By Jennifer Lapidus, Carolina Ground | Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019
Mark your calendars: The 15th Annual Asheville Bread Festival will take place April 13-14—this weekend!
What is Asheville Bread Festival (ABF)?
This two-day event allows bread enthusiasts and professional bakers to break bread together, improve their baking skills, share ideas, and network within the artisan bread community.
Don’t worry WNC folks, knead not bake in order to partake in the Bread Fair at New Belgium. Free and open to the public, the fair allows anyone to come to meet local bakers and taste the goods of the region’s best bakeries, mills, and purveyors of bread-related goods.
How did Asheville Bread Festival come to be?
When this festival first began 15 years ago, a handful of other bakers and I came together at the end of the day to share a meal. What began with awkward introductions, as we didn’t know each other, warmed once wine glasses and conversations flowed. We realized that a common thread connected all of us: we were bakers—a unique slice of humans —determined, driven, and maybe a bit crazy?
Fast forward five years and those same bakers would pull chairs into a circle and discuss the idea of working directly with growers here in the South.
Three years later, with the help of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Carolina Ground—a mill dedicated to closing the gap between farmer and baker here in the South—was born.
And last year, the original founders of ABF passed the reigns to Cathy Cleary (one of those bakers at the table many years before), Rich Orris, and me, ushering in Asheville Bread Festival 2.0.
How is the Asheville Bread Festival different in 2019 than when it began?
In this new phase, ABF partners with New Belgium Brewery for a centrally-located, extraordinary space for our main hub and Bread Fair, while classes are held in various locations around Asheville.
And, most excitingly, we are now a non-profit under the umbrella of Slow Food Asheville! Proceeds from the festival support agricultural grain diversity. We use festival profits as seed money for farmers to plant “risky” grain varietals.
Providing seed, though, is just part of the story. Grain diversity can be a challenging equation. There is the cost of seed; there’s an elevated risk associated with growing a lower-yielding variety without any growing data.
In the past, these costs and risks were carried by the farmer and miller. Though if the miller supplied the seed and the crop failed, the farmer is still at a greater loss and may not have interest in planting a higher-risk variety the following year. The non-profit arm of the Asheville Bread Festival enables our baking community to mitigate the risk by providing not only seed, but also ensuring that if the crop is a failure, the cost of the farmer’s time will be covered. If the crop is usable, Carolina Ground will purchase the crop, or ensure purchase of the crop.
Tell us about one of the projects that have been funded by the Asheville Bread Festival lately.
Our farmer, Amy Poirier, is located 130 miles east of Asheville. Amy comes from a dairy family, as her grandfather started Hoffner Dairy in Rowan County, which is now a member of Organic Valley and run by her father and brother. Amy teaches and is the Agribusiness Coordinator at Mitchell Community College. One day, before a board meeting—we both sit on the board of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association—we hatched this idea over coffee, continuing the conversation throughout the year.
With proceeds from last year’s festival, the Asheville Bread Festival provided Amy with the seed to plant 10 acres of Harrus white pastry wheat, which is an old variety of tall, white pastry wheat that grows well up north. We’re curious if it will grow down here. She also planted one acre of Danko rye—while we love our Wren’s Abruzzi rye, we are committed to building diversity. If Danko does well, we will plant 10-20 acres the following year. She also planted buckwheat but lost the crop to Hurricane Florence.
This is just the beginning of a long-term project. We hope it will serve to supplement the work that NCSU and USDA are doing with regionally adapted varieties.
Amy will be participating in our panel discussion entitled, Grain Innovators, as part of Asheville Bread Festival on Saturday April 13th at 5 p.m. at New Belgium Brewery. The panel discussion is free and open to the public.
Jennifer Lapidus is the founder of Carolina Ground and on the CFSA Board of Directors.
About Carolina Ground
Carolina Ground is a flour mill located in Asheville, North Carolina, focused on closing the gap between farmers and bakers in the South. In 1994, Lapidus started making naturally leavened breads for Natural Bridge Bakery in western North Carolina. As consumer demand for naturally leavened breads grew, Lapidus zeroed in on a need for locally grown and ground bread flour, pastry flour, and rye flour.
With a 2009 grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund and Santa Fe Tobacco, administered through the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Lapidus laid the foundation for Carolina Ground. Using a wooden-hulled stone ground mill from Austria, all Carolina Ground flours are stone-ground, cold-milled, unbleached, and unbromated.
All photos courtesy of Asheville Bread Festival and Carolina Ground.