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The Grain Gathering: Building an Interconnected Food System Through Bread

“100 years ago, 90% of us were home bakers,Dr. Stephen Jones tells a crowd of sleepy bakers, farmers, and brewers at the 7th annual Grain Gathering.

It’s 4:30am, and we are preparing for a sunrise wheat field walk just outside of The Bread Lab in Skagit Valley. In addition to serving as a research center for Washington State University plant breeders, Jones’ Bread Lab is also home to the King Arthur Flour Baking School. Thankfully, that meant we were able to sneak in to the kitchen for a whole grain croissant, fresh-from-the-oven, topped with lemon curd and Bow Hill blueberries before our stroll. The smell alone of butter and nutty grains woke us right up.

With the wonderment of a child and the quiet brilliance of a movement builder, Steve showed off the different heritage varieties of wheat, barley, rye, and buckwheat that him and his PhD students are breeding for nutrition and flavor. The sun rose over Skagit 1109, Edison, and Salish Blue, a few of the many varietals that Steve and his team have developed alongside local bakers, maltsters, and distillers.

Throughout the weekend, Steve was sure to underscore the word “gathering” within the event name. “This isn’t a conference,” he told us. “Poke your head in to workshops, even if you don’t have a seat. Take it all in. Think of these three days as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.”

The Gathering is designed to bring together folks from many sectors of the food movement, with the end goal of creating a sustained local grain economy that elevates the unique characteristics of the place we call home. Of the nearly 300 attendees, 7 countries and 26 states were represented.

From sourdough and ramen workshops to tours of the milling facility and lectures on the Farm Bill, the Grain Gathering reaches across the spectrum of our food system with its offerings.

“At The Bread Lab, we think about flour as a fresh product,” said Steve. “Shelf life isn’t at the forefront, because everything is milled, processed, and baked right here.” Just last week, The Bread Lab celebrated the official opening of its milling laboratory and professional kitchen overseen by James Beard Best Chef of the Northwest, Blaine Wetzel.

Through appreciation of the culture and traditions that define what we eat, The Bread Lab is playing a major role in creating a more sustainable, just, and interconnected food system. As a member of our board, we are honored to work alongside Steve and The Bread Lab team to ensure the Puget Sound region remains a place where the land, our food, and the people who make it available to us can all thrive.

Words and photos by Communications Manager, Molly Goren