In 2007 a small grassroots group in Skowhegan, Maine brought together novice and professional bakes, farmers, millers, researchers and wood-fired oven builders for a conference on the complementary trades of grain farming, milling, wheat breeding, baking, and wood-fired oven building. Their goal was to bolster the revival of a lost grain economy. Held annually ever since, the conference attracts participants from Maine, New England, and most of the U. S. and Canada and has stimulated a grain revival in Maine.
In 2011 Dr. Stephen Jones, Director of the WSU Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, and frequent presenter at the Kneading Conference, organized the first Kneading Conference West. In addition to offering presentations on hand-crafted breads, grain farming, and earth oven building, Kneading West included malting workshops and a two-day professional baking track that demonstrated a state of the art deck oven and spiral mixer provided by W. P. Kemper.
The basic premise of both conferences, to revision and rebuild regional grain economies by bringing together diverse stakeholders, is manifesting tangible results. For instance in Maine the Kneading Conference has inspired the following:
• Conversion of Skowhegan’s former County Jail into the Somerset Grist Mill
• Scientific research through the University of Maine Orono on bread wheat production in Maine, a 1.3 million dollar, four-year project funded by CSREES
• Maine Wood Heat recently purchased an industrial building in Skowhegan to expand its manufacturing of wood-fired bake ovens and masonry heaters
• Baker, Bennett Collins purchased a mobile wood fired-oven that he uses in a business that sells fresh baked bread and pizza to enthusiastic eaters at fairs and festivals across Maine
• Farmers Bob and Mary Burr of Blue Ribbon Farm in Mercer, Maine, started Pasta Fresca, a business that uses local grains to make and sell handmade pastas
• Ned Wight started New England Distilling, a company that aims to use local grains for distilling spirits
• John Howe, a Maine engineer, designed a solar powered small-scale thresher/winnower, demonstrated at the 2011 Kneading Conference and Bread Fair
• Art Haines, an engineer and machinist from Norridgewock, built a small-scale portable grain dryer in response to the need for smaller scale equipment on Maine’s grain farms
• Existing food producers like Borealis Breads, Spelt Right Baking, Peak Organic Brewery, Oak Pond Brewery, Barkwheats Dog Biscuits, Heiwa Tofu and GrandyOats Granola have all developed product lines using Maine grown grains
• Vendors from all across Maine: bakers, baking supply stores, culinary bookstores, and specialty food purveyors sold copious amounts of product at last year’s Artisan Bread Fair in Skowhegan, an event that drew approximately 3000 people to the oldest continuously running fairgrounds in the country, the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds.
The expertise developed over the five years since the first Kneading Conference began can be replicated in other communities striving to kick-start a rural, grain-based economy. For more information, please contact Wendy Hebb, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kneading Conference Mission:
To preserve and promote grain traditions, from earth to hearth, among farmers, millers, bakers, and families around the table. To provide educational programs that demonstrate how to rebuild local grain networks by using a combination of traditional, innovative, and sustainable techniques, and how to craft breads and baked goods using select flours and locally-harvested and milled grains.