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An Arizona Baker Bakes Bread with the Flour of his Ancestors

Ah, Saturday mornings!

A sleep-deprived baker who’s worked through a Thursday and well into Friday afternoon needs a Saturday morning! A luxurious lie-in, a delicious pour-over coffee and a slice of Happy Monk rye bread for breakfast!

It’s also a time to get caught up, a time for inspiration for the next week.

This Saturday morning, I got around to reading a New York Times article sent to me by an observant customer.

One Baker’s Quest to Make Bread that Blurs Borders1 focuses on Don Guerra, a baker in Tucson, Arizona. I keep my ear to the ground for what’s current in the baking world. Guerra’s Barrio Bread bakery is often cited as one of the best bakeries in the U.S.

Guerra himself is someone who appears to command a lot of respect. I’ve heard him interviewed online. 2 His name often arises in the context of the Bread Baker’s Guild of America, of which I am a member.

Mr. Guerra’s story is inspiring!

White Sonora Wheat

He was influential in resurrecting a heritage grain variety in Arizona and California. It helped establish a local grain economy in his region of the U.S. White Sonora wheat used to be a dominant variety in the western states. In the 1980s, only a few farmers grew the wheat and used by fewer bakers.

Guerra helped persuade Arizona growers to plant White Sonora wheat. He then promised to buy portions of the harvest for his own baking operation.

Apart from the wheat being a superb bread baking flour, there was a personal interest for Guerra. He’s a first-generation American. His family (on his father’s side) came from Magdalena de Kino, a city in the Sonora region of Mexico. Spanish missionaries were the first to plant the wheat near the town in the 1600s, according to the N.Y. Times article.

The importance of flour

Guerra’s use of Sonora wheat highlights the history and culture of his Mexican ancestors. As a result, it’s more meaningful expression of his baking, for instance, than if he were using all-purpose flour!

The baking industry is predominantly white, and the waving fields of golden wheat seem etched into the American heartland. Don Guerra is — gently and with a smile — challenging the culture. Although Guerra was born in Tempe, Arizona, his roots are avowedly Mexican.

You can appreciate how vital a baker’s choice of flour can be!

Starting with a Mason jar of seed

It’s no small undertaking to introduce a wheat variety to a region. It starts with a few Mason jars of seed. Someone then needs to convince farmers to grow and harvest the grain over several seasons until there is enough for a large-scale crop.

Guerra began using the Sonora wheat almost exclusively in his own bakeries once it was available. According to the Times article, his loaves have “the lush smell of malt and a sharp whiff of sour.” It is one part of the acclaim his bread receives.

Terroir of wheat

Baking with local grains has a lot of currency these days. A baker feels immense satisfaction when beautiful loaves come out of the oven, knowing its ingredients were grown from soil close to the bakery. It’s the terroir of the bread, the unique environmental factors of an ingredient’s habitat and farming practices.

Terroir is a term often applied to grapes, wine, coffee, chocolate, and tea. 3

Thanks to Guerra’s efforts (and others), Sonora wheat is now widespread in Arizona and California.

A few years ago, Jennifer and I went to the Hollywood Farmers Market in Los Angeles. Many of the bakery tables offered bread touted to have been made with Sonora wheat. It was a selling point, a mark of authenticity, symbolizing the baker’s commitment to using local grain.

The Community Supported Bakery

Guerra is also a leader in Community Supported Bakery enterprises (footnote)CSBs, as they’re called, are described in greater length on the British-based Real Bread Campaign website(/footnote). This business model allows bakers and customers to share equally in the risks and rewards of the bakery.

An example of a CSB might be the relationship between the farmer, miller, baker and customer. Guerra, who guaranteed the Sonora wheat farmers that he would buy a portion of their grain, created a win-win relationship for both parties.

Likewise, the relationship is dependent on the co-operation of the other parties: the bread customers and the millers. They all share in the risks and rewards.

Canadian terroir

The resurgence of Red Fife wheat in Canadian bakeries is also an excellent example of Canadian terroir. Historically, it was the basis of the country’s claim to be one of the world’s breadbaskets. 4. From the 1860s to the 1900s, Red Fife was the primary wheat variety grown on the Canadian prairies.

Subsequent varieties, bred to be more resistant to fungal diseases and pests, such as Marquis wheat, took over the farms of the great prairies.

However, bakers liked Red Fife’s flavour and baking qualities, and the grain began a resurgence in the late 1980s. It’s now the darling of the “artisan” bread world and favoured for its full aroma and golden reddish crust. 5

Grain from the Okanagan

At the Happy Monk Baking Company, we make bread using flour grown near Armstrong, B.C. in the Okanagan Valley. We buy the flour from our miller, Nootka Rose Mill, based in Metchosin, B.C., about half an hour west of Victoria. Most of the grain originates from a grain grower’s co-operative called Fieldstone Organics.

It’s gratifying knowing that our grain comes from B.C. farms. The Happy Monk Baking Company is part of a local grain economy. But there is only one farm producing grain on Vancouver Island available to local bakers — Stillmeadow Farm of Metchosin.

It’s still my dream to see a harvest of Pender Island grown wheat or rye, milled onsite and made into Happy Monk bread.

Not resting on his laurels

Guerra, meanwhile, has launched a packaged line of whole grains and flour mixes and recently opened a daytime lunch restaurant in Tuscon, called Barrio Charro.

He’s also cast his eye on another heritage wheat variety currently being grown organically south of the border in Mexico. The challenge is importing a 50 lb. sack of the grain, called Yaqui-50, into the U.S., where Guerra hopes to convince local farmers to begin propagating the wheat.

I’m sure a large part of Guerra’s success has to do with his tenacious drive to turn plans into reality. Nevertheless, according to the N.Y. Times article, he’s undeterred by the bureaucratic roadblocks to bringing this promising grain across the border.

“Crossing borders, feeding this grain to my people in the form of bread,” he said in the Times piece. “To me, that’s power!”

Buena suerte, Mr. Guerra! I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you!


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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
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  1. By John Birdsall, October 25, 2021, updated October 27, 2021

  2. Listen to his interview with Mark Dyck on the Rise Up Podcast

  3. More recently, the term has applied to cannabis!

  4. See the World Atlas article on Breadbaskets of the World

  5. See this article on Red Fife in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

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