At the confluence of Edison’s history is Breadfarm, a bakery, preserver of culinary traditions, and catalyst for making food more nutritious.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY THEODORE CHARLES
The forklift lumbered forward, passing onlookers standing on the front porch of the Longhorn Saloon before taking a hard right turn down the alley. Scott Mangold, co-owner of Breadfarm, stood guard in the middle of the blind corner at the heart of the small town of Edison, protecting the precious cargo from distracted drivers.
The forklift driver’s deft hands swung the front end a hard 90 degrees away from the nearby slough and into the rear entrance of the bakery, gently depositing the payload onto carts for unloading. After months of preparation and community collaboration, the new mill’s two massive grinding stones were ready to begin producing local flour.
Situated between Seattle and Bellingham, Edison is a crossroads for local industry. The right angle of its central thoroughfare still hints at remnants of ties to logging and farming, with a cabinetmaker and lumber salvager occupying the edge of town. Edison is a product of agriculture, acting as a hub for hungry, overalls-clad farmers sipping coffee in the morning or relaxing over a beer in the evening at one of the two bars.
At the confluence of Edison’s history is Breadfarm, a bakery, preserver of culinary traditions, and catalyst for making food more nutritious. Breadfarm has served the region with artisanal loaves of exquisite quality since 2003. After years establishing itself as a baking institution in the Skagit Valley and beyond, Breadfarm founders Scott Mangold and Renee Bourgault are moving forward by looking backward, drawing on the milling techniques formed at the start of civilization to make tastier, more nutritious bread.
Scott got a degree in anthropology from the University of Washington and immediately dove into the restaurant industry, hustling from kitchen to kitchen until finding his passion for shaping dough.
“If there was baking to be done where I worked, I gravitated toward that,” he says. “I love going to bakeries; I love bread.”
After captaining a crew of bakers at Grand Central Bakery in Seattle from 1998 to 2003, Scott began searching for a place to open his own bakery. He heard about a family friend who had listed the old butcher shop in Edison for sale. For Scott, a native of the area, Edison was the perfect fit.
Visiting Breadfarm is a full sensory experience. Inside the shop, loaves and flaky pastry are tucked under customers’ arms as the small bell on the door jingles with each arrival. Bikes lean up against perky flower boxes gilding the front windows, thinly veiling row upon row of baked delights inside. The breeze carries the smell of baking bread throughout town, often mixing with salt air and the pungent odor of seaweed at low tide.
Upon entering, visitors are immediately surrounded by the aroma of baking bread and the warmth of the ovens, while the soft sounds of folding dough blend with bakers’ laughs. Almost all of the bread is sourdough-based, a tactic gleaned by Scott during his time working with thousands of orders daily at Grand Central, where he found that the sourdough was more consistent than its yeasted brethren. At Breadfarm, you can find rye, ciabatta, stone-ground wheat, sour cherry, potato, and many others made from the sourdough starter.
After years of success, Scott and Renee felt it was time to expand Breadfarm. While initially they explored the traditional route of increasing their production with a new facility, they decided to focus on bread quality rather than quantity by milling their own flour. The vast majority of bakeries have flour delivered from dedicated mills, but flour loses flavor and nutrients while it waits to be baked. By having their own mill, Breadfarm can craft bespoke flours that will be turned into dough immediately, preserving quality and nutrition.
Scott dove into researching ancient milling techniques, embracing his self-professed streak as a ‘mad scientist’. His curiosity was sparked after experimenting with fresh flour and he reached out to members of the artisanal bread movement to find out more. Scott discovered the first step was to acquire the millstones that would be used to pulverize the wheat into flour, and he set about scouring the Pacific Northwest for the perfect stones.
Next, Scott reached out to the Skagit Valley community to find other materials. The mill’s frame is came from repurposed railroad ties in Sedro-Woolley; a leatherworker in Bow crafted a durable hinge to guide the flour; and neighbors in Edison crafted custom metalwork to hold it together. On the day of delivery, the mill was carried by forklift from Duluth Timber Company across town for installation.
Scott sees the mill as a way to produce healthier, more local flour, which dovetails with his use of traditional sourdough yeast. Starting in the 1950s, bakers began mechanizing the bread-making process with chemicals made it easier to make lots of loaves very quickly, but created a product our bodies could not efficiently process. Community bakeries using local flour could not compete with centralized, mass-scale production and all but died out. Until now.
By returning to traditional processes, like the use of sourdough yeast that slowly breaks down the grains and makes them easier to digest, Scott’s bread is healthier — and tastier
“Big food in our country is going the wrong way and is making us sick, and we can change that,” says Scott. He is excited by the flavor of fresh flour from between the millstones, and believes the shifting focus from speedy mass production to slower, tastier fare is the brightest hope for a healthier future. Perhaps a small bakery in a tiny town can be at the forefront of a food revolution.
Theodore Charles is a writer and photographer who grew up raising chickens in Blanchard, Washington. He is pursuing his Ph.D. in anthropology at SOAS, University of London, researching food traditions in Thracian Bulgaria.