Farm and Sparrow began in 2006. A Milwaukee native, I spent 8 years in Minnesota cooking and baking in restaurants, farming, and building ovens before re-locating to Asheville NC. Farm and Sparrow was supposed to be a 10 month experiment 7 years later it’s still going.
We make our bread from organic grains, many of them heirloom varieties. They are full flavored and have a lot of personality. They change from year to year. They are really fun to work with. They have a lot of personality and in them I constantly see new baking potentials. For this lesson I am indebted to the efforts of Thom Leonard (Heritage Grain and Seed), Glenn Roberts (Anson Mills), and millions of ordinary people who brought these grains forward.
We mill our own flour. I was lucky enough to meet bakers early in my career who were also millers. At a certain point, the smell of freshly milled flour had gotten under my skin and I knew there was no turning back. Today, this is the foundation of our breads.
Our rustic pastries are hand-made by a dedicated team and baked in our wood fired oven. We use organic flour, good butter, and make use of the amazing array of produce available at our tailgate farmers markets. We only use produce when it is in season.
Farm and Sparrow started out of the facility of the now defunct Natural Bridge Bakery in Marshall, NC. In 2009, we closed and moved to the outskirts of Asheville. My friend Antoine Guerlain of Old Stone Heat built an oven. A stone mill was shipped from Austria. A double garage was converted into a production bakery. Gardens were dug up. Baking resumed.
Upon setting up shop in the South, I immediately became intrigued by the diversity of traditional food ways I discovered. Being a stranger in a strange land, I decided to use the bakery as a way of exploring these foods.
In 2008, there was a wheat crisis. Prices soared, bakeries were closing, and the wheat berries I had been using disappeared. In their place, I began receiving pallets of wheat that were stale and hardly usable. No good. Around the same time, baker Thom Leonard sent out an email that he was going to release for sale grains and flours from a traditional American wheat variety called Turkey Red. I began using it first bag by bag, then pallet by pallet. Eventually we said to hell with it, this is our wheat.
Later that year, I approached Heirloom Corn farmer John McEntire and by a stroke of luck convinced him to grow 4 acres of Turkey Wheat for us. Following a hilarious harvest that involved me careening a 26-foot U-haul through his fields, John agreed to begin growing heirloom rye for us as well.
Today we buy wheat, rye and corn not only from John but from other farmers in the region. We are proud to be a founding bakery and board member of the Carolina Ground Mill in Asheville which is working to restore the holy trinity of the farmer, the miller, and the baker.
We mill almost all of the flour for our breads and a lot of our pastry flours as well. The aroma of freshly milled flour is an amazing thing. Once a baker internalizes theses flavors and aromas, it is hard to turn back. Our mill allows us to not only mill whole grain flours but partially refined flours as well.
We use a variety of heirloom grain varieties in our breads and pastries including Turkey Red Wheat, Red Fife Wheat, Sonora Wheat, Wren’s Abruzzi Rye, Spelt, Crooked Creek White Corn, Bloody Butcher Red Corn, Blue Hopi Corn and Truckers Favorite White Corn.