Our courses are based on a set of principles and values that have kept us focused on sharing knowledge and challenging all bakers around the world, in every part of the industry, to consider the impact of the bread we bake and eat – both on us as individuals and on the world around us.
A respect for science and evidence
We always use scientific evidence, leading our work with a huge research database containing more than 600 studies.
We aim to use this evidence in an accessible way: critically, fairly and accurately. We will always acknowledge the source of the information we use. We also have a respect for the limits of what we know and understand, and we sometimes have more questions than we do answers. The Sourdough Club and the Sourdough School aim to provide information and also to remove and neutralise some of the misinformation out there around healthy bread.
Nourishing the gut microbiome
Everything we do revolves around nourishing the gut microbiome. Our principles and values are based on baking to improve the way we feel, which ties in to our bread protocol and our core principles. The reason we chose these as our core principles is because I follow and apply the research of a relatively newly established discipline called nutritional psychiatry, which also ties in with my degree in psychology.
Our aim has always been to foster an inclusive community. Ours is an international, multi-disciplinary team, and we work across the board with everyone from medical professionals to home bakers. Our approach is to promote inclusivity and work towards improving health across the entire industry. This is really important because communities can sometimes be limited to just the people who live in your local area. Bakers are a global community and we cross every strata of the industry, from domestic bakers through to industrial bread-makers. I think this is crucial to understanding that supporting all bakers is an extension of the meaning of bread. It is about sharing, because sourdough is not the sole preserve of the privileged, middle-class hipster. Our commitment to inclusivity, equality and community covers all aspects and all levels of every single part of the bread-making and baking industry. As the founder of the Sourdough School, I made a decision many years ago that I simply won’t tolerate any form of exclusivity. Knowledge about sourdough needs to be shared, and our bread-making systems need to be challenged to improve the bread that we feed people. We already have the microbes, the wild yeast and the bacteria – they’re on our hands, in the air that we breathe, in the soil outside our front doors, and on the living flour with which we bake. Nobody owns sourdough, and this fact is very much at the base of our philosophies of inclusivity and equality.
Supporting a community
The purpose of our Systems Change Programme is to help as many people as possible to make delicious, nutritious bread, and also to support them in engaging with their community to share the knowledge they have learned at the School. We also aim to reconnect our students with the systems behind the bread we bake, including agriculture, the environment, the soil and the producers that grow and make our food. It is our hope that we can be an instrument of change, ultimately transforming the system to make it better for both producers and consumers. We want to share the understanding that the bread we eat has an impact on our microbiomes and our mental health.
Our community does not stop with home bakers. We work with healthcare practitioners and with the bread industry to bring about change across a whole cross-section of bread-making.
Inclusivity is built in
Part of our business is behind a paywall, and some people, understandably, find that frustrating. However, we have to provide a livelihood for ourselves that allows us to continue to share our in-depth understanding and knowledge of sourdough. As a practising Buddhist, I am asked to ‘consider everyone as a mother, father, brother or sister’, as a way of extending compassion to all people.
To underpin our business with these values, we’ve developed two distinct policies around inclusivity.
- First, our basic recipes and the basic knowledge about making healthy bread are shared openly on sourdough.co.uk. Here, we have information on how to refresh a starter and how to make a basic tin loaf, and our basic recipes are free. We also regularly and freely share information, knowledge, support and tutorials through our Instagram and Facebook accounts. Whenever possible, we reply to questions or comments from people, so that the information is out there, and you don’t necessarily have to pay to get access to the baseline of our knowledge. There are many features on nutrition and digestibility on our website, allowing everyone to read about how and why sourdough is good for you. We also have a research database that is open for anyone to access. This is free knowledge.
- The second thing we do is support bakers through our Systems Change Programme. We teach and provide support through our Scholarships, to people who will then pass on this knowledge for free. This enables us to share our knowledge freely with people who may not ordinarily be able to access our classes. We currently have 17 teachers who have trained through the Scholarship Programme and now teach hands-on classes. Our teachers include people who rehabilitate prisoners, provide services to help people escape from the sex trade, or work with autistic children. They also include people with diabetes, teenage girls who have failed to settle in the foster care system, and people who have cancer. The scheme is inclusive and global, and has been in place for five years.
Why do you charge fees?
We are possibly the world’s leading provider of courses on the nutrition and digestibility of bread, and like any educational institution, we charge a fee for the services we provide. This is the commercial part of what we do, and it is the income from these fees that finances the Systems Change Programme.
In the interests of transparency, it’s important to share that there are many invisible costs to running a business, such as wages for team members, insurance, production costs, expert advice for the forums, rent, utility bills, server space, accountancy fees, equipment, training costs, software licenses and accreditation fees – and that’s before we’ve even bought baking ingredients.
With this in mind, we acknowledge that our paid courses aren’t always accessible to all. Unfortunately, access to knowledge around nutrition and health, as well as the ability to afford high-quality bread, are often luxuries available only to the more privileged. But once the costs outlined above have been met, we are able to use our resources to support the Systems Change Programme, with a commitment to sharing the knowledge and skills we teach at the Sourdough School far beyond those who can afford our courses, through grassroots community projects set up by our students.
Through our Systems Change Programme, we hope to help a wide range of communities to participate in a movement of people who believe we can make a difference through our everyday actions. Activism doesn’t have to be an aggressive action; it can be found in the simple, beautiful routine of making bread and sharing it with the people you love.
Honesty and integrity
Perhaps I don’t need to say that our team hold ourselves to the highest standards of both honesty and integrity, and are transparent in every aspect of our work, but I want to acknowledge the hard work of my team in always providing links to our resources, and acknowledging where our inspiration comes from, as well as openly sharing the sources that inspire and support us in our content creation.
We are open and transparent in our marketing and brand partnerships. It’s not just about honesty and integrity; it’s also about authenticity. And as part of that authenticity, there is an element of real life being shared. Some of the things I write about on Instagram (@vanessakimbell) involve the emotional aspects of life, which are never straightforward. And perhaps that’s where I dig deepest, to apply knowledge and understanding about not just the nutrition and digestibility of bread, but what it means emotionally to make bread. So, while we have a strong policy of using and sharing quantitative data and studies, there is nothing quite as powerful as sharing the way baking bread makes you feel. It’s not something that is tangible. It’s simply that making bread is an incredibly beautiful thing to do, and we try to make sure we don’t lose that connectedness in our approach; that we don’t lose it in the science.
I lived in a small rural village in southwest France in the school holidays. Often the French schools would still have a few weeks of term left, and the teachers took pity on me looking longingly into the playground at my friends and allowed me to attend classes. That feeling of belonging was amazing, and for me, it was symbolised by the a flag above the door. It was red, white and blue, and underneath were the words: ‘Liberté, egalité, fraternité.’
‘These words are at the heart of what it means to be French,’ the teacher told me – and those same three words seeped deeply into the core of my identity. The word that really stood out to the 10-year-old me was equality. I translated it as fairness. I had a strong sense of justice and fairness instilled me from a young age. I’m still that girl: I still believe passionately in equality, and you’ll often hear me say that fresh air, clean water and bread that nourishes are basic human rights.
We have a policy of non-violence. This is the personal practice of not causing harm to others under any condition. This may seem like a strange idea to apply to bread-making, but it is a core belief and one our core principles.
I think it’s fair to say that we are leaders in sharing knowledge about the nutrition and digestibility of bread through our books, our websites and on social media. We share knowledge across the entire industry, providing authenticity and information that all bakers are able to use.
When it comes to writing about nutrition and digestibility of bread, we don’t oversimplify the science. Science that is not applied is useless, so instead, we try to explain it fully, using glossary terms and plain English, and provide information as to why the science is important and how it applies to our everyday baking. We make available, free of change, a huge library of resources through our glossary, our articles and features, and our database of more than 600 studies and resources, where bakers, club members and students are able to explore the research, learn more and enjoy the process of learning.
It is about far more than bread, this is a beautiful and real way to rebuild a failing food system – one loaf at a time.