Bluebird Grain Farms

Skip to content ↓ Navigation
by Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer

photos courtesy of Gabriel Kiritz

Rising Grain Projects Gabriel Kiritz baked his first loaf of bread at age 16 under inauspicious conditions: under a rainy tarp on the coastline of Prince William Sound on a NOLS kayaking expedition. “And I didn’t return to baking for ten years,” he says. On that expedition and others, Gabriel learned about “the gratification that comes with creating food for your community at the end of a hard day’s work.”

After a long hiatus from baking, Kiritz began making food from scratch as a way of reducing waste when he was in graduate school for international environmental policy. “I tried my hand at a no-knead yeasted bread recipe.” That fall, Kiritz moved to Chile to work on coastal conservation. “Living in a small community on an island, I had a lot of time on my hands and decided to start a sourdough culture,” he says. “I quickly became drawn to the rhythm of it and the rewards of a simple practice.” This Chilean-born sourdough culture, La Madrecita Chilota, traveled back to the US with Kiritz when he returned.

Kiritz found himself obsessed with baking. “Baking first hooked me with the simple fact that when you combine a few ingredients with precision, use your hands, and give it some time, you can create something beautiful, delicious, and healthful,” he says. “It’s a pretty direct connection between labor and reward.”

Kiritz and his partner in business and in life, Katie Ryan, have traveled and worked extensively throughout the United States in various aspects of food production and preparation. Ryan, a chef and the culinary talent behind Wild Spoon Kitchen, has a dedication to whole, natural ingredients that began with her mother’s cooking and “developed over a lifetime of cooking, gardening, and connecting more with her natural landscapes.” Says Kiritz, “Her commitment to local and seasonal-based cooking, and keeping a homestead kitchen (rich with her own set of fermentation and preservation projects) makes our collaboration natural and deeper, and solidifies my own motivation to bake in this same way.”

Kiritz is further motivated by the appeal of “a creative practice with the scientific precision and methodical approach that works for [his] brain.” The structure of baking, he says, “allows me to be free to create in a way that other cooking has not always done for me.”

Kiritz and Ryan settled in Leavenworth fairly recently, after having identifying the mountain town as a place they could call home because of its many assets: “access to wild spaces, protected public lands, and incredible climbing, along with local farmers and a community that values food.” Although they’re still pursuing their dream of owning their own land, they’ve put down other roots, investing themselves in Leavenworth’s landscape and community. “It’s about learning a place intimately,” Kiritz says. “It’s about the shared give and take with a community.”

For Kiritz, providing the Leavenworth community whole-grain sourdough through his Rising Grain Project and Ryan’s Wild Spoon Kitchen is a way to connect with the community and solidify a feeling of home. Kiritz’s exploration of whole grains was inspired by Moxie Bread Co. in Louisville, Colorado, where he “felt incredibly inspired by the role they play in the community as a gathering space, a place for activism, and relationship-building, and as a resource that nurtures the local grain economy with their emphasis on heirloom grains.”

Kiritz continued his journey into whole grain breads with Songbird Organic Farm in Maine two years ago, where he “began to love the fuller, more complex flavors of whole-grain sourdough breads and began to find that many white sourdough breads simply weren’t as interesting to us anymore.” On top of that, he says, “focusing on whole grains allows us to better support local economies and reduce waste by using all of the wheat berry.”

In 2019, in part due to Ryan’s sensitivities to commercial wheat, Kiritz began 100% whole-grain wheat breads made with freshly-milled flour, a passion that eventually led him to Bluebird Grain Farms. To produce the breads, bagels, rolls, buns, challah, and other baked goods to come out of Rising Grain Project’s ovens, Kiritz sources flours and whole grains from four local and regional grain producers, including Bluebird Grain Farms. “This summer, I learned that many members of our Leavenworth community are already familiar with Bluebird,” he says. “Many are already baking with Bluebird flours and were excited to try my breads.”

From Bluebird, Kiritz sources organic whole grain berries like Dark Northern Rye, Pasayten Hard White Winter Wheat, and Methow Hard Red Winter Wheat and mills it himself for use in the micro-bakery. He also recently purchased a wood-fired bread oven, which will soon be mounted on a trailer for pop-up baking at evens. “Our hope is to offer our community a more collaborative business, centered around our oven’s hearth,” says Kiritz. “In the way that ovens were traditionally the center of many historic communities, Katie and I hope to use it not only to bake bread, but to also offer community pizza gatherings and bakes, cooking and baking workshops, and event catering.”

Using a home mill he acquired in 2017, Kiritz bakes about 50-70 loaves of bread and 50-150 bagels weekly. The yield is relatively small, but the intent and thoughtfulness behind the production are significant. Kiritz says that he intends to “stay small in terms of production, and grow instead by offering richness and diversity in what we can bring to a community.” For example, Kiritz is using his baking practice “as an opportunity to share my love of other cultures and the times I’ve spent studying other languages by baking bread from other parts of the world.”

Kiritz and Ryan are also committed to food justice. “We believe in building a business that is actively working to dismantle systems of oppression, in whatever small ways we can,” he says. “We know that massive changes are needed in our society, our government, our political system, our economy, and our relationships to food and the land, for Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+ and other folks with marginalized identities to feel safe and whole and have the opportunities we have had to explore our own happiness, seek adventure, and pursue projects of passion.”

For Kiritz and Ryan, contributing to the solution means offering a sliding scale to their customers. “Our food systems have been structured to make access to quality, local, healthful, environmentally regenerative foods inequitable,” Kiritz says. “If paying the offered price would make it harder for our customers to meet other basic needs, we’ll sell our products at a lower price, no questions asked.”

Kiritz also donates regularly to Soul Fire Farm, an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system, as well as to other organizations working to dismantle racism.  Ryan recently hosted a virtual fundraiser for the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, which serves as a collaboration hub for Black and Brown communities to confront the systemic barriers that make food, place and economic opportunities inaccessible to them. “We will continue to offer fundraisers whenever we can,” Kiritz says. “We are also using our platform as small business owners in the community to educate customers and encourage them to support these efforts.”

Kiritz and Ryan’s dream is to have “our own land and teaching space, to offer mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities, host retreats, and offer up the use of our space free of charge for organizations representing [marginalized] communities.” Kiritz acknowledges that realizing this dream may be some time away, but says “we’re committed to some version of this down the road.” Even without this land and space, though, Rising Grain Project and Wild Spoon Kitchen offer opportunities to learn, through classes and the Wild Spoon Cooking School, as well as through embracing the chance to connect people through food. It is this exercise–the mindful practice of breaking bread with others–that Kiritz and Ryan seek to nurture within their community. “As I’ve continued to explore my relationship with baking bread and cooking in general,” Kiritz says, “I’ve discovered that I most love…how a simple, traditional craft can bring people together and create moments of joy and connection.”

Learn more about Kiritz, Ryan, Rising Grain Project, and Wild Spoon Kitchen at their website.