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Breaking Local Bread: Wild Hive Farm

Oct 18, 2011

by davidsampliner

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(Music by Tim NackashiCraig Wedren, and Tom Brosseau.)

Drive up the Salt Point Turnpike and you might never know that you’ve entered Clinton Corners, NY. There’s no Main Street; the only roadside joint is Wild Hive Café, housed in what used to be the town’s general store.

Wild Hive is far more than a café. It’s a restaurant, a bakery, a food store, and a retail distributor of the grains and flours processed at the mill down the road. When I arrived to meet Wild Hive’s owner Don Lewis, easels were set up at a back table, and a teacher was instructing four adult students on painting rural landscapes, giving you the sense that the café’s also the town’s unofficial community center.

Don’s a busy man, and for good reason. Twelve years ago, quixotically, he and the farmer Alton Earnhart decided to start growing grains for human consumption in the Hudson Valley. Grain production for people had long since disappeared from the region. In the 19th century, after the building of the Erie Canal, Hudson Valley farmers migrated westward and discovered superior soils and a friendlier climate for growing grains. The millers followed the farmers. By the 20th century, the Midwest had become the country’s breadbasket.

Don and Alton had the crazy notion to grow wheat in the Hudson Valley — in part to prove that you could, and because they both knew that bread baked from local grain simply tasted better. But the idea was also grander. Don wanted to bring grain production back to the Hudson Valley to recreate the kind of food economy he was raised in.

The idea of eating locally sourced food has become a staple of urban chic, but long before urbanites made it hip, all people living in the countryside were locavores. Don grew up in the country, where his father was a chicken-farmer-turned-restaurant-owner. Don remembers that everything on the menu at his dad’s place was produced locally: not as a point of pride, but simply because that’s where food came from. Customers knew who grew the food, who cooked it, who sold it to them. That was just how it was.

For the past twelve years, Don has been trying to restore that kind of a food economy to the Hudson Valley, starting with our most essential staple – bread. But he couldn’t make bread from local grains if farmers didn’t grow it, and farmers couldn’t afford to grow it unless there was sufficient demand for it. Don’s vision of a food economy based in local grains began with good old-fashioned huckstering: he’d show up at farmers’ markets and demand that person after person try his bread and taste the difference. He eventually built a mobile hearth, which he still drags to farmers’ markets and county fairs as a hook to get people interested in his bread; when he’s lured them in with tasty loaves, he pitches interested folks about his larger mission: building an entire network of industries serving the production of local food.

Why does eating bread made with local wheat matter so much? When grain production moved to the Midwest, more than its location changed. Grain production became agribusiness, which meant farmers started changing the criteria for the varieties of grains they grew. Farmers began choosing varieties of grain not for taste or nutritiousness, but for how easily the crop could be processed and shipped in mass quantities. Flour lost its nutrient density and its local flavor. We got Wonder Bread: cheap, abundant, every loaf precisely the same shape, color and flavor. In other words, a bread that put the producer’s system ahead of the consumer’s well-being.

Don’s gamble is that enough people will dig his bread (and his cinnamon rolls, samosas and biscuits) and flour that they’ll begin to care about his broader concern of building a local food economy. As more folks seek out Don’s product, farmers will have reason to grow the grains he processes and bakes with,  millers will be able to open more mills, and a workforce of packagers, shippers and associated industries will grow out of tending the local soils. For many bakers, the bread is the thing; for Don, loaves of bread are building blocks of a different way of life, collapsing the distance between producer and consumer. As he so eloquently puts it, “It’s developing a taste for one’s own neighborhood.”

At the end of a long day of shooting with Don, I landed inside Wild Hive, where families were crowded around big wooden tables for a locally-sourced banquet. There was no menu that evening. When customers arrived, waiters simply counted the numbers at the table, then carried out plates of chicken and salads and, of course, mounds of sliced bread to accommodate the size of the party. It was the tail-end of the summer harvest, so the platters held a dazzling array of aromas and colors. It was the kind of meal that felt timeless, but at the same time, a rare commodity these days. It was the kind of meal Don’s dad had served, and with any luck, his children might get to enjoy too.

David Sampliner is currently making an autobiographical film called My Own Man , which chronicles the idea of 21st century manhood.  He also writes and produces non-fiction television shows.  He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

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49 comments

  • jennyleefowler

    jennyleefowler said 8 years ago

    I love baking with their grains! We tried growing our own grains one year and it only added to my admiration for folks like this who can bring it to table for us. So great to see this local treasure spotlighted here.

  • amysfunkyfibers

    amysfunkyfibers said 8 years ago

    Just love to read about the slow food movement. It is so much extra work, but what a wonderful impact it has !

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 8 years ago

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • VoleedeMoineaux

    VoleedeMoineaux said 8 years ago

    I love homemade bread! Yum!

  • GirlyButSimple

    GirlyButSimple said 8 years ago

    I just LOVE this. I make my own bread 'cause I hate the ones you can buy in the supermarkets, that taste of nothing. In Belgium where I lived before we also had a farmer who did this, and I think they made the best bread! This is such a great initiative...I greatly admire this, and I hope that more people will follow the lead, and make this happen other places.

  • littleshopofphotos

    littleshopofphotos said 8 years ago

    Love this!! And homemade bread!!! Yummm...the best! I don't live too far from this little bakery...I will have to make a trip to go try it one if these days!!

  • louilouivintage

    louilouivintage said 8 years ago

    what a great article

  • RossLab

    RossLab said 8 years ago

    I could live on bread! There is nothing like the smell -and taste- of freshly baked bread. I miss the amazing bakeries we have in Italy, where there is one in every block.

  • flourishingagain

    flourishingagain said 8 years ago

    I love homemade bread! My mom has been baking for years and I want to go to the local bakery. I don't know if they get local grain but eating a piece of handmade art adds an extra zest I don't get from mass produced loaves. Thanks for the great reminder to find my local food producer.

  • simplyworn

    simplyworn said 8 years ago

    Don is a free spirited thinker...bringing back what is good and building a wholesome business...from farm to table. enjoyed the article and wish him much success in this venture.

  • NutfieldWeaver

    NutfieldWeaver said 8 years ago

    We found a wonderful miller from NH at the Concord Farmer's Market this summer. It is definitely worth it to source out these providers. You won't be sorry. I made English Muffin Bread today thinking that it would last until breakfast tomorrow. How silly....

  • DanasaurDesigns

    DanasaurDesigns said 8 years ago

    I have work at various local bakeries in my time. This story make me happy. Without bread all is misery!

  • Verdurebydesign

    Verdurebydesign said 8 years ago

    What a great article! There is nothing better than to eat locally. Sharing food and a meal is the backbone of a community.

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye said 8 years ago

    Wonderful!

  • holymolygranoly

    holymolygranoly said 8 years ago

    Glad there are people like Don out there!

  • peshka

    peshka said 8 years ago

    Yummm.. great article!

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar said 8 years ago

    What a fabulous article! I would love to shake Don's hand. :)

  • BeautifulSoaps

    BeautifulSoaps said 8 years ago

    Great feature! I love making my own sprouted grain breads with egg and honey. They are so dense, fill you up, and put a big fat carbohydrate-smile on your face.

  • StuffByKim

    StuffByKim said 8 years ago

    Love this article! And the whole idea behind food sourcing. We grow almost all of what we eat in the summer gardens and store it by canning and freezing for the winter. I would love to have a local grainery. My breads would be even better than they are now.

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 8 years ago

    This was great, thanks David :) ..you had me at bread.

  • shellsherree

    shellsherree said 8 years ago

    Wonderful video and article, David ~ thank you! Food for thought and food for the soul.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 8 years ago

    What a wonderful endeavor! Good luck and I hope you prosper!

  • YesterdaysSilhouette

    YesterdaysSilhouette said 8 years ago

    Woah, this place is 20 min from our home in Pleasant Valley, NY! They make the most amazing bread, and I love passing that sign...it warms my heart like, well, like a loaf of freshly baked bread! I was so shocked to see those familiar little rolls here on Etsy! Way to go, guys!

  • maggiesraggedyinn

    maggiesraggedyinn said 8 years ago

    A really great video. We have so much to learn from this type of living..... it is all about making a difference.. doing what is right, healthy, and real. We have to strive to change our ways and get back to a more natural way of eating and growing our own food locally. This man is an example for all of us to follow... thank you!

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 8 years ago

    I love upstate NY. When I lived in the city I would go there to get away. Nice article. I wish we could all eat our locally grown food. I would probably have less food allergies...

  • ericawalker

    ericawalker said 8 years ago

    Yes!

  • FranceGallery

    FranceGallery said 8 years ago

    Interesting story!

  • BeeGracious

    BeeGracious said 8 years ago

    Oh SO Sweet ~ I love the Country and Bread! Here in the Yadkin Valley of NC the grain is grown and harvested for a local mill by strict standards of the elder owner. The flour is fresh, what a difference it makes in our baking of goods. It truly makes a difference when taste TRULY matters. Thank-You for raising the Standard in your neighborhood! Enjoyed your story!

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 8 years ago

    What a great article. Very inspiring! The smell of homemade bread baking is the best!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 8 years ago

    Great video, I love the idea that crafters and other people can help their neighbors by buying. The whole local supply chain has improved and people are getting a great quality product. Its nice to see someone so passionate about the basic ingredients of bread!

  • BabyBin

    BabyBin said 8 years ago

    Very interesting article. Wonderfully written and now I want homemade bread!

  • robertcoffin

    robertcoffin said 8 years ago

    yum (;

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 8 years ago

    Love it!

  • icing101

    icing101 said 8 years ago

    Great article!

  • metroretrovintage

    metroretrovintage said 8 years ago

    What an absolutely fantastic profile on a local visionary! Excellent job David! And I know where I'll be visiting this weekend -- hello Wild Hive Cafe.

  • nestingemily

    nestingemily said 8 years ago

    So much passion about something so simple- I love that! I bet he makes the best bread ever!

  • sandrassatchels

    sandrassatchels said 8 years ago

    Love this video! I sell my handbags at the Pike Place Market in Seattle and have such an appreciation for the home grown. Thank you! My daughter is just moving to the Hudson Valley, and I hope to find your product when I visit.

  • RusticLogDecor

    RusticLogDecor said 8 years ago

    This is a great story. I love to hear stories like this, when people are "true to themselves" (doing what they believe in).

  • SweetNichter

    SweetNichter said 8 years ago

    Really great Story!!!! Also beautiful camera work and editing! If you would ever be interested I would love for you to do a story on my company www.apexdance.org. We are a nonprofit affecting our local community with the arts everyday.

  • gilbug1

    gilbug1 said 8 years ago

    I love it! Our family has a similar dream that we are working towards!

  • sandreoli

    sandreoli said 8 years ago

    I love this!!!!!!!

  • catiques

    catiques said 8 years ago

    What an awesome article. And homemade bread besides! OH MY... Great, I should go start some dinner ideas after this. I am hungry.

  • LavenderField

    LavenderField said 8 years ago

    Loved the video

  • missduffy

    missduffy said 8 years ago

    I love this. thank you. refreshingly fresh. the world is still good! Kasse Duffy Rural Women Rock

  • sacredwaterssoapco

    sacredwaterssoapco said 8 years ago

    Thank you so much for this fab article! We shall change the world one loaf of bread, one bar of soap, one pair of socks at a time. Slow down, focus, and really look at the life that you want to live. Viva le handmade revolution!

  • ebiko

    ebiko said 8 years ago

    very inspiring! Thank you!

  • fiveorsixgirls

    fiveorsixgirls said 8 years ago

    that was really awesome!! xx

  • PurpleSnapdragons

    PurpleSnapdragons said 8 years ago

    Love this article. I'm so thankful there are people like Don helping us live healthier and bringing our communities back together. I just started making homemade bread and it's actually easier than I thought it would be. One of the best things about making it at home is you get to eat warm bread right out of the oven, Mmm!

  • treasurebooth

    treasurebooth said 8 years ago

    This brought tears to my eyes. And made my mouth water of course! Awesome.

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