“90% of my job is drinking cups of tea with people” or, how to bake for your community

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It’s Saturday morning and 13 people are stood round a table with their hands deep in dough. We’re here to make and eat bread – crusty wholesome loaves of sourdough delights. But we’re also here to discuss ideas around accessibility – how do we make good bread and good food accessible to individuals, to communities, and on a systemic level? We’ve all gathered at the Hillview Community Centre, home of Riverside Bakery CIC, in Cultenhove, Stirling to begin the discussion.

Nourish Scotland’s Food Leadership Programme gathering

Most of the folks in attendance, including myself, are from the first Nourish Scotland‘s Food Leadership Programme, a week-long residential training course held in July 2015 for imminent ‘food leaders’ in the Scottish food scene. Farmers, bakers, chefs, activists, educators, and foragers came together to ask “How can we, individually and collectively, help transform the food system in Scotland and beyond?”

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Food Leadership Programme 2015!

We’ve been organising subsequent gatherings amongst ourselves in different locations and on a variety of topics – peri-urban farming and the Edinburgh Food Belt, farm animals & the food system, and scaling up urban food. This time, it’s ideas of accessibility, community, and bread that are being discussed and digested.

The format of the day was to hear from three groups in the local area – Riverside Bakery CIC, Drymen Community Bakery, and Borestone Community Council – who share a common belief in the power and possibilities of good food in building vibrant and cohesive communities. When each had said their piece, we would collectively ponder questions of accessibility that arose from these three groups, hopefully to give each group better insight and practical ideas to take home with them.

Riverside, Drymen & Borestone

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Myself and Théo from Riverside Bakery CIC explained that we are a fairly new social enterprise bakery who specialise in slowly fermented, hand-made sourdough bread. We operate with a small-scale, community-minded ethos, we source locally and sustainable ingredients, and focus on socially and environmentally just practices. Our structure is a Community Interest Company (CIC) which operates not-for-personal-profit – all profits are reinvested to realise the social and environmental goals of the Bakery. This means supporting initiatives within Stirlingshire that have a positive effect on our food system – including supporting food education, local food networks, and Scottish grain growing and milling – just to name a few.

 

Eric from Borestone Community Council – the catchment area for where Riverside Bakery CIC is located – spoke eloquently about the opportunities and challenges that reside in the Borestone area. Borestone is an area of contrasts – owner-occupied housing alongside highly deprived areas, a history of anti-social behaviour alongside an undercurrent of strong community spirit. Covering a large area geographically, Borestone’s residents are diverse and varied – no ‘one size fits all’ approach here. Eric considers Hillview Community Centre as one of the underused jewels of the Borestone community – one that can perhaps realise it’s potential in partnership with projects such as Riverside Bakery CIC.

Ruth, Brian, Sarah, Juliana, and Shanté from Drymen Community Bakery led us through their whirlwind adventure as a Community Supported Bakery – from initial idea, to first bake, to big offers on the horizon – in less then a year. Their motivation to bake bread for the Drymen community came from a strong, shared desire for increasing access to, and conversation about, good food. Good food that is nutritious, delicious, sustainably produced, and brings community together. A enthusiast collective of food-loving, social-change driving, people, Drymen Community Bakery is poised for great things in the west of Stirlingshire.

Questions of accessibility & community

The theme of accessibility to good food and the role of community in good food permeated the discussions and questions that followed. How do we effectively communicate cost, price, and value of good food to people? How do we address a common response of “this costs too much!”, while taking into account the larger cultural, political, and economic forces that inform these perceptions? What are the roles of Community Supported Bakeries – how do they genuinely integrate and increase accessibility within their community? We kept these in our minds, while asking the two bakeries to voice their questions relating to accessibility.

Riverside: What can we bring?

Specifically, Riverside Bakery CIC wanted to know – what can we bring and what can we give to the surrounding community? This question stems from the belief that to change peoples’ perception of worth around good food, you need to build relationships first – which then creates room for discussion.

A common answered emerged: since Hillview Community Centre is an under-used asset in Borestone, could Riverside Bakery bring the community its energy and time to assist with the Centre’s revitalisation? With the Bakery as neutral ground, it would firstly be a welcoming social space, and eventually a space to engage with bread, community-led models, and the wider food system. One lady brought up a quote from a friend of ours who works at a Community Garden. When asked what his job entails, I expected him say something about bulbs and compost, pruning and harvesting, direct seeding and mulching. Instead, he said “90% of my job is drinking cups of tea with people”. In other words, it’s about community – building community through listening, talking, sharing stories, sharing skills and sharing a cuppa. This too will be the first step for Riverside Bakery CIC – share a cuppa (and maybe some bread!) with folks.

Lots of practical actions came up too – ideas for visuals to easily explain complex issues, targeted workshops for children and the elderly, regular ‘open bakery’ days for curious folks, and communal oven days.

Drymen: How do we communicate?

For Drymen Community Bakery, one question concerned communication. Their bakery was borne from mutual desires to change the food system for the better, in a very practical, hands-on way. Those involved in their bakery have a lot of knowledge about just how far we need to go to make our food system more participatory, more democratic, healthier, and more accessible. In short – they know just how broken the system currently is.

So, their question was how do you effectively communicate a wide breadth and depth of food issues – issues that relate to all elements of how and why you bake?  For example, someone in Drymen wants to buy one of the bakeries baguettes. How do you communicate  how and why this baguette plays a role in subverting the twisted food paradigm we currently live with? How do you communicate, that by buying this baguette, you are loosening the grip that pervasive multi-national corporations have over every element of our food system?

Of course, this isn’t word for word what Drymen Community Bakery is trying to get across, but the point is: how does one translate the idea that small scale can relate to and effect, large scale issues?

We came to the answers for this question in a round-about way. There was recognition that Drymen Community Bakery already has massive community involvement and support that lends itself well to conversations about ‘the bigger picture’. Folks agreed, as they have no fixed premises as of yet, the bakery would benefit from more physical presence in the community on a regular basis – such as pop-up shops or attendance at Farmers’ Markets or community events. Also, the idea of the Bakery being present in places which are relevant to those in the community you are trying to reach, both in online and in real life. Overall, we agreed that the best communication of these values is in the doing, the action – the values and the messages are inherent in each loaf baked by this collective.

 

Back to the loaves!

As we came up for air, we went back to our own loaves – remember, we were all making sourdough bread alongside all this chatter! The Pain de Campagne, the loaves that were in the process of creation, had been mixed and kneaded, rested, folded and shaped, rested again, and ready for their firing! Onto the wooden peel, scored with a razor, and into the oven the loaves went, for the better part of an hour, while the group gathered round for closing discussions.

From the minute detail of our bakery-based case studies, we opened the discussion up to a broader focus – what systemic change is necessary for us to reach our goals, and what are practical actions to see this change happen? And, is there a need for a Community Supported Bakery network, and what would this look like? As is often the case with these types of complex questions, there was no one definitive answer to look to, but a diversity of approaches, ideas, and revelations about the food system and our role within it.

This led neatly to our closing thoughts. We took our beautiful loaves out of the oven and had a moment to reflect on what we had taken from the days bread making, questioning, and discussions. What came up again and again from folks was the sentiment that having these discussions helps foster a sense of solidarity, a feeling of being supported, and above all, reassurance. Reassurance that we are doing the right things and are moving in the right direction in our efforts to revolutionise the Scottish food system. We acknowledged that  it isn’t easy tackling issues of accessibility of good food, effective communication of complex issues, and meaningful integration into a community, and at times we will fail. But having spaces to discuss, learn, and bake with each other makes all the difference. It keeps us inspired, grounded, and motivated. And, of course, well fed!

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