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"In the Details of Our Dough" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, October 2009

Friday is baking day here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead. We all know it, we all anticipate it. That intriguing process of yeast and wheat begins early in the morning with flour dusting the countertops, and ends in time for dinner with a rich and wholesome aroma wafting through the house. The tale of a D Acres loaf of bread is worth telling, for it contains lessons, experiences, and community.

While we long used active dry yeast at the farm, we've recently acquired a 140-year old sourdough starter courtesy of Peter Schumann and his Bread & Puppet Theater (www.breadandpuppet.org). Sourdough culture is a process of catching wild yeast in a mixture of flour and water. By regularly "feeding" the starter additional flour and water, the microorganisms are provided with the nutrients and sugars necessary to stay alive. It is this process that maintains a live, fermented culture, thereby enabling a sourdough starter to accomplish the same end as packaged yeast. By utilizing a few cups of the former rather than a few tablespoons of the latter, we are able to make bread with natural fermentation rather than a processed ingredient.

Of course, yeast hardly makes bread without flour. How many wheat fields have you passed in New England? What about grain fields in general? Exactly. Considering that a century and a half ago New England farms were producing tens of millions of bushels per year of wheat, oats, and rye, the current paucity is remarkable. At D Acres, we have begun experimenting with small-scale grain growing, but we're not our own breadbasket just yet. Thus we are left to the ongoing struggle of sourcing organic flour from our region. It's difficult. We've settled on bulk grain orders with Associated Buyers, through whom we can purchase flour milled by the Champlain Valley Milling Co., based in New York. Bulk orders are also how we source oil and salt, the other two ingredients in our leavened loaves.

It becomes apparent that deciding what is local, and what has the least environmental impact, is not always black and white. Sometimes it means changing our habits, sometimes it means using less, sometimes it means expanding our concept of regional. We don't profess to have all the answers, but we want to ask the questions nonetheless.

Besides, bread is a source of community. Breaking open fresh-baked bread is as gratifying as that idyllic stereotype would suggest. In the name of sharing simple foods, bread persists, an example of the process in which we are engaged.

The process of creating bread out of flour and yeast, however, is not as complicated as its ideological underpinnings. Baking bread is, nonetheless, a nuanced art - one that requires patience and intuition, attention and care. And practice. Are you interested? Come learn the techniques for yourself at D Acres' Breadbaking Workshop on Saturday, November 7, 1-5pm. You, too, can share in the comfort and community of homemade loaves.

Beth Weick is a resident of D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, a non-profit service organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 as an intern, and now focuses her work on gardening, tending to the animals, and writing. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.

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