A few years ago, the field was cleared. All the gorse pulled out of the ground and moved into large piles and burned. Rumour had it the new owner wanted to plant an olive orchard. That would have been an exotic turn for the neighbourhood, but it wasn’t to be. Now, the owner appears to have lost interest, the land is up for sale and the gorse has reasserted itself.
My dream: a wheat field on South Pender!
I have a fantasy of leasing part of this acreage and cultivating a landrace 1 of rye and wheat, along with a complement of native grasses and seed plants to enrich the soil. I can’t imagine a more satisfying experience harvesting a crop of grain, milling it and baking it — all within a few hundred square metres. The way our oldest ancestors did for eons.
I stand on the road and imagine a southerly breeze blowing up from Boundary Pass, undulating the feathery, golden rows of wheat and rye that we have sown. When it is harvested, the grain tastes of the land 2 our little corner of Pender. So does the bread, which has the added advantage of salt harvested from the ocean in front of our house.
Honest work for a city slicker
Maybe a pipe dream! I was born and raised in the booming metropolis of Vancouver. I’m a city slicker, unschooled in the ways of agriculture, tilling the soil, operating a combine. So my fantasy never lasts long! But I keep coming back to it, practically every time I open the gate and see the field.
I spent much of my career working for large institutions producing corporate publications that furthered their cause. In bread making, I’ve discovered something that touches people directly, something that evokes human connection, something that binds friends and family together when they sit down and “break bread” at the dinner table.
Producing the ingredients that make bread extends those connections back further to the earth itself. Harvesting wheat and salt is the natural extension of honest bread making!
Les paysan boulangers
I now learn there is a movement of “farmer/bakers” in Europe who grow their own wheat, bake and sell their products to their local communities. Paysan boulangers or peasant bakers, as they’re called, farm land in sustainable ways and bring their produce directly to the tables of their community. They are involved in every aspect of production. They are loosely governed by a set of standards, but are largely left to doing what is best for the land and for their communities.
I learned of the Paysan Boulangers through this man: Nicolas Supiot. I came across a YouTube video of this small man hand-mixing bread dough in a large wooden dough trough. There must have been close to 60kg of dough and the way he works it, kneads it, is something to behold!
He lives and works in Brittany on a farm owned by an agricultural organization. He and his wife are tenants. They grow seven varieties of wheat, along with a diversity of plants and animals that complement the soil and wheat
Jacks and masters of all trades
My French is not great, but my impression is that there is no single focus in Supiot’s endeavours, that he applies his efforts equally throughout his work: to farming, milling, malting and baking. He appears to be a master of all talents. In the videos, you see him sowing, harvesting, milling and baking with no mechanized equipment. He is even in the “shop” when locals come in to buy his bread.
Supiot travels throughout Europe lecturing on and demonstrating the paysan principles.
This is a more impressionistic video of Supiot’s work. It captures the farming, the firing and baking. You see him mixing the flour, aerating the water, kneading dough in his enormous dough trough. Note how he seals his oven door with bread dough.
This is the far end of my dream. This is a life’s work, and, frankly, Supiot’s energy makes me weary. But each time I open our gate, I behold that field across the road and feel the pull of the land on this little corner of Pender. I see that golden wheat field waving in the wind and imagine the taste of bread, just emerged from Mildrith, made from this beautiful grain. I am the Happy Monk Baker, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t dream!