On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Stephen Jones, founder and Director of The Bread Lab at Washington State University, aims to reclaim nutritious bread by breeding and experimenting with grains, defying the crumbling wheat system. “Time has been taken out as an ingredient in bread; so if you go from dry flour to sliced, and cooled, and wrapped in plastic in just over two hours, that’s not bread. That’s a product that may look like it, but that’s not bread,” says Jones.
Baking real bread played an important role in Jones’s Polish family history, captivating him at a young age. “My Polish grandmother Stephanie taught me how to bake bread when I was about six years old, and I just loved the whole memory of that,” says Jones.
Since founding The Bread Lab in 2011, Jones uses bread to support the Skagit Valley community, breeding grains to identify types that perform best for local farmers and the environment. Even after harvest, The Bread Lab keeps each stage of bread production inside the community. “We’re very set on that notion of keeping the value where it’s produced[…] And the way it disappears is if we grew wheat and a big hand came in with sharp fingernails and grabbed it and took it away somewhere, and made flour out of it and sold that back to us,” Jones explains.
“We like to be less efficient, and we like to use more time in what we do,” Jones explains. While The Bread Lab is a combination think tank, research center, and baking laboratory, Jones says it is first and foremost a meeting place “for breeders, PhD students, community members, bakers, chefs, millers, maltsters, and distillers; all of them come together and kind of inform back and forth how we can make better food.”
Jones considers the price of the bread equally as important as the ingredients that go in it. “That’s important in our food system; to have the best ingredients available to as many possible, the price point has to come within reason,” says Jones. “It’s not dismissing the sort of high-end bread, but it’s filling the gap of bread in the middle—bread at a price that is affordable to more members of our community.”
Bringing real bread back to the Skagit Valley, Jones explains, requires keeping the lab’s focus on the community. “People ask us how we’re going to scale up; I think people should be more interested in scaling down,” says Jones. “People really want their bread back.”
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Photo courtesy of The Bread Lab.