SKOWHEGAN — A record-number of people packed the final day of the annual Kneading Conference on Friday, a day before finishing workshops and seminars on a plethora of rare grains that will be available to thousands at the Maine Artisan Bread Fair at the state fairgrounds.

The estimated 250-plus attendees at the three-day conference, which is in its 13th year, is some 25 to 35 more people than last year and makes it among the largest conferences the Maine Grain Alliance has ever hosted, according to Tristan Noyes, executive director of the group. Attendees came from nearly 30 states, five Canadian provinces and other countries, he said.

“It’s a really terrific mix of bakers, both professional and amateur, and a number of brewers, oven builders, millers, farmers,” Noyes said. “It’s one of the largest gatherings we’ve had at our kneading conference.”

He attributed the record attendance to “continued growth in the regional grain economy,” which more people “are finding very inspiring.”

The conference, which took place at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds, features hands-on workshops, lectures, panel talks, demonstrations and field trips.

The keynote speaker Thursday was Kimberley Bell, of Small Food Bakery in Nottingham, England. Bell makes breads from scratch and buys ingredients directly from farmers. She’s an advocate for cultural change in the food system and calls for supermarket monopolies to be broken up.


Noyes said Bell’s keynote address was “powerful and moving,” as she recounted the story of Small Food Bakery in Nottingham and how she helped build a regional grain economy. Bell helped spur a movement called the UK Grain Lab, an annual gathering promoting the growing and eating of non-commodity grains in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Kneading Conference’s workshops — everything from oven-building to brewing using Maine-sourced grains — provided what Noyes said was a “diverse set of workshops and a way to connect.”

Many people attending the conference “don’t take a lot of time from their busy schedules in the bakery to step back and recharge with a group of trained professionals,” Noyes said.

“And one of the great things,” he added, “is that many workshops happening now are being led by some of the nation’s best bakers, and the result is a lot of bread. These are rare and heritage grains you don’t see featured very often.”

That bread, in turn, will be available to purchase from an estimated 3,000 people attending Saturday’s Maine Artisan Bread Fair, also at the state fairgrounds in Skowhegan and open to the public. The fair, which has free admission and runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature everything from pastries and cookies selling for a few dollars to loaves of bread going for $3-$8. Parking at the fairgrounds is $5, and Noyes suggests people arrive early.

“In general, our intention is to highlight local grains serving a regional use,” he said. “So both people here at the conference and people coming to the artisan bread fair embody what’s really special about the grain movement.”

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