LOYAL LOCAL SPOTLIGHT
Box Turtle Bakery is a home-based bakery in Carrboro, NC with a mission of locally sourced ingredients, whole grains, and hearth-baked breads. Abraham Palmer, the manager and baker, freshly mills all of the flour and cracked grains he uses in his bread and bakes on a large masonry oven for a true hearth-bread crust. Baked goods include sourdough hearth breads, honey wheat, sourdough dark rye, spelt tortillas, sourdough english muffins, scones, chocolate almond biscotti, and more.
How did you get started with baking? I had a former IT career, and over time I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I’ve always had an interest in baking, and I thought working with local grains would be a unique niche. I gradually made the transition, and started a home-based bakery operation in 2009. I’ll be honest it was harder than I thought it would be – from 14 hour prep days before going to market, sourcing local grains, building and cleaning equipment, transportation, administrative work and so on.
Who are the local farms that you work with to source grains? For sourcing grains, I’ve worked with several different local growers over the years. I worked first with Rob Hogan, who sadly passed away in 2010. I’ve also worked with Murray Cohen, though he is now retiring and winding down his operation. I order rye from a regional grain mill called Carolina Ground. For the past several years, I’ve worked the most with Red Tail Grains, a new local grain farm based in Efland and also this year with Heritage Grains and Milling Company in Harnett County. I’ll often incorporate local fruits and vegetables into my baked goods, and I try to source most of the produce from local growers at the Saturday Carrboro Farmers Market. I also source honey in bulk from King Cobra Apiary, based in Chapel Hill.
What are some of the challenges of working with local growers? While there is a lot of interest in purchasing local grains, there has been a lot of turnover and transition for local grain farmers. Financing for local grains is hard to come by, especially because commodity grains can be purchased so inexpensively. Growing local grains is not easy – the margins are thin, there is a steep learning curve, and farmers have to invest in lots of specialized equipment.
What are some of the local grain varieties have you worked with? The most successful varieties that I’ve found with local grain growers have been with Appalachian White and New East Red Wheat, which grow well in this climate. There has been some success with heirloom Ryes, though Rye is less productive in this climate, and it’s harder to grow. I’m still searching for the right variety of Soft Wheat. I’ve also done some grain-growing experiments on trial plots of land, growing and collecting the seed from five dozen different grain varieties. One variety in particular that I’m experimenting with is a Blue Emmer, and I’d like to scale up the seeds to give to local growers.
Have you noticed a demand from local consumers for baked goods made from locally grown grains? My emphasis on local grain sourcing is a big part of what I talk about with my customers, and it does mean my products may be a bit more expensive. For example, because of sourcing local grain, a pack of my spelt tortillas had to go from $4 to $5 each. Unfortunately, that means that some people are priced out of buying my baked goods, but it’s important to me to support our local growing community, and teach consumers about the nuances and flavor profiles of local grains.
What advice do you have for bakers interested in sourcing local grains? If you want to source local grains, you need to be willing to be flexible. I do a lot of extra work in order to source locally – things like cleaning or hulling the seed myself, helping farmers clean their combine between harvests, etc. I’m 10 years into this, and I always tell people it’s a 20-year project. I’ve had to get creative to come up with cost-effective solutions for processing local grains. I try to buy my grains I need at harvest time and am able to store them in sealed 5-gallon buckets without any treatment for over a year. Grain mills are relatively inexpensive and available at any volume of production you need. Bakers should also be prepared to modify their recipes year to year, as locally sourced grains and flour will change (such as moisture content).
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