Dining Out - Bread For All

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Inland Northwest uses its huckleberries the way that Georgia uses its peaches -- they're in everything. Huckleberry crepes, huckleberry smoothies, huckleberry beer. But huckleberries account for only a slim fraction of this area's agriculture -- the region's real crop royalty is wheat.

Nothing, then, should say "Inland Northwest" like a loaf of bread. And few breads taste quite so much like the Inland Northwest as the stuff being cranked out at Bouzies Bakery, a small operation in an unmarked house behind Luna on the South Hill. That's because head baker Dena Carr, a Spokane native and certificate-holder from the San Francisco Baking Institute, doesn't use just any old flour in her artisan breads. She gets nearly all of her flour from Shepherd's Grain, a Reardan-based co-op of 14 farmers ranging from from Colfax, Wash., to Genesee, Idaho.

Shepherd's Grain, which began in 1999, utilizes no-till farming, which means farmers disturb the soil as little as possible, thus preserving the host of microorganisms that are usually destroyed by tilling.

"[It's] no different than the way the buffalo used to do it," says Fred Fleming, owner and founder of Reardan Seed Company and one of the farmers involved with Shepherd's Grain. The buffalo that roamed the west carried seeds in their fur and dropped them into the ground. "Then the hoof pounded it in, and the back end of the buffalo fertilized the ground," she says. "That's the basics."

No-till agriculture still takes a certain amount of chemical application, but Fleming says that whereas the chemicals used in conventional farming tend to leach off the farm and into the environment, the chemicals in no-till farms are digested by the microorganisms that are left in the soil to thrive. It's like one big compost pile. "Our soils don't leave the farm," he says. "They don't erode into the aquifer. When Hangman Creek turns brown, that's not from Shepherd's Grain farms."

Carr is all about Shepherd's Grain's sustainable agricultural practices. "It's really rewarding as a baker," he says. "You really kind of see the full circle."

But the real pay-off for her as a baker, she says, is in what the local flour does for her bread. "[No-till] produces a flour that's a lot richer in its flavor," she says.

When Carr first started baking for Luna about a year ago, she tried Shepherd's Grain but found the protein levels in the flour were not what she was used to, so she switched to Gold Medal, the commercial flour you can find in grocery aisles everywhere. But when Fleming showed her how she could use Shepherd's Grain more effectively, she quickly switched back. The difference between the bread made with the commercial flour and the bread made with the local, no-till flour, she says, was "huge."

Of course, the rest of the ingredients help. And we're not talking just white or wheat here. Look at the list of bread Bouzies produces: walnut levain, fig-anise boule, roasted garlic and asiago, semolina with golden raisins and fennel seeds, kalamata olive with thyme. Carr may not be packing her bread with huckleberries, but she sees the importance of terroir.

"A real goal [for us] is to access locally produced ingredients as much as possible," she says, motioning to the burgeoning herb garden in the back yard. "It's kind of a challenge, because you deal with the seasons for a lot of the ingredients."

But customers like a good story as much as they like strong flavors; local seasonal ingredients and environmentally friendly, socially conscious baked goods are a hit in this area. "You can't beat the story," says Fleming. "But we wanted to make sure we had a product. [Now we do], and people are clamoring for it."

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