The atmosphere here in Mt. Vernon reminds us very much of the early days of the new wine industry in Yamhill County, 30 years ago. Everyone learning at a breakneck pace, working 20 hour days, playing the remaining 4 hours of the day, sharing everything they are learning, and networking like crazy.
The big difference here is that there is more vertical integration. While winemakers and vineyard owners were often the same in the early days, there was little close work with others in the line from the ground and the vines to the consumer. Winemakers had to make their own connections at every junction.
Kneading Conferences started five years ago in Maine. The Maine meet is simply called the Kneading Conference. The need for the “West” only came about when the Mt. Vernon plans got underway. The Maine conference is still going strong and growing.
At these events, wheat growers join millers who share the stage with bakers who all work with researchers, both public and private. The nexus point is bread. But goat cheese makers, cider and beer brewers, fruit growers, natural and organic grocery stores (Hello, Whole Foods and New Seasons!) and other related food producers are all in the game together.
Some are now in the process of rebuilding the infrastructure and community knowledge that existed 100 years ago and only disappeared recently, in some cases, fewer than 10 years ago. Granaries, silos, local artisan bakeries, parts and equipment suppliers, millers (Hello, King Arthur Flour!) and more.
They want to rebuild the small agricultural communities that have existed, save small farms and help those farms become productive enough to support a family and a few employees.
It’s all part of the local food movement, but goes much deeper than supporting a few non-industrial food producers of vegetables and livestock.
Breadmaking is an industrial operation, no matter how small in dollar volume the enterprise is. Yes, you can grind your wheat by hand, but really, do you want to? You can build your own wood-fired oven, but four-deck electric ovens are much easier and faster. At the kneading conference, there was room for both, since each one fulfills different human needs.
This movement is growing, but after driving through Seattle and seeing the huge masses of people, it appears this local food production idea is more suitable for rural areas with lower population density and outside income from more up-to-date types of employment.
It remains to be seen how this will all work out, but the impetus is worth applause.
That’s all for now. In a few days, we’ll have some pix for you.