Category: Bluebird Community

by Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer

photos courtesy of DinkelBrot Delight

Christina Welch’s passion has always been cooking. Born and raised in Carpinteria, CA, Welch was one of those kids who loved the culinary arts classes in high school, passing with flying colors. In fact, the teachers often roped her into leading the classes, she says. She didn’t bake much, though, because “baking involves chemistry, and I was no chemist,” she says.

After high school Welch lived in Germany for a couple of years before returning to the United States. One of the things she enjoyed most about Germany was going to local bakeries and eating what she calls “real breads.”

Although her career eventually took her down the floral design path, Welch never forgot about those German loaves. Then one night pre-pandemic, when Welch and her husband were hosting exchange students, a German student made some bread. “It was so good,” Welch says. “I tried to mimic their recipes, but it never came out like theirs—it didn’t taste the same.”

Eventually Welch learned that the student was using spelt flour. “I had never heard of it,” she says, “but I went out and got some and the recipe turned out great.”

In fact, it worked so well that Welch was tempted to keep tinkering, chemistry or no. “I was grinding my own wheat berries in my Vitamix, giving bread to my friends and family, telling everyone I knew ‘you should really try this.’” During the pandemic, Welch got a Cottage Food Permit, selling small batches of bread out of her home. Welch called her spelt loaves by their German name: “DinkelBrot”—“spelt” +  “bread.”

One day Welch’s husband’s cousin in nearby Santa Barbara put in a request. “He asked me if I’d make my spelt loaf but with Einkorn flour,” Welch says. “I asked him, ‘What is that?’ but I eventually learned more about Einkorn and other ancient grains and then I realized, ‘This is the bread I want to start selling.’”

Things seemed to happen quickly from there. Welch’s brown-seeded Einkorn loaves were a big hit; they remain one of her best sellers. An area restaurant, The Food Liaison, took note and asked Welch if she wanted to sell bread from the restaurant. She did, and that was good for growth in both businesses.

Welch started out baking in her home kitchen. “I could do four loaves at a time, in 13” loaf pans, but it was taking forever,” she says. “I needed to be able to bake at a bigger scale. So my husband, who is an electrical contractor, fired up another oven in the garage for me, so now I can do eight loaves each hour.”

Once she was committed to Einkorn, Welch quickly discovered Bluebird Grain Farms, through a recommendation from her daughter-in-law. “I was buying Einkorn elsewhere, but it wasn’t as good as Bluebird’s Einkorn,” she says. “The Einkorn from Europe is nice, but it’s hard to get. So I ordered from everyone, did some baking tests, and Bluebird’s loaves came out the best, even compared to the European grains. When you look at a bag of Bluebird’s whole grains, you can just see how high-quality they are.”

From there, Welch learned about Mockmill, whose “grain revolution” includes making affordable, high-quality countertop flour mills. Now, Welch mills her own flour early in the morning on baking days, using fresh flour that retains its flavor and nutritional components.

Welch waxes enthusiastic about Einkorn (and especially about Bluebird’s trademarked Einka®, which is always organically grown by family farmers in Eastern Washington and 100% whole grain (not pearled) for maximum nutrient density. “Einkorn and these other ancient grains are for people who really care about what they put in their bodies,” Welch says. “People are starting to be more aware that in Europe almost everyone can eat gluten, because they’re milling all their own grains and getting that live culture. Over here, there is all this gluten intolerance because our wheat is so heavily processed.

“It’s important, I think, if you want to use Einkorn, to get it through Bluebird,” Welch continues. “Their staff will help you with figuring out your best storage solution. They’ll also talk to you about milling your own grain. After talking with them I started making this fantastic Einkorn stone ground banana bread. It has that stone ground taste and texture, but it doesn’t feel heavy. It’s dense but light.”

These days, working under the business name DinkelBrot Delight, Welch bakes once a week, as well as doing occasional pop-up markets and some special items for holidays. In addition to her popular brown-seeded Einkorn loaves using Bluebird’s Einka flour, Welch offers savory sourdoughs like jalapeño cheddar, kalamata, cheddar chive, and caraway; round loaves with raisins or chocolate (“slices of magic”); and sweet treats like cinnamon rolls, ginger cookies, and banana bread. She also makes fruit preserves, using pectin sourced from Europe–“theirs is so much better,” she says.

Welch’s work at Dinkelbrot Delight relies on a small team; lead baker Mimi, the “Swedish dynamo and culinary virtuoso,” and Welch’s husband Jeff, who manages sales and is the “artisan of relationships.” Together, the trio ensures that customers have access to the savory and sweet loaves they preorder, as well as the “symphony of flavors” offered by DinkelBrot’s cookies and cinnamon bun spirals. One might say they are on a roll.

Visit DinkelBrot Delight online to learn more or place orders, or find them on Instagram.

As longtime Methow Valley residents, we at Bluebird Grain Farms have always been staunch supporters of land conservation efforts. In fact, our new granary and processing facility is located on a property that is permanently protected by a conservation easement!

We’re particularly excited about the Methow Conservancy’s latest conservation project. Imagine the Methow: the Campaign for Sunny M Ranch is on track to purchase and protect 1200 acres near the town of Winthrop, to preserve possibilities for wildlife habitat, farming, recreation, and the local economy. Many mountain communities never get a chance to determine what the landscape near town looks like and how it reflects what the community values. The Methow Valley does.

More than 1000 people & households have joined the Campaign for Sunny M Ranch so far. Once that number reaches 1200, a pool of six donors will give an additional $100,000 toward the campaign goal of $8.3M, bringing the campaign total raised to $8M.

Bluebird Grain Farms is a proud business sponsor of the Methow Conservancy and we are happy to be a part of the Campaign for Sunny M Ranch. We hope you’ll join us in being a part of 1200 donors for 1200 acres. Learn more HERE

A Few Visitors stopped in this Month

We have had lots of wonderful folks stopping in to Bluebird. Here’s a shout out to a few that we got to see this month. We appreciate you taking the time to stop in.

Bruce and Bob from the West Side.Bruce has been a long time customer at Bluebird. He stopped in to get his Pasayten Hard White Wheat Berries for his sourdough bread. He reports that he mills everything at home for his weekly bread baking routine. His buddy Bob, who has a cabin in the Methow, is not much of a baker but loves to eat Bruce’s Bread.

Bob: I hope the T-shirt fit!

Melissa Spear, the Executive director of Tilth Alliance, a state wide organization that advocates for organic agriculture and local food systems, stopped in with valley resident Gwynn. It was fun to show them our farm and to discuss the opportunities and challenges of Organic Agriculture in Washington State.

If you would like to learn more about Tilth Alliance, please visit their website and consider becoming a member.

Upcoming Granary & Farm Tours

Public Drop in Hours: Monday-Friday,9:00 to 4:00 PM

We welcome drop in visitors on site Monday-Friday from 9:00 am-4:00 pm. Stop in and see our new digs and pop up shop. If you would like to request a group tour ( 10 +) of our facility- please reach out to and we will do our best to accommodate you. Our address is 19611 Hwy 20, Winthrop WA.

Pick up Box

We have a pick up box on our front porch. If you are only here on the weekend you can place your order online, choose “farm pickup” and you will not be charged for shipping. We will place your order in our pick up box for weekend and after hours pick up.

Be an Ambassador to Bluebird

Would you like to see Bluebird products in your local grocery store? We sell our ancient grain products in bulk and pre packaged to grocery stores throughout the PNW and beyond. If you are willing to do a little leg work for us, we’d love to help facilitate getting our products in your local store. Email us at the name of your store, the contact information of your store grocery buyer- including email, and phone number. We ask that you speak directly to the buyer and ask them what the process is (every store is different and It is immensely helpful to have customers request our products with their local grocery buyers).

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of Cafe Columbia

Dan and Cathy Rodriguez, co-owners of Cafe Columbia in Pybus Market, spent their early careers in IT, working for more than 15 years with manufacturers such as The Boeing Co and Tempress and later moving into consulting for Fujitsu, Solutions Consulting, Perot Systems, and Dell Computer. But all the while they were honing their cooking skills, inspired by the menus they sampled in the broad spectrum of restaurants in Seattle, Portland, Spokane, and San Francisco.

Neither Dan nor Cathy came from culinary families, Dan says. “We grew up in the time of Rice-a-Roni, Kraft mac & cheese and hot dish.” But in their IT jobs, which involved extensive travel regionally, they had “the opportunity to enjoy cuisine from Tom Douglas, Thierry Rautureau, Ethan Stole, Renee Erickson all the way to ethnic comfort favorites of the Rainier Valley and Chinatown.”

As their travel schedules got busier and their work grew increasingly demanding, Dan and Cathy “started looking towards the future and were fortunate to have the resources to purchase some acreage in Plain, near Lake Wenatchee, with plans to eventually build house on the property.”

Once the couple relocated to Plain and decided to get out of the proverbial rat race, they decided to start their own business, a specialty foods store called Almond Blossom. Dan says, “Following our love of food we developed recipes for familiar and exotic flavors of roasted nuts. We manufactured our own line of packaged product and sold it in the store and also to several locations in the valley, Seattle area and nationally. We also sold a curated line of fine gourmet foods in the store. We tried to source everything as locally as possible.”

At first the business was just successful enough to support the Rodriguez family, which included Dan and Cathy, two grown children from first marriages, and two daughters adopted from China. Later, as Almond Blossom flourished, the couple “decided to expand and opened another location in the newly developed Pybus Market in Wenatchee,” Dan says. “We sold a larger offering of gourmet items and also produced our line of nut products similar as the Leavenworth offering.”

They had been running Almond Blossom in Pybus Market for about a year when they were presented with the opportunity to open a small cafe–Cafe Columbia–in the market. “We started this venture with one barista, one baker, and one kitchen person,” Dan says. “We also worked in the cafe in the bakery and kitchen all while sustaining the two Almond Blossom locations and associated staff.”

It was too much, the couple realized after a couple of years. They decided to “laser focus” on growing Cafe Columbia and sold Almond Blossom, where it continues to thrive in Cashmere.

In Cafe Columbia, Dan says, “we hope we have built a business that reflects on spirit of the Central Valley. We focus on quality, customer service and consistency. We now operate the Cafe seven days a week and provide a living wage for our full-time employees.”

Cafe Columbia began offering Bluebird Grain Farms products as soon as Dan and Cathy discovered them. “We had developed a couple of grain bowl menu items,” Dan says. “We were buying farro–the main ingredient–from a national supplier. But we always try to find local suppliers for ingredients and happened upon Bluebird in a Google search.”

Bluebird’s small family farm growing practices appealed to the Rodriguezes, who value things like “mindfully sourced ingredients and scratch preparation.”

The Rodriguez family loved Bluebird’s Organic Whole Grain Emmer Farro, but more importantly, so did Cafe Columbia’s customers. “It’s a little heartier than the initial product we used and our customers noticed that and definitely prefer it,” Dan says.

Cafe Columbia is just entering its busy season, as Pybus Market ramps up for summer, with the farmers market and entertainment offerings drawing in customers, as well as walkers and runners coming in from the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail. The next six months will keep the Rodriguezes and their staff hopping: cooking, baking, brewing. But it’s a different kind of busy than their west side lives offered, and it gives them the opportunity to encourage others to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal together–to linger, savor, and reflect.

Cafe Columbia is a locally owned artisan coffee bar, bakery, and kitchen, featuring world class, hand-roasted Blue Star Coffee expertly prepared by a friendly barista team. Scratch bakery selections are prepared on location daily, along with freshly prepared breakfast, brunch and lunch menus that include traditional favorites, healthy, vegetarian, and vegan options. A brunch menu is served on Saturday and Sunday. Beer, wine, and Mimosas are also available. Order online or visit them at Pybus Market.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos by Bluebird Grain Farms.

It was logging that brought Bluebird Grain Farms Granary Manager Steve White to the Methow Valley in 1996 and it was farming that eventually brought him back. Steve was raised in Northern Idaho in a community that makes the Methow Valley seem metropolitan–only 438 people. After a career that involved logging, law enforcement, and mechanics, Steve discovered both farming and the Methow Valley through his wife, Sharee Holcomb White, a 4th generation Methow Valley resident whose family owned one of the first dairies in the valley.

Steve (who you may know as a past Liberty Bell High School football coach) ran the saw shop at Cascade Pipe in Twisp for years, but when store ownership changed he went back to Idaho and managed a saw shop there for a few years. But when Sharee’s mother got sick, Steve knew he wanted to come home. Serendipitously, Bluebird Grain Farms was looking for a millwright and granary manager. Steve had the skillset–chiefly, a strong work ethic. “I’ve found that logging and farming have a lot in common,” Steve says. “Hard work.”

Steve had lived in the Methow Valley for nearly a quarter century and says he had never heard of Bluebird Grain Farms. “I wish I would have years ago,” he says.

Bluebird resonates with Steve for many reasons, but one stands out: sense of purpose. “Sam, Brooke, and Bluebird have given me purpose in my working career,” he says. “I feel that most humans want to make a difference and I believe I can make a difference in people’s lives by providing the type of food that helps our society in so many ways.”

Steve also enjoys problem-solving, saying that every day brings the excitement and possibility of a new problem to solve. “I love learning about new things so I guess I’m in the perfect work place. I get to learn something new every day.”

The work environment at the granary doesn’t hurt, either, Steve says. “Sam and Brooke have created a special place to work. The people I work with are more than coworkers–we are actually a family.” His bosses are “ok to work for,” Steve says with a smile, his affection and respect for Brooke and Sam evident.

His favorite place in the world

On a daily basis, Steve manages “what goes in and out of the processing room.” He cleans grain, bags it, and builds pallets as well as shipping and receiving product and managing inventory. When the millwright assistant, Dan Carroll, is not at work, Steve also mills grain into flour.

Ah yes, the flour. In hiring Steve, Bluebird Grain Farms got a two-for-one deal. Once Sharee got her hands on some of that Bluebird flour, the White family test kitchen opened for business. “Although I grew up baking yeast breads and muffins and cookies and quick breads with my mom I had never used 100% whole grains. So when Steve started bringing home Bluebird products I had no idea what to do with them,” Sharee says. “I did know that you cannot substitute whole grain flour for all purpose flour in a recipe and be successful. So I started researching whole grains and after learning all the health benefits of whole grains  and whole grain flours I was so excited to start feeding my family these nutrient rich  grains.”

Sharee's whole wheat muffinsSharee was no stranger to home-grown foods; she grew up on a 40-acre farm north of Winthrop, “in the midst of but not part of the Big Valley Ranch.” Sharee’s father, Walt Holcomb, worked at Okanogan County Electric Co Op for 35 years and her mom, known to many as “Mrs. Holcomb” was a secretary for the Methow Valley School District for 30 years. “But those were just their day jobs,” Sharee says. “The real work came in the form of raising three kids on a farm as self-sustaining as possible. However, we relied on the grocery store for all our baking ingredients, including flour.”

In the farm girl spirit, Sharee rolled up her sleeves and began learning about fresh farmed grains. “The whole grains were the easy part,” Sharee says. “They are great substitute for rice in any dish. My family especially loves my Potlatch Pilaf and beet salad with lemon vinaigrette on a hot summer night or lamb stew with Organic Einka & French Lentil Blend on a cold winter day.”

Potlatch Pilaf and Beet salad with lemon vinaigretteAs far as using whole grains in baking, Sharee says she was apprehensive until she stumbled across a You Tube video on 100% whole wheat bread with freshly milled grain. She was hooked. Once Sharee learned about all the grains and what they are best used for (for example, hard wheats are for yeast breads and soft wheat like Bluebird’s Sonora is for baked goods like cakes, cookies and quick breads, while ancient grains can be used in combination with either or by themselves in quick breads) she’s a woman on a mission. “I have been converting all my families recipes that have been passed down to me over the years,” she says.

Sharee has some favorite grains, but it depends on the recipe. “Organic Einkorn Flour makes tasty muffins and pancakes, but the nuttiness of Organic Emmer Flour makes a great artisan loaf or brownies and my family loves a honey hard red wheat sandwich loaf.”

Fluffy Hard Red Wheat LoavesSharee’s family isn’t her only test audience. According to Joy Randall, Bluebird Grain Farms Marketing Coordinator, “Sharee is an excellent baker and is always sending Steve with bread and treats for us!” The test products get high marks from the office staff.

Sharee’s favorite recipes rely on the same thing as Steve’s: hard work. “I’ve found that if I put a little bit of time, effort, and knowledge together the possibilities are endless, using a food product that is not only very healthy and beneficial, but tasty as well.”

When they’re not baking or managing granaries, the Whites love to spend time with their children Levi, Brayden, and Carly engaged in activities like fishing, hunting, and camping.     

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of Celilo

Restaurant Chef Ben Stenn isn’t the first person to have a trip to France change his life and he won’t be the last. But the Hood River, Oregon community can rejoice that France lured Stenn from a career in law to a life devoted to sharing what he refers to as “the bounty of the region” with those who dine at Celilo Restaurant, where he and his team “make food with love.”

Stenn’s transformation from bibliophile to chef came early in his young adult life. Stenn graduated from New York University with a major in Political Science and a minor in French Literature–“which qualified me to do very little,” he says. But, he adds, “this was back when school was considerably less expensive and there was equally less pressure to have an income-earning job at graduation.”

One of the high points of Stenn’s undergraduate experience was a study abroad program, where he honed his French language skills and made new friends. As graduation neared, “so did the reality of my lack of plans,” Stenn says. Stenn likes to talk and can argue persuasively, so he applied to law school, but his heart wasn’t in it.

Then a call from a friend in the study abroad program presented Stenn with an alternative: work as a “stagiare,” translating recipe books at a cooking school in France. In exchange for working as a translator, Stenn received room, board, and access to cooking classes, which eventually led to restaurant work, and, Stenn says, his raison d’être.

It wasn’t that cooking was new to Stenn; his family had always had a love of food, cooking and baking bread together. “I’m not a religious person but traditional preparations from an eastern European Jewish family played a big part in our family recipes passed down through generations,” Stenn says. “My parents appreciated real ingredients and true preparations so we never went to fast food restaurants growing up. I was an odd kid amongst my friends with families that made regular trips to McDonalds. I had never gone until my teenage years.”

Stenn’s parents were inventive cooks. His mother, an art teacher, brought home firing bricks from a clay kiln and his father “layered them in our electric oven so that we could crank it up to the maximum and get a proper crust on homemade pizza.” They also appreciated fine dining and never took it for granted. “We were not an affluent family so we saved for special experiences,” Stenn says. “I knew what the Michelen guide was at a young age. As a family we savored such occasions, getting dressed up and lingering over a special meal. We lived in a modest home that was not thick with possessions. Instead we travelled and had special meals from time to time.”

When Stenn returned from France, he was a young but competent cook entering the New York restaurant scene, which he calls “rugged–the age of abusive chefs, grueling hours, poor quality of life.” He eventually left all this behind, moving to Hood River in 1995, where he operated the Sixth Street Bistro for ten years and established a family of farmers and producers. These relationships and priorities became the foundation of Celilo Restaurant when it opened in 2005: “Know the source, Know your people, Know your food.”

At Celilo, Stenn departs from the “rugged” urban kitchen environment, instead encouraging an environment of mutual respect. “I consider myself a crew member and I treat everyone in my kitchen the way I want to be treated,” he says. “People make mistakes and that requires correction and constructive input. I never did well with someone yelling at me so I don’t operate that way.”

Although he veered away from an unhealthy management style, Stenn retained one aspect of the New York fine dining scene: its amazing ingredients. “I worked at restaurants that had the natural jewels of earth flown in from the far corners to create dazzling combinations. I refer to this as the artist’s palette, a collection of beautiful ingredients, building blocks, that come together to create a beautiful plate. Standing in front of 60 to 80 building blocks (quart containers of mise en place) was an inspiration in the creative process.”

At Celilo, Stenn says he has adapted this concept “to show off the bounty of our region.”

“I don’t fly in white truffles from Italy,” he says. “I do revel in the amazing collection that comes from the farms that support our restaurant. The artist palette here may have fewer total elements but they are at their absolute best, arriving fresh, ripe and with minimal handling.”

Stenn is perpetually delighted by what the Pacific Northwest brings to the table. “In New York City we had morel mushrooms flown in from Oregon.  When I finally moved out west, I had a mushroom picker arrive at the back door of the kitchen with a basket of stunning morels.  They would have passed through 10 sets of hands and three distribution centers to arrive days later at my previous location.  In Hood River, I received them the day that they were picked.”

Stenn also realizes that all this fresh bounty is only available thanks to farmers, growers, ranchers, orchardists, and other food producers (referred to as “farmers” for concision hereafter). “The farmer has the hardest job of anyone in the food business.  As a lover of the end product I have always been curious about the process.  I realized early on that it was my duty to support the growers in any way that I could.”

Stenn’s three-step guidebook for supporting small-scale farmers:

  1. Buy it all. “When a farmer offered a harvest to me, and these are all small operations that I work with, individuals or married couples, I bought everything they had to offer. My logic was that it would save them time, possibly the loss of some of their harvest and allow them to focus on the growing. I’ve maintained this ethic as much as possible.”
  2. Communicate. “Visit the farms, learn about their process, understand their successes and hardships, share the input of my own success and challenge with their vegetables and more.”
  3. Honor the first step. “Buy it all. Make requests for specialty ingredients, yes, but buy what is abundant and figure out how to make something delicious with it.”

Stenn also features his local purveyors on Celilo’s website, thus promoting their products to other customers.

Stenn owns and operates Celilo with two business partners: Maui Meyer with whom Stenn has worked since 1995, and Jacqueline Carey, who manages the front of the house and serves as the keeper of the wine list.

Prior to that, Stenn says, the trio teamed up at the Sixth Street Bistro, where they hatched the plan for Celilo. “Celilo was an idea that we cultivated over ten years. We ran the Bistro carefully and frugally and saved everything for the eventual opening of Celilo. We designed everything within the building in which we are located; interior design, bar and dining room layout, tables and table top and of course kitchen.”

Celilo has “been in motion” since 2005, Stenn says, especially in the last five years. “We have had a really great time working off site events at The Orchard, a family-run event space in a pear orchard located a few miles from the restaurant. We are like-minded people: hard working, with good attention to detail. A couple years back, we decided to partner with The Orchard and offer our off-site catering exclusively with them. They have made significant progress working with their space including a lavender farm to accent the beauty of the pear orchard.”

But more importantly for Celilo, Stenn says, The Orchard “created a garden space that allows us to grow our own herbs and vegetables. This is a major development for us. We use a ton of herbs in our cooking. Now, we literally take a few paces out to the herb boxes and harvest what we need, directly from the ground. It really ups our game. The cater crew harvests herbs and vegetables and brings them down to the restaurant kitchen. The restaurant prep team spends part of their time doing prep work for the cater menus. Then the catering team takes over and the final cooking takes place on site. It’s a lovely symbiosis.”

Bluebird Grain Farms products feature frequently in the Celilo menu, particularly the Organic Whole Grain Emmer Farro. “Our classic preparation is to steam it (rice method),” Stenn says. “We also enjoy cooking it risotto-style to release some starch and get a creamier consistency. It has a unique mouth feel which is why I love it so much. There isn’t another ingredient that can compare. I like the chewy nature of the grains and the mild, earthy flavor.”

Stenn’s team works with lots of vegetables but also meat and fish. “Bluebird’s Farro is an elegant accompaniment to proteins,” he says. “But I think it really shines when paired with grilled vegetables, sauteed spicy greens, butter glazed carrots…. the list goes on. I like gathering gorgeous vegetables, farro and a tangy sauce to create something special, then remark, ‘oh this is vegetarian too.'”

Despite the many pots he is tending on the stove–both literal an metaphorical–Stenn says he leads a balanced life. “I’m a chef. I’m also a husband, a father, an outdoor enthusiast and a musician,” he says. “Although the restaurant can be pervasive, I learned from my early days that I’m a better chef when my life is rich outside of work. I mountain bike and windsport (currently dabbling with wing-foiling) and I enjoy both activities with my wife and daughters. I play guitar and sing and I’m still trying to learn piano.  I might like to try some more writing and storytelling in the future.”

To learn more about Celilo Restaurant, visit their website. Click HERE for a Organic Whole Grain Emmer Farro Risotto recipe.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of Punk Rock Bread

Punk Rock Bread co-founder Ian Beert loves bread, “always and forever,” but his wife, Andrea, wasn’t able to eat it. Like so many in the modern era, Andrea couldn’t digest gluten properly. Andrea had somewhat resigned herself to a life without bread, until one day the couple was at a food conference and “there were these huge slices of bread with raw cheese on them,” she says. “Ian turned to me and said ‘We are going to figure this out.'”

The Beerts’ backgrounds in the natural food industry (they were part of the founding team of Hope Hummus) and food development & consulting coupled with their inquisitive temperaments led them into a “deep dive” into grains, biodynamics, regenerative growing practices, and other aspects of food nutrition that Andrea says she can just “nerd out on.” The more they learned, the more “the story of what we’ve done to flour” disturbed them. They wanted to enter the conversation about grains, and decided to access it through practical means. So they started baking.

Ian didn’t grow up in a baking family, but he began tinkering, “lazily following recipes,” he says. He soon became attracted to the “rigor and practice of baking old world sourdough bread”–a standard that he has carried with him into Punk Rock Bread, where all the loaves are slow-rise, naturally fermented, and made with 100% whole grain wheat flour.

Based in the Willamette Valley’s wine country, Punk Rock Bread sells fresh loaves direct to consumer–you can order through DM on their Instagram page and pick up your bread in McMinnville–as well as at Source Farms’ farm store and restaurant. And the lucky subscribers in Source Farms’ CSA program get Punk Rock Bread products–including cookie dough!–in their share boxes.

As the Beerts dug into sourcing the best grains for their bread, they learned that the ancient grain varieties were often more digestible than their modern counterparts. But the biggest difference in flours was, unsurprisingly, what was added in the growing process and what was removed in the milling process. “You’d talk to a grower and they’d say ‘Oh yeah, our grains are all natural, we are mostly organic, we just use a tiny bit of glyphosate,'” Ian says. “No! That’s not ok! We wanted to use grains that were truly organic, grown in a way that honors the farmer’s partnership with the land, and milled with all the good stuff left in.”

Bluebird Grain Farms was our best fit,” Ian says. Consequently, Punk Rock Bread uses Bluebird’s Organic Sonora Heritage Soft White Wheat Flour in its organic cookie dough and a record three Bluebird flours in its OG (pronounced “Oh Gee”) Batard: the Organic Pasayten Hard White Wheat Flour, the Organic Methow Hard Red Wheat Flour, and the Organic Einkorn Flour. The fourth flour in those loaves is a Willamette Valley malted purple karma barley.

The Beerts call the Sonoran flour cookies “yum town.” It’s partly their rich flavor and “medium rare” consistency and partly the knowledge that they can stand behind the ingredients: organic flour, organic certified humane grass-fed butter, organic coconut and panela sugar, organic sustainable vanilla, and organic fair-trade dark chocolate chips. Yum town indeed.

But the Beerts also have an affinity for the Sonora region of Mexico from whose heritage the Bluebird flour comes. After spending 16 years in Boulder, CO–going to college, marrying, and starting Hope Hummus– Ian and Andrea decided to explore other paths, which led them to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where they lived for a year. When they’d drive to and from San Miguel, they’d pass through the breadbasket region where the landrace wheat* is grown.

Eventually, though, “we wanted some more green,” Ian says. They also wanted community, which is what led them to Amity, OR, and a relationship with the organic farming community in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley.

Ian and Andrea don’t just want to make bread–they want to make people think. The very name of their company suggests this. “Punk rock is a way of life, it’s a way of saying ‘think for yourself, question what is considered normal, resist the man,'” Ian says. “Well, for us it’s “resist glyphosate’!”

The Beerts believe that Americans were slowly gas-lit into considering highly processed white flour “normal.” Andrea says, “We’ve gone into some high-end restaurants, even farm-to-table restaurants, and you ask about the flour in their homemade pasta or focaccia, and they’ll say ‘oh, we just use regular flour.'”

“When did glyphosate-laden flour become the accepted norm?” she asks rhetorically. “How did we let flour get so estranged from its natural source?” Ian answers the rhetorical question.

“When the industrial milling machines were invented around the end of the 1800s, it became possible to remove the germ and grind up the endosperm into a fine white powder with a long shelf life. ‘All-purpose flour’ was now shelf-sta

ble, widely available, and basically completely distanced from what flour is supposed to be. It caused–and continues to cause–myriad health problems.”

Ian then asks his own rhetorical question. “In the 1800s there were more than 20,000 flour mills in the United States. That’s one mill for about every 1500-2000 people. Every small town had one. Now we’re down to just several hundred mills in the entire country and most of them are just producing all-purpose refined flour. How cool would it be if everyone had a grain mill so they could use fresh, whole-grain flour?”

It’s questions like these that inspire the Beerts to keep baking, keep experimenting, and keep making people question food systems. They’re also counting on people’s interest in participating in efforts to improve food systems and to learn from some of the old practices.

“It’s cool to see people become a part of Punk Rock Bread and what we’re trying to do. They just light up–it’s what drives us,” the Beerts say. “We know how hard it is to change people’s buying habits. We also know how hard it is to make and market products. We’re slowly making these connections. We’re just doing it differently.”

To learn more about Punk Rock Bread, find them on Instagram.

*Wheat landraces are composed of traditional crop varieties developed by farmers over decades to adapt to local environmental conditions and management practices. Rouge de Bourdeaux, another favorite of Punk Rock Bread, is another example of a landrace wheat. The Sonora wheat variety has been specifically adapted to a semi-arid climate, which is why it grows particularly well in both the Southern California/Northern Mexico region as well as in the Methow Valley, where Bluebird Grain Farms is located.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of Seabiscuit Bakery

Executive Chef and Seabiscuit Bakery owner Sieb Jurriaans was trained at Seattle Central Culinary Academy, but he comes from a Dutch family with a love of European cuisine. His younger years were spent on “Intimis,” a family estate in Holland. “Intimis” is also what he chose to later name his Whidbey Island family farm, which he co-owns with his wife, Jenn.

Intimis. Intimate: familiar, close, cherished—they’re all descriptors of the atmosphere and food philosophy the Jurriaans cultivate at Seabiscuit Bakery, as well as their two restaurants, Prima Bistro and Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar. They source their ingredients as close to home as possible, growing what they can onsite at the farm and leveraging relationships with other local and regional growers and producers who value quality and sustainability. “We’ve always wanted to use as much local and seasonal as possible so what better way than growing it ourselves?” Jenn asks, rhetorically.

Before moving to Whidbey Island, which is in some ways Jenn’s childhood home, Sieb sliced and diced his way through Seattle fine dining: Café Campagne, Bis on Main, Saltoro. But when the Prima Bistro space became available, in 2006, in Langley, WA, “we jumped on it,” Jenn says. And “in 2017 we expanded into the next-door space with our second restaurant, Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar.”

At that point Seabiscuit Bakery evolved organically. For years it was the in-house bakery for Prima and Saltwater, but in 2019 they officially branded as Seabiscuit Bakery and began taking online orders from customers, as well as providing baguettes to a local market. And like so many others in the pandemic-era dining industry, in the fall of 2020, the Jurriaans and their staff got creative. “We pivoted Saltwater to make space for a mixed retail/bakery space that we called Salt & Sea Provisions,” Jenn says. “We provided our fresh baked pastries, breads, packaged products, quiches and more directly to our community – along with coffee, wine, pantry products and prepared items from our restaurants.”

Later, once restaurants reopened in a somewhat “normal” business model, the Jurriaans “doubled down on finding a permanent space,” Jenn says. Serendipitously, the Jurriaans’ longtime friends, business owners, and community members Beth and Gary Smith of Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, offered an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind coffee roasterie, bakery and cafe destination at their space, formerly known as Mukilteo Coffee Roasters’ Cafe in the Woods at Whidbey Airpark.”

Operating the Seabiscuit Bakery in the former Mukilteo Coffee Roaster facility in Langley gives the Jurriaans and their staff an opportunity to “provide our community with an welcoming space to enjoy our sweet and savory goodies,” along with Mukilteo Coffee drinks, of course. They’ve also been able to increase production capacity and supply more local businesses with baked goods for retail, restaurants, food trucks, and events. And in addition to providing pick-up catering packages, they’ve begun hosting events in their space.

Another part of the Jurriaans’ evolution with Seabiscuit Bakery has been learning to farm. “Sieb basically has been teaching himself how to farm and it’s been a steep learning curve,” Jenn says. “Rather than tapping into the resources of so many farmers on the island, Sieb has chosen to figure it out on his own, learning by doing (and sometimes failing), but it’s been a great experience. [He] has been able to provide the restaurants with a whole lot of home grown produce!”

The Jurriaans’ experience with farming gives them a greater appreciation for Bluebird Grain Farmsregenerative farming practices and fresh-milled organic grain products. Between the bakery and two restaurants, the Jurrians use Bluebird’s Organic Dark Northern Rye Flour, Organic Dark Northern Rye Berries, and Organic Einkorn Flour.

“At this time the rye flour is appearing in our Hippie Wheat bread, which uses a rye starter, whole wheat and bread flour, oats, and an abundance of seeds. The Hippie Wheat has been super popular!” Seabiscuit Chef and General Manager Allyss Taylor says. “We are also testing a rye loaf with rye berries, and a porridge loaf that has a dose of Einkorn flour. By the end of the summer we should have those products on our shelves.”

Taylor and her staff also make a salad with Bluebird’s Organic Whole Grain Emmer Farro on a bed of arugula. “We appreciate the quality and flavor of the Bluebird products,” Taylor says.

What the Jurriaans can’t grow, they do their best to source locally and regionally. In addition to using Bluebird Grain Farms products, they also use flour from Small’s Family farm, which they love for their commitment to sustainability. “We use locally sourced produce when it’s available. We aim to produce top-quality artisan bread and pastries with as many local and regional flourishes as we can manage,” Taylor says.

The bakery and cafe menus provide a balance: fresh greens and root vegetables sharing space comfortably with hearty sandwiches, chocolate babkas and caramel brownies complemented by gougeres and savory scones.

They also serve non-alcoholic drinks, spirits & batched cocktails, and gluten free options

All those loaves and pastries don’t bake themselves, though. To handle the volume of baked goods coming out of Seabiscuit Bakery’s ovens, the bakery employs 11 bakers: a bread team, a pastry chef, pastry assistants, and two bakers that specialize in laminated doughs (those buttery, flaky, airy doughs used in croissants and puff pastries). The bakery staff operates as a collaborative team, with the bakers helping each other as needed as well as cross-training, and the dishwashers, delivery drivers, and four cooks all pulling their weight in the Seabiscuit Café as well.

It’s a well-oiled (or perhaps well-buttered?) team that serves all the restaurant’s wholesale accounts, the substantial volume of special orders, and all the pastries, bread, and food for the busy Seabiscuit Café.

“It takes all hands on deck to get it done,” Taylor says.

To learn more about Seabiscuit Bakery & Co. Cafe, visit their website.

This week Bluebird Grain Farms has teamed up with the non-profit organization, World Central Kitchen, to help bring food relief to people of Ukraine. Now through April 3rd, 5% of our  proceeds via our online store will be donated to World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts and the chefs of Ukraine.

World Central Kitchen posted the above phot of their website of chefs cooking paella in their kitchen.  They state “The new WCK Relief Kitchen is located in Przemysl, a polish city just several miles from the  order with Ukraine that is receiving tens of thousands of refugees every day.  From this kitchen, our team has the capacity to scale up and cook 100,000 meals per day utilizing 12 massive WCK paellea pans and 12 large ovens.”

When faced with a devastating war so far away, it is hard to know what to do or how to help. We love food, we love chefs, and we love and believe in democracy. This effort felt like a simple way that we can help.  Our goal is to raise $2000 to donate to by April 3rd.  As of 4/1 we have raised $1050.00.  Will you join us?

To learn more about WCK and to read about  their boots on the ground efforts visit: WCG.ORG

You can follow them on instagram @wckitchen / #chefsofukraine

Shop now and 5% will be donated.

Ends April 3rd, 2022, 11:59 PM

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of James Hannah Austin V

A childhood spent on a farm normalized the mammalian birth process for James Hannah Austin V, and quite likely planted the seeds for an eventual career in midwifery. Raised on the same Brinklow, MD sheep farm her father grew up on, Austin had a unique upbringing that included a trapeze in the living room and a 15′ pole she and her sister, Marika (who Austin says “was and is my best companion”), would climb to get a quarter at the top. On their birthdays, the Austin sisters got to eat a picnic lunch on the roof of their home. For fun, Austin’s dad would attach a hall carpet to the back of the tractor and the sisters would try to surf it without tumbling off. The family pet was a flying squirrel. Clearly, Austin was not a girl raised to settle into a conventional life and career track.

She is, however, someone who knew all along that she wanted to be a midwife. “I think birth is the neatest thing in the world, and wouldn’t it be rad if we could all do work with what we believe to be the coolest thing in the world?” Austin asks. A logical path might have been to pursue veterinary medicine, but Austin says “I like talking to humans too much.” In college, although she knew midwifery was her goal, she says she “felt too young to be in the room with something as ancient as birth” so she “did a LOT of different things on my way to midwifery.”

“A LOT” is no overstatement; before diving into reproductive healthcare, Austin led international outdoor trips for high schoolers, taught preschool, taught high school Spanish, volunteered as a firefighter and ski patroller, worked in product development, and embedded with a family as an “adventure nanny.” Before becoming a registered nurse, (RN), Austin worked for Synapse Product Development, Clif Bar, and Seattle Farm Tables; after completing her RN certification she treated patients at a residential eating disorder treatment center (The Emily Program), worked at Sea Mar Community Health Center’s Maternity Support Services, and served at Upstream as a trainer for a patient-centered contraceptive counseling model.

With her rural roots and love of the outdoors, Austin says she never expected to find herself in any city for long, but “Seattle has deep community for me and being among so many friends was an inspiration.”

“Seattle in itself is spectacular,” Austin adds, “from being watched over by Rainier to my favorite dancefloor at The Little Red Hen, and then to be surrounded by so many more mountains and water. I didn’t suffer from the urban environment nearly as much as I expected.”

When the COVID19 pandemic hit, Austin had finished all the didactic coursework for earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in midwifery and was getting ready to start clinical training. Clinical sites, however, were removing students from their practices. “For good reason,” Austin acknowledges. “We didn’t know much about COVID and there wasn’t enough PPE, or time to teach.”

Both practical and resourceful, Austin started looking for a job that would guarantee income and experience while she paused her education. Kotzebue, Alaska popped up in her job search. “I’ve always wanted to live and work rurally but Kotzebue kicks beyond rural to remote,” Austin says.

Located on a gravel spit at the end of Baldwin Peninsula about 50km north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s western coast, Kotzebue has been inhabited by the Inupiaq people for thousands of years; they called it Qikiqtaġruk–“almost an island.” It’s the hub for the Northwest Arctic Borough, an area the size of Indiana with a population of about 8,000 people (Indiana is home to 6.7 million) living in ten villages that can only be accessed by air, snowmobile in the winter, or boat in the summer. To board the Bering Air aircraft that carries them around the region, James and the other medical staff provide their names and weights–no TSA screening, no liquids confiscation, shoes definitely remain on.

“The setting presents both logistical challenges and myriad delights” Austin says of her new home. “There aren’t full time RNs in the village clinics, so I’ve been to all the villages to do COVID testing, vaccines, and other medical treatments that can’t be done by the Community Health Aide Practitioners (CHAPs), a very Alaska program that trains folks to provide healthcare in their communities and be the liaison to the Kotzebue-based providers.”

Whereas in her Seattle reproductive healthcare work Austin would don scrubs and clogs, for her Kotzebue medical visits Austin dresses in layers of puffy pants and jackets, climbs into a small plane, and flies low across the landscape, watching the weather closely. Clear skies make a trip uncomplicated, while low visibility or a storm mean that Austin and other providers “might be spending more than the planned time in the village.”

Austin loves the trips. “Every time I can look an elder patient in the eye and say ‘I’ve been to your village’–I just can’t express how much of a positive difference it makes to be able to have that connection,” she says.

Still, the logistics are extremely difficult, Austin says.  “We have to plan our care around flight schedules and when patients need a higher level of care and the weather is bad, we have to wait until it’s safe to get a medevac in to pick them up.”

Austin and her team catch babies in Kotzebue, but only if the patient is low risk. “We don’t give epidurals, or Pitocin augmentation, and we don’t have an operating room,” she says.  “If you have risk factors, or if you prefer a hospital with more resources, you have to go to Anchorage around 36 weeks and wait until you go into labor.  It’s hard to take that much time off work, away from your support system, and far from home.”

Catching babies is only part of Austin’s midwifery work, she reminds us. “Midwives are experts in reproductive healthcare from menses to menopause.  You’ll hear us called ‘guardians of the normal,’ because we don’t automatically pathologize pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.  In many other countries midwives manage the majority of uncomplicated pregnancies. In 2021, Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs) attended 8% of all deliveries in the United States, up from 3.2% in 1989, so we’re making some progress.”

As an Arctic dweller raised on homegrown produce, free-range chicken eggs, and the abundance of a farm with a gardening season in a temperate climate, Austin sometimes finds her food fantasies turning to “sun-warmed stone fruit and garden fresh vegetables.” Alaska’s growing season is bold but brief, and Austin says she was traveling frequently for work last summer and didn’t do any substantial growing, although she has microgreens sprouting indoors.

Cooking, though, remains a source of pleasure for her. “I grew up with the value of family dinner, often with our own produce, chicken eggs, or venison as part of the meal.  My mom and dad both serve food made with love. We are short on fussy recipes, big on a little of this and a little of that.  I love to feed people.  Sharing candlelit vittles in the long dark days and beachside picnics during the long summer days is essential to happiness up here, and everywhere.”

Despite the limited variety and expense of food available in the local grocery stores, Austin says she trusts the freezer she has filled with game meat and the pantry she has stocked with staples, including her favorite Bluebird Grain Farms organic products: Potlatch Pilaf, Emmer Farro, Einka & French Lentil Blend, and Old World Cereal. “With a pantry full of Bluebird grains and freezer full of game, I know I’m going to be smiling with every meal,” Austin says. She particularly favors the Potlatch Pilaf with elk burger, often making a big pot of it once a week to fuel her through 12+ hour work shift. “The flavor and texture of Bluebird grains is unmatched,” she says.

Austin was introduced to Bluebird Grain Farms through a family connection: her father—a blacksmith farmer who sells sheep for religious sacrifice—is a childhood friend of Farmer Sam Lucy’s cousin, Frank Gould. “The Goulds are a big family and have always taken the best care of me,” Austin says.  “They also have a cousin in just about every beautiful place in the world.  When I lived in Seattle I loved coming to the Methow to ski and explore.  Frank sent me over to visit Bluebird Grain Farms, and Brooke and Sam Lucy welcomed me into their home.” They also provided “rescue wheels” when Austin’s friend’s van broke down. “Perhaps a tough ask of a new friendship, but they were there with a grin,” she says.

In December 2021, Austin finally earned the DNP degree she began in 2017. She found herself the only December graduate, in the Arctic, on a -40° degree day, “far away from Seattle University pomp,” she says. She celebrated with a photo shoot, and then went back to work in the Kotzebue ER.

Raised with a Quaker influence (she attended Sandy Spring Friends School, a K-12 Quaker school, where her mother was the school librarian), Austin says she treasures some of the wisdom she gained from Quaker school and summer camps. She still carries with her a piece of fabric from her high school graduation arch that reads “May you always have silence in your life.” This may sound like an incongruous blessing for a woman who delights in the sound of a baby’s first wails, the thwack thwack of a bush plane’s propeller beginning to turn, or the throaty hum of the Polaris she uses to get around on the sea ice, but for Austin it’s fitting: a celebration of those small moments of silence and reflection, the awe of Aurora Borealis, a good book in front of a woodstove, a flicker of candlelight piercing the Arctic winter, a solitary skate ski across a frozen expanse—all those tiny reminders of the wonder of life.

Learn more about Austin and see glimpses of her life in Kotzebue on Instagram  or visit her doula services website, Quailhill Baby.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer.

Early in the pandemic, says New Day Cooperative Distribution co-founder Devra “Dev” Gartenstein, “grocery store shelves were stripped bare and so many small local producers had lost important revenue streams like farmers markets and dine-in eating.”

In response Gartenstein, a “serial entrepreneur” who has owned and operated small food businesses for more than 30 years, launched a new model, bringing together local business owners looking for new sales outlets with families finding new ways to shop. “Producer-direct home delivery through a centralized platform seemed like a natural step,” Gartenstein says.

Working with co-founder Rachel Linkhart, who is now the General Manager at New Day, Gartenstein started conversations between two worker-owned companies: Patty Pan Cooperative, a sole proprietorship that Garteinstein founded in 1997 before converting it to a cooperative in 2013, and Equal Exchange, which strives to build a democratic food system. Less than two years later, the partnership between Patty Pan and Equal Exchange has grown into a collaboration of more than 40 local and mission-driven companies. When you shop with New Day, you purchase directly from small business owners.

Gartenstein started her first food business in 1987, “with no experience or training in either food or business.” Her philosophy degree made her “not exactly employable,” she says, “but I liked to cook…so I gave entrepreneurship a try.”

Something she was doing worked, because “that business morphed into another, which morphed into yet another,” Gartenstein says. Soon she began selling tamales at Seattle-area farmers markets because “they were such a great vehicle for showcasing local ingredients.” Patty Pan began in these markets, converting after nearly 20 years into a worker-owned cooperative.

Gartenstein is enthusiastic about cooperatively-owned businesses, in part because the pooling of resources for delivery and infrastructure means all owners “have more time and energy to focus on things that matter, like cooking and farming and spending time with our families.” But even more so because cooperatives like Patty Pan and New Day are “so much more than the sum of [their] parts. From the producers, to the customers, to the employees and the board, we all bring skills, enthusiasm, and a passion for local food made with heart,” she says.

New Day shoppers select from a wide range of products, from meat to skincare to prepared meals to kombucha to condiments to kraut to fresh baked goods, which include staples like bagels and breads as well as specialty items like Körnerbrot, Knish, and Brötchen. They then place their orders and select a surprisingly inexpensive home delivery or storefront pickup.

Gartenstein learned about Bluebird Grain Farms years ago, when Bluebird had a presence at the Seattle-area markets where Patty Pan had a booth. “We’d trade for quesadillas,” Gartenstein says. “I’ve been a huge fan of the Potlatch Pilaf ever since. I even bring it for family Thanksgivings on the East Coast.”

New Day has been so effective in connecting producers to consumers that they are getting ready to open a brick and mortar storefront in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood, says Gartenstein, who plans to launch the store in April. Fueling what seems to be Gartenstein’s boundless energy is her engagement with her various projects. “I love my work and it stays interesting, even after all this time,” she says.

In addition to what is thus far a successful career as a self-taught entrepreneur (“through trial and error, with plenty of missteps along the way,” Gartenstein says), Gartenstein is also an author of three books: Cavemen, Monks, and Slow FoodThe Accidental Vegan, and Local Bounty. “Well,” she says, “I just have a lot to say and I really love books.”

She also enjoys experimenting with food combinations, and New Day’s recipe collection reflects this, with familiar favorites–like smoked salmon pasta salad–and ethnic twists on standard fare–like roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts with Labneh and z’aatar.

Despite many Americans’ affinity for refined foods, starches, and sugar, Gartenstein says she has hope for the future of American eating. “It feels like we collectively have become much more tuned into good food over the past few decades,” she says, “and once you start eating food made with good ingredients grown in good soil, you really can’t go back.”

Learn more about New Day Cooperative Distribution by visiting their website or following them on Facebook.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer. Photos courtesy of Astoria Coop

As the dark days of late fall and winter descend upon the Pacific Northwest, the minds of professional and domestic cooks alike turn to foods that nourish, comfort, and bring cheer. And in times like these, those who are fortunate enough to live near Astoria, OR, can can get nearly all of their culinary requirements (as well as many of their morale boost needs!) met in one place: the Astoria Co-op.

A community-owned grocery store that is open to member-owners and non-members alike, the Astoria Co-op is committed to good local food. Or, as they phrase it, “” On a surface level as well as at its core, the Astoria Co-op sources and sells local and regional products it can stand behind with pride. You won’t find artificial sweeteners, trans-fats, or high fructose corn syrup on their shelves; their meats and dairy products are free of growth hormones and antibiotics. It’s all good, local food.

But beyond that, the Astoria Co-op also invested in doing good. And it’s dedicated to its local community of growers and makers: doing good, supporting local producers. Co-op General Manager Matt Stanley says, “Our mission is to build community through food.” And this focus on communities first–communities of owner-members, communities of shoppers, of growers and makers, of area residents–is what drives the Astoria Co-op to maintain its exacting standards for products. High quality products support high quality community engagement.

Andy Catalano, the Prepared Foods Manager at the Astoria Co-op, is humble about his role in the tasty offerings that go out of the deli. “We have built a remarkable team in the deli of competent, kind professionals over the last two years,” he says, “so essentially what I do is flutter around the kitchen and get in the way.” But Catalano is no food novice. He started cooking on organic farms while living in Italy and working through the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program. That experience, he says, gave him an “entry point” to cooking: “the origin of the ingredient.”

Catalano also has experience in fine dining and local, “hyper-seasonal” cuisine (“farm-to-table before it was a thing,” he says). Although the volume of food that passes through the Co-op, as well as the “price ceiling,” present unique challenges that he didn’t encounter in his fine dining positions, he carries the local, seasonal ethos in his current role.

“We do the best we can,” he says. “And I certainly feel very fortunate to be able to offer Bluebird Grain Farm products here. Ever since I moved to the Pacific Northwest I have been using [Bluebird’s products] and early on fell in love with them. I’ve baked and sold sourdough rustic loaves and really enjoyed using Bluebird’s organic flours and grains for them.”

Catalano also favors Bluebird’s Emmer-Farro–perhaps stemming from his experience in Italy, as farro is a quintessential grain in Italian cuisine. “We use the split farro in our summer tabbouleh, and the whole grain farro in our fall/winter farro dish.”

Shannon O’Donnell, Lead Baker at the Astoria Co-op, says that Catalano is instrumental in setting the tone for Astoria Co-op’s quality standards. “I feel very lucky to work with a chef who believes in the value of origin of a product.”

O’Donnell started baking at an early age with her grandmother Veronica, a legendary baker in the family. “One of the highlights of my childhood was visiting her and seeing her open the freezer where she kept stacks of tins full of her favorite cookies, including a very memorable key lime shortbread. She also made a soda bread every year that was her mother’s recipe.”

O’Donnell started pursuing an education as a wildlife tracker and naturalist in Washington State, but in her second summer at school she was hired to cook for the school’s wildlife tracking expeditions in Idaho. ” It was a steep learning curve to go from cooking the occasional big dinner for friends, to knowing how to stock a fairly primitive back country kitchen!” she says.

O’Donnell’s task at the Co-op is to “use seasonal ingredients, especially various fruits, in [the co-op’s] baked goods and coming up with different ways to use them.” Her navigation of these culinary challenges is informed by the food philosophies of Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Barbara Kingsolver (Animal Vegetable Miracle). “I took it to heart that as a cook it was my responsibility to know where the food I served came from. And when stocking up for trips, my habit evolved to visit the town farmers market first. Local farmers  soon realized I needed a bargain to make my budget work, and that I didn’t shy away from less than perfect produce as long as it was local and not sprayed or treated.”

After expedition cooking for some years, O’Donnell says she realized she wanted to devote herself fully to cooking. So she enrolled in a year of cooking classes in Seattle. At the Ballard Farmers Market, O’Donnell learned about Bluebird Grain Farms. “It was my first experience of emmer farro, and fresh milled flour in general!’ she says. “Now, I’m at the Co-op and we use the beautiful Bluebird Organic Einkorn Flour in our pie crust recipe, our puff pastry, and in our blueberry muffins.” The Einkorn flour, with its high protein and simple gluten structure, is also used in the Co-op’s cookie doughs and cake batters.

The COVID pandemic has changed the grocery landscape, Catalano acknowledges. “We have certainly had to pivot, repeatedly, during the last year and a half. We have gone through a phase of comfort foods and sweets being extremely in demand (early pandemic), to meal solutions – larger portions, easy-to-heat – being the most popular choice. We’ve seen customers be ready to come back to self-service food as we’ve rolled out the programs that we closed down early on,” he says. “But still, it is day by day, week by week, as we continue to go through uncharted territory.”

But one thing remains consistent: the Astoria Co-op’s commitment to community. Megan Ott, the Co-op’s Customer Experience Manager, describes the Co-op’s Change for Community program as “staff-driven,” saying, “We choose the recipients and inform the public about the organizations. We choose candidates who not only mean something to us, but that we think will mean something to the community.”

The Astoria Co-op has raised and given away more than $100,000 to local non-profit organizations, whose focal points represent a broad range, from the environment, to seniors and youth, to animal welfare, to the arts, to food equity, to climate change, to social services. It goes right back to the Co-op’s core principles: good local food doing good locally.

Learn more about the Astoria Co-op, and get access to their recipes, HERE.

Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer.

Those who know Portland, OR’s Wellspent Market owner Jim Dixon, those who have heard him expound upon the virtues of really good olive oil, may be surprised to learn that for a time in his life, he bought his olive oil at Costco. “I considered myself a well-informed cook at the time,” Dixon says, “but I had never tasted good olive oil.”

In the mid-1990s, however, Dixon’s life–or at least his palate–changed. Dixon and his wife, a “New Jersey Sicilian American,” traveled to Italy, where Dixon had his first taste of delicious, bona-fide extra-virgin (a term that is unregulated in the US) olive oil. There was no going back. “After that,” Dixon says, “we went back every couple of years to support our own habits. All I ever wanted was an endless supply of good olive oil.”

The couple brought home as much good olive oil as they could each trip, but after a few trips it wasn’t sustainable. “We could get enough oil home to last until the next time,” Dixon says. “So in 1999 we were traveling along the Amalfi Coast, and stopped at this great little farm-to-table place–before farm-to-table was a thing–and they made their own olive oil. We cut a deal on shipping and decided to start importing.”

“We knew nothing about importing,” Dixon continues. “We’d ship a large quantity, sell half of it to friends to cover the shipping cost, and keep the rest for our own kitchen.”

Real Good Food, Dixon’s original import company, was founded on a mission of supplying his own pantry, but soon became a source of high quality Italian food products for others in the Portland area. Dixon came from a technical writing background and was thus connected with various Portland restaurant owners, including Genoa (now closed) and Nostrana, both of which, along with others, started buying his imported oil. Dixon soon added to his imports salt and farro, a grain with a nutty flavor and ancient roots and a staple of Italian cooking.

Dixon’s interest in farro led him to his ongoing relationship with Bluebird Grain Farms. “Brooke [Lucy, Bluebird co-owner] came down here in a pickup with all these 50-lb bags of farro and flour,” Dixon says. “We’d buy it and put it in small packages.” Farro’s whole-grain, nutritious profile appealed to Dixon’s sensibilities, and he likes to support small family agriculture, so Bluebird was a fit for him. “And then suddenly farro got popular and was sold everywhere,” he says.

When Dixon decided to open a storefront, he says it was very simple. “We didn’t have enough inventory, so we were spreading product out and filling the empty shelves with art and other things.” Dixon’s business partner recognized that there were other things the market could offer, so they started expanding. Eventually Wellspent Market began carrying “pantry staples from around the world,” ranging from vinegar to grains to beans to dairy to housewares to wines (which are managed by Dixon’s son, Joe), and everything in between. It’s “everything we love, nothing we don’t,” Dixon says.

“We’re always on the lookout for small, local producers,” says Dixon. “We seek out women-owned producers, other marginalized producers.” The way Dixon sees it, he and his business partner, Noah Cable, are “a couple of privileged white guys who have a platform.” So through their sourcing decisions for Wellspent Market, they’re leveraging their influence.

For years, Dixon was a member of Slow Food Portland, which promotes “good, clean, fair food.” That mantra guides Dixon–“it’s what we do at Wellspent,” he says. “We’re about real food, clean food. And that means no chemicals, but also food produced without a giant environmental impact. Fair food–food that doesn’t exploit the people who grow and harvest it.”

Also for years—20 of them—Dixon’s operation was a one-man show. “I picked up pallets of olive oil in my old Vanagon, filled and labeled bottles, and made deliveries. I was the bookkeeper, recipe developer, and janitor, and I worked a day job [as a technical writer for the City of Portland]. As my long-time customers remember, the Real Good Food ‘store’ was only open a couple of days each week, and they had to wait if they needed oil or salt.” With the addition of Cable, Dixon was able to expand his offerings and focus on his passion: real food, good food.

Through Wellspent Market, Dixon likes to “tell stories through food.” He refers to the Culinary Breeding Network and talks about “working with growers to develop products that grow in the region.” Pointing to Feast Portland–which celebrates the diverse food and beverage communities in Portland–Dixon notes that he learns about food producers from other farmers and growers. “Stories taste good,” Dixon says. “All these small food networks are sharing each others’ stories. We tell the stories about the food we sell. And our customers respond to that.”

“There’s a lot of cool agricultural stuff going on around here,” Dixon says. “Bluebird Grain Farms fits into that for us.”

Real Good Food and Wellspent Market are inextricably linked, but in simple terms Real Good Food is the brand and the regional wholesale business, while Wellspent Market is the retail food store. Like other retail shops, Wellspent Market had to reframe its practices for COVID. Prior to the pandemic, about half of Wellspent Market’s sales were restaurant purchases. “All that revenue went away,” says Dixon. “We closed our store doors and wondered, ‘Are we doomed?'”

Dixon and Cable took the opportunity to ramp up the online sales system they had been developing slowly, and focused on responding to individual customer demand. “When things shut down, we had to figure out how to get products to our customers,” Dixon says. “We did deliveries, we did curbside pickup. We made it work. But it also gave us the incentive to fine tune our online ordering systems.”

“We increased our revenue. We’re still not making a lot of money, but at least we didn’t go out of business,” Dixon acknowledges cheerfully.

Gazing at the hundreds (thousands?) of products on Wellspent Market’s shelves, or scrolling through them on the market’s website, the apparent complexity can be overwhelming. “Do I want the organic gold sesame paste or the organic white sesame paste? Zinfandel vinegar or rosé vinegar?” you wonder. But there’s a method to the multitude of products. “Our overarching goal is to sell good food that helps people eat better,” Dixon says. “There are some products that will make your life better. Good olive oil is one of them. If you  can understand how a few simple ingredients will make your life better, you’ll enjoy your food more. Our goal is just to tell you how to make food good.” To this end, Wellspent Market offers a vast archive of simple, tasty recipes.

“I can cook, but I’m not a chef,” Dixon notes. “I like simple food–food with humble ingredients. I like to encourage people to cook this way. I think this can help people cook more at home and eat better.”

Dixon keeps his pantry stocked with good olive oil and salts, sources of acid like vinegars and lemons, and focuses on simple proteins and grains. “Most of my diet is beans, grains, and the cabbage family,” Dixon says. “I like whole grain pasta, different flavored pastas, Bluebird’s Einka & French Lentil Blend.”

Yes, he eats carbs, and plenty of them, heedless of the bum rap carbohydrates get in mainstream media. “I get cranky when people push me about that,” Dixon sighs. “People don’t pay attention to the details, they just hear something is bad and eliminate it. Gluten intolerance is more related to the industrial food system. Those ancient grains [like Bluebird’s Einka and Emmer Farro, for example] are much better, they digest better. Their makeup is just so different than the highly processed grains you typically see on shelves.” (There’s not much at Wellspent Market that Dixon doesn’t like to eat, but gluten-free pasta tops that list.)

Dixon credit’s Wellspent Market’s “fierce loyal customer base” with the store’s sustainability. Customers rely on the shop’s newsletter with new recipes, the shelves stocked with a comfortable blend of old favorites and new products. A customer or a restaurant chef might ask about a particular product the store doesn’t sell, and Dixon’s team investigates it and decides whether to stock it.

“Over the years the only change is that now we offer more stuff. We like to play around with different flavor profiles, experiment with different products. But our customers know they can count on us to offer their reliable pantry preferences,” Dixon says. “Ultimately, we’re still focused on real food, on good food–on real good food.”

Read Dixon’s olive oil “rant” HERE.

Learn more about Wellspent Market HERE or find them on Facebook.