Daily bread, Shepherd's Grain, direct-seeding, and other breakfast table ponderings

We’re still playing the field when it comes to our daily bread in our new home. Back in Oakland we had two breads we ate: Campbell Bakery’s “Birdman” for breakfast toast, and Acme Bakery’s sweet batard for crusty sandwiches, croutons, and such. Plus, when we could get over there at the right time, a fresh baguette from La Farine was always a pleasure.

Here there are many yummy choices that are natural, locally made, or organic. Our original assumption that we’d just “find the one we liked” has been overturned in favor of checking out all the great bread that folks are making.

One of our favorites for breakfast so far has been the “Nuts and Grains” bread from Dave’s Killer Bread. This is a soft whole-wheat loaf jammed with all sorts of whole grains and seeds and nuts like oats, flax seeds (which may be the incredibly crunchy little bits) and several varieties of nuts including the ubiquitous hazelnut.1

Dave’s Killer Bread was started Dave Dahl, an heir to NatureBake, a local natural bakery founded by his parents. Dave (pictured above) spent some time in and out of jail due to various involvements with drugs and drug-related crime, and on his last stint decided to make a clean break and get back into bread-making. His story is pretty inspiring and his bread is excellent.

Dave uses flour from an alliance of grain farmers on the Columbia Plateau called Shepherd’s Grain. I saw the Shepherd’s Grain flour booth at the farmers market and talked to their representative there. He told me that while the farmers use sustainable practices, they aren’t certified organic, simply because they don’t till the soil in order to seed it.2 Instead they use what’s called direct-seeding, whereby, simply put, they poke a hole in the soil, drop the seed in, and cover it up. The grain is then dry-farmed, without the use of water inputs. They rotate their grain crops with legumes such as red beans and lentils, which they also had for sale at the market.

The farmers at Shepherd’s Grain are doing some interesting and vital work, the kind that is both innovative and anachronistic. Their website is a good source for more information, including a discussion of organic methods versus the direct-seed method that they use.


 1. Hazelnuts are one of the Willamette Valley’s biggest exports, and they are much-loved in local restaurants, where they show up on, or in, everything from cookies to roast meats to salads and soups. We’ve taken to dry-toasting whole raw nuts in the oven, and then crushing them lightly and mixing them into salads. Or just eating them plain, of course!

 2. I don’t know exactly what is involved in organic certification or why this would not qualify for it; I’m just repeating what he told me. I do know what direct-seeding is, in part because it is what we do in our gardens, for some of the same reasons: it preserves soil structure, and keeps the moisture and water-soluble nutrients within the soil instead of churning it up and letting it aspirate out.

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