?
We considered at the start that the biggest obstacle to setting up the milling business was going to be finding a miller but this proved to be one of the simplest. While we were setting up, the last remaining industrial mill in Newcastle closed and we were able to take someone on.
As a new company making a traditional store cupboard product, persuading the public that we have something different and worth considering has been a real challenge. We are up against big businesses able to undercut us on price every time and so getting a toe-hold has been very hard. But we have been so well supported by our local customers in the north east that this has created a very good platform on which we continue to build the business.
What’s next for Gilchesters?
Spelt has been a very important grain at Gilchesters. We have been driving the research and production of spelt in the UK for a number of years now. Our research into the even older grains means Gilchesters will be the first company able to supply bread making flours from English-grown emmer and einkorn.
What advice would you give to others interested in cereal farming in a more natural way and/or setting up a mill?
You have to believe in what your doing and take a more measured approach when farming in this way. As to setting up a mill, it’s a lot more complicated than you imagine: for all that it’s an ancient process, once you start growing your own grains for your own mill the stress at harvest time becomes unbearable.
Finally, what question do you wish I’d asked and what’s your answer?
Do you enjoy farming in this way? It has to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. From wanting to change our production methods at the start, to undertaking the crop research and then applying that knowledge to growing the grains and bringing them to market under our own label. We have watched the organic methods inject new life into the farm, bring stability and sustainability into our production and with the deep satisfaction that when a customer writes to say how much they enjoy baking with our flour that the journey has been worthwhile.
For more information on Gilchesters, mail orders and stockists of their flours, visit www.gilchesters.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Real Bread Campaign was launched officially on 26 November 2008. To mark the first anniversary, we tracked down the campaign’s co-founder and our official partner, Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters.
Your mission to spread the Real Bread message seems never-ending, what are you up to at the moment?
I'm preparing to move to the Scottish Borders to work alongside Whitmuir Organic Farm where I hope to help set up a community-supported bakery to complement their other wonderful enterprises. In addition to the usual variety of Bread Matters courses, all using a new wood-fired oven courtesy of my friend Alf Armstrong, we will be developing new ways of purposeful bread making. Making bread together means better nurturing and a first step towards greater independence from junk food.
When did you first realise that something had to be done about the state of bread in Britain?
I first found out how industrial bread was made from the TACC (Technology Assessment Consumerism Centre) Report in 1974. It's interesting that several of the additives highlighted in that report, all of which were deemed to be indispensable by the big bakers and passed as safe by scientists and regulators, have since been banned as dangerous to human health. But what really alerted me to the need for action was the sudden emergence in the early 1990s of various forms of apparent intolerance to wheat bread.
And what inspired you to become one of the people to start doing it?
As a former journalist I was determined to expose the careless profit-seeking that had corrupted our bread. As a baker I discovered that doing it right – with good grain, no additives and long fermentation – produced wonderful results.
Other than an imaginary sequel to a Gene Hackman film, what’s the Russian connection?
I studied Russian at university and then worked in the Russian Service of the BBC. When I left to start the bakery in Cumbria, I imagined that my Russian-speaking days were over. But when I got a surprise invitation to visit the country at the height of perestroika, I jumped at the chance. Getting a bread recipe from a smiling border control officer and spending a weekend baking bread in a remote village hut were among the highlights of an extraordinary two weeks in February 1990. But the most lasting legacy was the little lump of sourdough that I swapped for some recipes in a bakery in Kostroma. This starter was mother to millions of Village Bakery [which Whitley founded in 1976 and ran until 2002] loaves and helped put us on the map as one of the most innovative organic bakeries in the UK.
How do you answer those who say that Real Bread is an elitist concept, available only to those with plenty of time and/or money?
The real cost of cheap food is paid, as many people have pointed out, not at the check-out but in the taxes and charges required to deal with environmental degradation and diet-related ill-health. But the accusation is an empty one, anyway. A 1 kg bag of flour, a little yeast, salt and water and a surprisingly small amount of applied time are all that is required to make two large loaves of bread at a cost well below any equivalent available in the supermarket - not counting 'loss leader' loaves whose apparent cheapness is redressed elsewhere in our shopping trolleys. Real Bread is everyone's right – how could it be otherwise? Our job at the Campaign is to spread the awareness and skills required to make Real Bread a reality for everybody.
What gives you the most hope that there is the will to allow Real Bread to take its rightful place in the sustainable local food systems of the future?
Many folk now realise that industrial bread is a filler not food. Nutritional science has proved the multiple benefits of whole grains and long fermentation. And committed people are lining up to become Real Bread bakers in communities all round the country. You might say – we're on a roll...
What advice would you give to small bakers wanting to produce Real Bread?
Just do it. You don't need the additives and the enzymes. Time and care will take you a long way, as will a real desire to tell your customers honestly what you are doing. At the end of the day we all love a breadtime story.
This is an edited version of the interview that appears in full in the January 2010 issue of True Loaf, the exclusive quarterly magazine for Real Bread Campaign members. Click here for details of how you can join.
You can read more about Andrew's work and his views on Real Bread issues at www.breadmatters.com and in the book of the same name.
In July 2009, we talked to Paul Barker, owner of Cinnamon Square about moving away from ‘the dark side’ of artificial additives to establish his Real Bakery.
Tell us a bit about Cinnamon Square and how it all began.
I have worked in the baking industry for over 23 years. I am still as passionate about the industry now as I was when I joined all those years ago.
Cinnamon Square, known as ‘the theatre of baking’ has now been operational for 3½ years. Our breads are hand-crafted using traditional and modern methods. We produce a high quality range of bakery goods, in full view of our customers, in ‘The Makery,’ our baking laboratory.
My aim is to raise the profile of baking by producing a wonderful array of products, inspiring our customers and by teaching adults and children the art and science of baking. In ‘The Makery’ we host adult baking courses, workshops and baking parties for children.
Have you always produced Real Bread?
No, in the past I worked a lot with the development and manufacture of bread improvers. My knowledge of both modern and traditional bread making methods has allowed me to understand the benefits each has to offer and now my personal preference is for using traditional methods and to promote the benefits they offer.
What are the main obstacles you have faced?
Finding skilled and equally passionate bakers to work at Cinnamon Square has been a challenge.
Even though we offer a fantastic range of breads the majority of bread is still purchased at the supermarket because of the convenience of a weekly shop. I think delivering bread to the door is the only way we can compete with today’s buying habits.
Where do you source your ingredients?
The flours we use are sourced locally. The bulk is from Tring, and our Spelt is from Redbournbury Watermill near St Albans. They use spelt grown within one mile of their mill.
What are your most popular breads?
Our traditional English breads made using our 24hr sponge & dough – oven bottom bloomers, cottage, Danish and farmhouse. Our new Spelt & Speckle (made with Old Speckled Hen Ale) is proving very popular
In your opinion, what are the major factors that have contributed to the decline in artisan bakers?
Mass industrialisation to meet the demands of the large retailers who sell extremely low cost bread has reduced the value and perception of bread to a cheap tasteless product. This has meant reducing the reliance on skills and therefore the remuneration for operatives – therefore who wants to be a baker today?
As craft bakers we need to promote the fact our products offer so much more than supermarket produced or retailed ever could.
Is it economically sustainable to produce Real Bread on a large scale?
A) It could be if customers could be convinced to purchase daily and to accept that a fair price for bread may be higher than that of a supermarket loaf
Q) What advice would you give to small bakers wanting to produce Real Bread?
A) Make quality products consistently. Be clever with your marketing to educate your customers why they should ignore the convenience of using a supermarket but purchase their bread from you instead. Try to do this without focusing on highlighting the negatives of others but the benefits of your goods.
The Real Bread Campaign talks to John Letts of the Oxford Bread Group about his quest for a truly local loaf.
Q) How does Oxford Bread Group work?
A) I grow the wheat and Geoff Coleman makes the bread twice a week at the Cornfield Bakery, which is only a couple of miles from where the wheat is grown. We have a subscription scheme, and our customers pay for each month’s order in advance. The bread is then delivered to local ‘hubs’, from which people collect their loaves. The subscription scheme overcomes the cash flow problem that many small businesses face and also eliminates food waste, as we only bake what has been ordered.
Q) What are your aims?
A) To shorten the grain chain and give the people of Oxford bread made from organic grain that is grown, milled and baked locally. As we get more subscribers, we hope to enlist more farmers to grow the grain and more bakers to bake the bread.
Q) What are the main obstacles you have faced?
A) Finding local farmers who will grow small quantities (eg. 10 acres) of grain on contract for a reasonable price; securing minimal funding to cover basic expenses to run the project; setting up the ‘local hubs’ where members can collect their bread; and finding a professional, local baker willing to bake the loaf.
Our miller is a little further than we’d like, but the addition to our carbon footprint is minimal, and he’s supported our project from the beginning and is happy to mill the small quantities we need. As the group grows, and has more wheat to mill, we also hope to use millers who are closer to us.
Q) We understand that you are using heritage varieties of grain in your bread – tell us a little about these and why you are using them.
A) We’ve developed a new Oxford landrace of ancient wheat varieties that is well adapted to local growing conditions. Our winter wheat mix contains at least 150 different varieties, all growing in one field as in the days before modern scientific plant breeding.
Older varieties of wheat are lower yielding, but they are also hardier, and produce grain with good gluten content as well as tall, strong straw perfect for use as thatch. They also grow better and are more reliable than modern varieties in low input/organic conditions. The biodiversity of our fields helps keep them free of disease, and the tall stems and large leaves helps choke out weeds.
Q) What types of bread do you produce?
A) At the present time we produce only one kind of bread – a traditional, long (4 hour) ferment, hand-moulded loaf that is made from our wholesome white flour. This loaf is raised primarily with a slow-acting yeast along with a small amount of rye sourdough starter.
Q) Where can people buy OBG bread?
A) Currently, our customers join one of our local hubs, from which they collect the bread. We also bake to order for special events and restaurants. We hope to supply select local shops for over-the-counter sales within a few months.
Q) How much is a loaf?
A) We are running this as a ‘not for profit’ scheme, and have to charge £2.50 per loaf to cover our costs. Members order at least one loaf a week and pay for their bread quarterly, in advance.
Q) What has the response been to your bread so far?
A) We’ve had a fantastic response. Everyone loves the bread. We launched the project in early April and are already selling over 100 loaves a week. Many members have told us that our bread tastes like the delicious, Real Bread they have eaten on the continent. Many members with gluten intolerance have also found that they can eat our bread without getting ill.
Q) What advice would you give to others interested in starting a scheme like yours?
A) Don’t believe what most professional agronomists tell you about how to grow organic wheat! Grow older varieties and ideally mixtures of older varieties, in organic/low input conditions to produce high quality local grain. Make sure you find a committed baker and farmer before you start the project. And try to get a small grant to cover your administration costs, as setting up a project like this requires a lot of time and some funding.
Launched in early 2009, The Handmade Bakery is the brainchild of Dan and Johanna McTiernan. Together with baker Matt Betts, they are pioneering Community Supported Baking to bring Real Bread to the heart of Marsden in West Yorkshire.
Q) What prompted you to start The Handmade Bakery?
We had been baking our own bread at home for a long time; Johanna ever since her communal baking experiences as a child in Finland and Dan since a family Christmas present of a baking course at River Cottage.
After having a child we met other new families and the appalling state of bread often came up in conversation. We started an unofficial 'bread club' among friends and they loved our bread. So we decided to scale up and make real bread available to the whole of the community.
Q) Do you have any experience of baking professionally?
A) None whatsoever, we both have a filmmaking and arts background.
Q) Where do you bake?
A) We bake three times a week at a local Italian restaurant that has a fairly large stone bottomed pizza oven which is perfect for bread.
Q) How does that work out?
A) We use the restaurant kitchen for some of the hand-kneading, scaling and shaping, and their pizza oven for baking. As we cannot store anything at the restaurant, we transport everything from home each time we bake. We also weigh down, make pre-ferments and mix some of the doughs at home. It takes over the house a little bit, but if you're organised with working systems in place, it's not a problem.
Q) Where can people buy your bread?
A) We decided to borrow the model of Community Supported Agriculture for the bakery and set up a subscription system by which people commit to buying bread for one, three, six or twelve months at a time. On Mondays and Thursdays, subscribers can choose to collect their bread directly from the restaurant or from the local brewery pub, which is great for commuters.
On a Saturday morning, we bake early and open the restaurant as a bakery shop, so people who cannot commit to subscribing can pop in and buy a loaf. The local wholefood shop, a few cafes and restaurants buy the bread and we are looking into expanding to farm and other shops, farmers' markets and linking up with existing vegetable box schemes.
Q) How much does a Handmade Bakery loaf cost?
A) Our large 800g organic loaves sell for £2.50 and 400g loaves are £1.50. Subscribers get a discount which gets incrementally greater the longer they are able to commit to. We also have a group of volunteers who come and lend a hand in exchange for some bread.
Q) What has the local reaction been?
A) we didn't expect for people to be quite as excited about the bread as they have been. Sometimes it feels almost like we're providing therapy in a warm paper bag, that's how happy it seems to make some of our customers. Perhaps it's a sense of comfort and home – like coming from school to the smell of your mum’s baking. We've been promoting the health benefits of long fermented bread, but were surprised by how many people with IBS or other problems with wheat intolerance have come back to us and said they can eat our bread without symptoms.
Q) What sources of information have you found useful in setting up The Handmade Bakery?
A) We haven't been able to find a huge amount of information on setting up a small bakery and especially as ours is run on such a different model. “Bread – A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes” by Jeffrey Hamelman has been invaluable in learning how to scale up from home baking to commercial artisan baking. Dan Lepard's forum for bakers has helped us source equipment and given us much needed support and inspiration. And YouTube is marvellous for some lessons from French, Italian and Australian artisan bakers!
Q) What, if any, obstacles have you faced in setting up the scheme and how have you got around them?
A) The biggest obstacle has been a lack of capital. We have been lucky in securing and UnLtd grant from the Milennium Awards, which has meant we can buy much needed equipment such as proving baskets and baking trays etc.
The next step to our own premises and our own ovens is a different matter. We have several funding bids in and are considering a community 'bread bond' in which the community invest and their interest repayment is bread. Otherwise I think we have proved that if you have a good idea then opportunities will present themselves.
Q) What’s next for you?
A) When the growing season kicks in we aim to offer a 'glut' deal whereby customers can bring us fruit and veg they can't use and we will incorporate them into a bread recipe and pay them in baked goods. We aim to make a big point of this in the recipe advertising the bread as “Mrs Jones' pear sourdough” etc.
The Soil Association have paid for some mentoring for us from Andrew Whitley which will prove invaluable to our scaling up. We are currently looking for more funding to take the inevitable next step; buy ovens and move into our own premises.
Q) Do you have any more tips for others wanting to make Real Bread more accessible in their communities?
A) The network of beneficial relationships we've established between other businesses and within the community has meant that money is not the deciding factor. Good will and the wish to see a real bakery back in the community is a real driving force!
Start small, speak to the community at events, groups, via email and electronic surveys. But mainly, be brave and go for it because there is a real desire, sometimes bordering on desperation, to see real bread back in Britain!
In February 2012 GAIL's told us that they now use ascorbic acid in some of their loaves, which means they fall outside our definition of Real Bread. GAIL's advised that they will relist those that do meet our addtive-free criterion and are reviewing the recipes for the rest.
For the first of our new series of Q&A features that focus on people and organisations flying the flag for Real Bread, the Real Bread Campaign chatted to Emma King, General Manager of GAIL’s bakery in London.
Q) So, tell us the GAIL’s story so far
A) The company was started by Gail Stephens, founder of The Bread Factory and Baker and Spice, with entrepreneurs Ran Avidan and Tom Molnar. Their vision was to take good hand-made bread and put it within hands reach of Londoners.
All of GAIL’s breads are made by hand at The Bread Factory in North Hendon, which opened in 1992 and now employs 65 craft bakers.
GAIL’s first shop opened in 2005. In addition to our three shops, in Hampstead Heath, St. John’s Wood and Notting Hill, GAIL’s bakery now supplies Ocado and fifteen Waitrose stores in London. We also supply a few local restaurants around each of the shops.
Q) Do you have any expansion plans?
A) In June 2009, we have a fourth shop opening in Clapham on the old Lighthouse bakery site. This will be of a similar bakery/ café design to the current stores but like all of GAIL’s shops, it will have its own unique feel so that it is sympathetic to its environment.
Q) What are the main obstacles the company has faced?
A) As a small player against the larger chains, it is hard to find sites. Being a premium bakery, cost is certainly a factor when considering where to locate.
Awareness is also an issue. Educating people to understand the difference between real bread (and why it can cost more), what is so bad about manufactured bread and why it costs so little is vital. Love into labour; people sometimes question price.
Q) Has GAIL’s always produced Real Bread?
A) Yes. All of our breads and made by hand breads and 100% free of preservatives, additives or other chemicals.
Q) Do your customers ask many questions about how you make your breads?
A) No, not really as we have a really regular base of customers who know are products well. We get more questions asked about whether we stock breads which are gluten or wheat free.
Q) Do you?
A) We make spelt bread, though we can’t guarantee it is completely free from traces of wheat.
Q) What are your most popular breads?
A) White poppy seed loaf and all of our sourdoughs.
Q) Where do you source your ingredients?
A) Our flours come from Shipton Mill, Sharpham Park, Doves Farm, Moule-Bie and Marriage’s. We use butter from Lescure and Rachel’s Organic. Chegworth Valley supplies us with apple juice and Bramley apples and we use local free range eggs.
We currently try to adhere to seasonality. There is always room for improvement but we currently work very hard to achieve it.
Q) We’re intrigued by your Very Important Breadheads – tell us more
A) Very Important Breadheads (VIB) is a members group that customers are invited to join. We hold VIB in-store events such as tasting evenings, education nights and kids classes.
Q) In your opinion, what are the major factors that have contributed to the decline in artisan bakers?
A) The introduction of the Chorleywood Baking Process has taken away the craft of traditional bread baking. However, we think that there is a real resurgence of Real Bread going on. With the media picking up on it more we are optimistic about the future.
Q) As a Real Bread producer, what would you like to see from the Real Bread Campaign?
A) As a result of a strong organic movement, many customers have formed an association with organic food being the only good food. However, just because we are not certified organic, doesn’t mean we are not making bread like it was made 200 years ago!
Although around 15 to 20% of the ingredients we use are organic, we are excited that this is not the sole purpose of the Real Bread Campaign.
Address: 138 Portobello Road , Notting Hill, London, W11DZ
Tel: 020 7460 0766