Kneading Conference & Artisan Bread Fair

Inspiring. Motivating. Delicious. These are my three take-aways from the Maine Grain Alliance 2013 Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair in Skowhegan, Maine. Much like the NOFA Organic Farming Winter Conference, this was a gathering of kindred spirits bonded around common passions: namely, artisan bread. I was fortunate enough to get into the production workshop led by Michael Rhoads, head baker & Sharon Burns-Leader, owner of the well-known and loved Bread Alone Bakery. We baked over 500 artisanal creations and I learned a lot about production schedules over the 2+ days. Kimmy attended conference sessions on crackers, marketing, malting and rye. She’s hooked and already said we’ll be there next year!

In Maine, there is a grain that welcomes all to the game. It grows like a weed when all succeed. Albie planted the seed.

A Living Example of the Connection Economy

The Maine Graine Alliance has keyed in on something very special, but equally practical: the connection economy. Their non-profit has fostered the connections of the farmer, to the miller and the baker (and oven builders too) and this living example was on display at the conference for all to see and tinker with. I say “tinker” because this is after all an evolving, albeit successful experiment that not only requires, it demands community participation to thrive. How are we to rebuild resilient local food, farming and entrepreneurial economies by sitting on the sidelines? Albie Barden tasked the audience as he spoke so eloquently about this in his inspirational closing address; how the changes we seek must come from us, they will not come from some other place.

You can also see the recognition this gathering has garnered in the news (“Maine’s New Bread Basket) and press (“Baking in Skowhegan“). It’s conferences like this and non-profit organizations like the Maine Graine Alliance that are helping to provide a boost to rural economies.

A Mecca for Bread-Heads

It was refreshing to see that across the landscape of presenters, experts and attendees – all were there to learn and discover something new in this family-like atmosphere. Home bakers, aspiring boulangerie owners, DIY mobile and professional oven builders – this tribe passionate about artisan breads and local grains are an inquisitive bunch. Looking back on the conference, the collective knowledge amongst this crowd of skilled tradespeople, talented bakers like Michael Rhoads, Richard Miscovich, Jeffrey Hamelman, Ciril Hitz, Michael Jubinsky, Albie Barden, Daniel Wing, countless others and newbies like myself – the answer to your questions would most certainly be found amongst this diverse group of “wheatstalkers.”

I was humbly overjoyed to see none other than Dan Wing himself (co-author of the Bread Builders with Alan Scott) in my production class. Apparently he wanted to learn more about production scheduling too! Go figure…

I can see why the Kneading Conference is like a mecca for bread-heads and I very much felt like I belonged. This is my tribe. I hope to see you on the next pilgrimage!

Check out the slideshow below and more of my photos over on Flickr. Plus there are even more photos in this Flickr set. Quite a photogenic event!

[slickr-flickr search=”sets” set=”72157634858510145″ descriptions=”on”]

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