instore - May 2018 - 76
Organic baked goods
by Andy Nelson
George says his polenta grower's agricultural practices are basically organic. But because he's a small grower, he didn't think it
was worth the investment to get the government's seal of approval.
All of the breads baked by Lake Katrine,
New York-based artisan baker Bread Alone
are organic. Company founder Dan Leader
left New York City for the Catskill Mountains in 1983 because he had a dream of baking organic breads on the hearth of a woodfired brick oven. Meeting with local farmers
before his move convinced Leader of the
virtues of organics, says his son Nels, who
joined Bread Alone in 2012.
Red Hen Baking's miche bread is made with wheat and rye from three local organic farms.
Photo: Red Hen Baking
ertified organic" - those two words
can pack a powerful marketing
punch for today's health-minded, transparency-minded consumers. But for many
small farmers and producers, the "certified"
part of that often means jumping through
federal government regulatory hoops they
As a result, bakers who rely on some of
those smaller producers for the ingredients
that go into the products they ship to instore
bakeries have to tread a fine line. Especially
since many products that don't qualify for
the official United States Department of Agriculture seal of approval are nonetheless
grown in ethical, responsible ways - and
are the highest quality around.
Middlesex, Vermont-based artisan bakery
Red Hen Baking Co. does everything it can
to bake certified organic breads, says baker/owner Randy George. All but two of the
breads shipping this spring from Red Hen
had earned the United States Department of
Agriculture's organic seal.
76 * MAY 2018 * commissary INSIDER
But that's not to say George apologizes
for shipping the occasional "non-organic"
bread. "We're not going to turn our back
on something just because it's not certified
organic," he says. "We're not wedded to the
idea of being entirely organic."
That's the case for at least a couple of reasons, George says. Both can be illustrated by
Polenta Red, one of the two Red Hen breads
now shipping that isn't certified organic.
The flour is organic, the polenta and honey
added to it are not. With the honey, George
couldn't find an organic version that suited
his taste buds. "It wasn't a question of cost,"
he says. "It was just flavor."
Taste was also a factor in Red Hen's choice
of a non-certified organic polenta for its Polenta Red. Sourced from a grower in South
Carolina, George calls it his favorite polenta. But something else besides taste played
a role in his decision to use this particular
ingredient. "We know the producer personally." As a predominantly organic shipper,
Red Hen wouldn't source from just anyone.
But while organic is central to its identity,
Bread Alone, like Red Hen, doesn't take an
absolutist position when it comes to organic
vs. traditional. Not all of its pastries, for instance, are organic. Baking organic bread is
difficult enough, Nels Leader says. Pastries
can be a whole different level of hard. "With
pastries, you more frequently run into limitations," he says. "It can be a real challenge
to design an organic version."
Bread Alone's solution to this problem is
similar to Red Hen's. "We source as much regionally as we can, from places that may not
be organic but are places we know," Leader
says. Bread Alone sources its apples, for instance, from orchards just 15 miles away.
The grower isn't certified organic, but the
Leaders know he shares their attitudes toward the land and the foods they produce.
Nels Leader agrees with George that for
some small growers, it's not feasible to jump
through the USDA's hoops. "There's a lot of
work involved in getting certified."
Organic certiﬁcation -
the good and the bad
"It's interesting how things have evolved,"
says George, referring to the current state
of the organic food industry and its evolution since the USDA began overseeing certification in the early oughts. "There are good
things and bad things about the mainstream-