SKOWHEGAN — Baking bread is not just about baking bread. It’s about sourcing ingredients, finding out what customers want, marketing, promoting, location and sales.

And it’s about a burgeoning food movement in Maine in which farmers, growers, bakers, brewers and consumers come together for quality products that taste good and are good for you.

All that was part of the message during baking education workshops this week sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance.

Each new baker is like a new seed sown into the revival of real bread, baked and sold locally, no matter where you live in Maine, said Dusty Dowse, a University of Maine professor, baker and facilitator of this week’s workshops at the Somerset Grist Mill inside the old county jail in downtown Skowhegan.

“Can you go out and do it after this workshop?” Dowse said Tuesday. “You know a lot more than you did, what you’re facing. The more bakeries there are pushes the market out.”

Sessions began Sunday night with general discussion, baking and getting products to a willing market. Dowse said about 15 participants from all around New England made their own English muffins for Monday’s breakfast. On Monday, James McConnon, a UMaine professor of economics, spoke about marketing, small business and market research during a “Know Your Market” talk.

Tuesday’s session was called “The Village Bakery,” a workshop for people who are just beginning to bake their own bread or who want to start a small artisan bakery. Dowse said in days gone by the village bakery was the core of the community, where communal ovens were shared to bake bread and cook meals.

“People want artisan bread now,” he said. “Its demographic is local – they want real bread – they don’t want the stuff they’ve been getting.”

Amber Lambke, co-founder of the Grist Mill, president of Maine Grains and executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, said this week’s workshops were an extension of the annual Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, begun in 2007.

“These smaller, more intimate baking workshops provide the opportunity to come together here at the Grist Mill over the course of two and a half days to learn the skills of the trade and connect with one another,” she said. “We’re finding that a lot of our participants here are artisan bakers who are on a path to successfully run their own small community or village bakery or are considering it.”

Jim Amral, founder of Borealis Breads of Wells and Portland, said the Kneading Conference and this week’s educational sessions show “there’s a great fermentation going on” in Maine. Part of Amral’s presentation was making potato/dulse bread, using Maine potatoes and seaweed – dulse – from the state’s Atlantic shoreline.

He said his talk included use of ingredients that are local to specific regions of the country.

“When I started Borealis Breads 23 years ago there were really only two or three other bakeries doing artisan breads,” Amral said. “Nowadays everywhere I go traveling around the state I’m seeing small bakeries start up and the amount of creativity and energy and entrepreneurship that is going into this burgeoning food movement using local grains is pretty amazing.”

Amral said the expanding artisan bread market is good for his business because it makes new customers, as was seen previously in specialty coffee shops and beer breweries – a rising tide lifting all boats. When there are a lot of people making good products, consumer expectation is raised and the market expands, he said.

Sam Wells of 168 Main Wood-Fired Pizza and Bakery in Belgrade village and Stacy Cooper of Biscuits & Co. in Biddeford said they took part in this week’s workshops to hone their skills using fresh, local ingredients.

“I have to credit the Kneading Conference and just the whole Maine food movement,” Cooper said inside The Pickup Cafe at the Grist Mill, where some of the sessions were held. “There’s so much happening – it feels like there is such energy right now in food between the farmers and the millers and the bakers and we’re really excited about bringing it to the tourists, as well. We’re in southern Maine and we really want to see the intersection of agriculture and tourism.”

Wells, at 168 Main, said he bought a wood-fired stove from Maine Wood Heat in Skowhegan last year and bought a former bed and breakfast in Belgrade village a couple of years ago.

He said he plans to open the pizza and bakery business this coming spring.

“The bottom line is I can buy flour milled right here in Skowhegan,” Wells said. “I can get all the product that I need sourced locally and I can appreciate what local farmers are doing and what artisan cheese makers are going and I can use all those products, all sourced within 50 miles of Belgrade Lakes, and make pizza and make people happy.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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