Ecological food production


August 2014

Starting an open sourced bakery – how do you go about it?

The thesis is a single part of a life that encompasses all parts of the business of baking and at it’s core is a determination to be part of the change in the relationship people have with food in the UK. 

How do you open source the baking industry and help transform it into a industrial beating system in the process? You need to start with a few core ideas, some theoretical like open source your bread development and solicit new flours and recipes, and some practical like a mobile bread oven to visit villages and have baking days where people bring their dough, to economic cores like financing for business plans and expansions to opening your entire accounts to your clients and let them choose what they pay for your products.

Thats my core my manifesto in the making. I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you view my ideas in the light of these.DSC_0926

Wheat population in the UK


E5 bakery, Heritage wheat in the UK, help finding people who grow heritage wheat.

Having just talked to Ben at E5 bakery, there seams an appetite for heritage grain and making loaves that come entirely from british wheat. The bakery have taken the steps of growing their own heritage grain on 13 acres of land in suffolk. Ben feels that there is something worth while investigating in heritage UK grain “It has to be more sustainable to grow our own wheat?” This maybe true in some ares of the UK, but others might not be suited to wheat. The soil might not be of good enough quality, although it would have to be pretty bad not to grow heritage wheat on it. In fact the land needs to have some element of tardiness to it because if it is good land with plenty of available nitrogen the wheat will grow too tall and lodge (fall over) and be difficult to harvest. He was interested in the idea of  terrior of wheat – – and something this project would like to progress into. 

The conversation quickened when we talked around the problems of making a loaf out of heritage grain that was comparable to the open structured sourdoughs currently favoured by customers. Ben felt that the wheat would make the bread heavier, Rye like I imagined, and not a favourable for his east London customers. Developing this as a product bought me back to the readings of Don Tapscott and Wikinomics. He talks about R&D departments and their lack of new developments despite massive budgets. Everyone knows about Linux and their success, now powering 80% of the worlds computers, despite having few staff. The reason they are successful and the R&D departments strategy is to open up their briefs to the internet community. To ‘open source’ the idea. They say that to create Linux in the old paradigm of ‘whats mine is mine’ would of taken hundreds of thousands of hours and billions on dollars. On a smallish bakery scale the numbers will be smaller, but the effect the same. Time and money could be saved as people will be able to bake on their time in their space, freeing E5 to continue with their everyday business. 

How do we propose to start this project? maybe a competition? maybe a slice of the action? maybe just peer recognition? 

The first obstacle would be to find heritage wheat grown in the UK. Dove’s and Cann MIlls defiantly use approx. 50% of imported organic flour in their heritage ranges, the others I imagine are the same, so that would indicate that there are very few people growing heritage wheat in the UK and even fewer places milling it. 

If you know anyone growing heritage wheat in the UK let me know? 


Some diagrams illustrating what I mean by ‘bakery form’

How do you go from a an idea to a co-op?
How do you go from a an idea to a co-op?
Seed to bread
Seed to bread
Bringing it all together
Bringing it all together
How do you take and develop that into a self-organising business.
How do you take and develop that into a self-organising business.

Bakery form

In the UK we are dominated by industrial processes that favour the few over the many. I watched a program on John Bull and the ‘peasants revolt’ and this reminded me that my ‘fight’ is about the people, not singularly about bread, but bread as a metaphor for all the struggles the people have against tyranny in the UK today. I’d class industrial; bread making, retailing and wheat growing as part of the mass of suppression we experience in this country. Through the growing of heritage wheat, through the spread of heritage wheat growing, through the localising of processing and the mass participation of baking I hope to fight against the industrial suppressors and lead us in to a time of mass collaboration and communitisation.

The form the bakery takes within this context is key. Its not going to be a copy of the old paradigm model of supply chains, from seed merchant, grower, miller, baker to consumer. All with their own profit margins and capacity, frailties and advantages. This model doesn’t work. We have very poor quality bread. 81% of bread made in the country is done so though the Chorley Wood process. A 20 minute process that John Letts refers to as [wall paper] paste. It has no connection to the ancient process of fermentation and sourdough bread making.

Growing the grain for bread making

Without growing wheat (or other cereal) bread doesn’t exist. Agriculture is where the discussions on the bakery form derive. The agricultural journey begins with complex questions of ethics, beliefs and systems. Before the physical journey begins there is a significant internal theological debate around anthropocentrism to rankled with. The first physical steps down your chosen path of three; path one is main stream synthetic, input driven anthropocentric; path two is organic, machine backed, mainly anthropocentric; path three is a derivation of ‘the natural way of farming’ (Fukuoka, 1975) that is natures ways, working with nature in a balance of providing food and rejuvenating, soil, water and air. Each of these paths leads you to a very different form of bakery model. Path one is industrial, large scale, and machine driven. This is the route at least 81% of the bread made in this country takes. It starts with buying monocultural seeds, at any time there are approx. ten wheat seeds, some winter some spring , available to buy through huge seed companies being one, that appear on the national list. The seeds have to be uniform, distinct and stable. Any seed not on this list is deemed un-transferrable. These seeds are then grown in land that has synthetic chemicals added to it, firstly to kill the potential weeds and render the seed bed sterile, then once the seed is planted a barrage of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers will be added. The UK arable sector spends £1.2 billion a year on this process (Sharpe, R. et al. 2013). The anthropocentric nature of this worries me as this ignores the plant pathogen, or the plant environment relationships that have existed since plants first emerged. How dare ‘we’ think that our science is better than Natures way. How can the synthetic chemicals out wit pathogens? How can they simply dissipate as Monsanto argues – Or do chemicals such as Roundup have more sinister outcomes? – The second path ‘organic’ is clearly less chemically damaging to the soil. Organic farmers rely on biodiversity to help them in their battle against pests and diseases. On the whole in the UK they treat the soil with respect and reverence. They still plant monocultures of seeds bought from the big seed companies, they use machinery to harrow the soil to halt weed growth, some burn off weeds with flame throwers. Animals are treated with chemicals, in the form of antibiotics, to keep them free of disease. The third path is a way of working with Nature mimicking relationships built over millennia between plants, between plants and pathogens, between animals and their environments, critics say that this reduces yields and can even wipe out yields and that it doesn’t connect with modern agriculture.

Arable farms are on the one hand large 200 acre plus sites with industrial machinery and synthetic chemical inputs and on the other hand are large 100 acre plus site with industrial machinery and natural inputs. Non organic and organic arable farms differ ever so slightly. They both buy similar monocultural seeds that appear on the national list as distinct, uniform and stable, from huge seed companies. These seeds are frail and last on average seven years before they have to be replaced by slightly different variations that have slightly more short term resilience to pests and diseases. Both industries use large machinery to spray (non organic) to harrow (organic) to harvest, and to distribute their products. Their grain is anonymous and stored with lots of other farmers grain prior to milling. In the UK even organic flour is 50% from Kazakstan and the provenance of which is left the Soil association inspectors, not the millers or retailers. The third path offers a more honest and transparent way, a way that I feel the consumer needs.

The first answer of many to bakery form is not in the non organic versus organic argument but in theological and scientific questions who’s answers set out the path to take.

The third path – methodology 

I have chosen the third path as I believe humans are part of the grander system. I follow the teaching of James Lovelock and his Gaia theory – I have grown half an acre of mainly heritage wheat, with some bere barley, some naked oats and some perennial rye on the Dartington Estate in south Devon. I broadcast sowed it in freshly rotivated soil (the only machine I have used) on the 14th April. The seeds were a mix of april bearded, sonora, emmer, einkorn, and a few other heritage varieties I had gathered together by writing to seed banks. I had created a population that will hopefully become a genetically mixed landrace in the years to come. The idea is that you harvest and sow again and repeat, as you do so the weaker varieties diminish and the stronger, more suited, thrive. Currently exchanging, swapping, or even giving away this population would be illegal as it is not, by its very nature, distinct, uniform and stable. This ironically makes it more resilient and in the face of changing climates is exactly what is needed.


Again there are three ways. If you are very small scale garden grown or very large modern arable agricultural scale then there is processing available for you. The very large scale is the first path of industrialised processing, where 200 acres provides 600 tones of grain transported miles in huge trucks, to factories where machines treat the grain to threshing, winnowing and milling. Before being stuffed into paste machines to make ‘bread’. The second path is very small scale producers – we will discuss them as part of the interconnected open sourced form later – processing by hand and then milling on table tops with the expenditure of a few hundred pounds, only leaving the small scale producer with a simply choice – set out the internal theological debate – of yeast additive and a quick baking process versus the natural yeast that occurs on the grain (Whitely, 2014) and a slow sourdough process. The third way is where issues of processing come to a head. If you set up like John Letts and build and buy all your own equipment then you may be set to process, but might have other issues with machinery, advertising and marketing. If you don’t have the budget to buy equipment then your route is pretty much blocked. There is little processing left anywhere in the UK. This is a big problem for someone like me looking at making a bakery.

I’ll have to come back to this later… comments are encouraged.

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