The Sourdough School gardens
In the gardens at The Sourdough School, we have a kitchen garden and a fruit garden. These walled gardens are set in rural Northamptonshire in the home of Vanessa Kimbell, covering two-thirds of an acre. These beautiful Victorian walled gardens are now in their eleventh year. We are deeply proud that we’ve been certified organic here for about seven years.
There are examples of wheat from our population programme growing in the garden. We grow all our own botanicals, including the roses, all the botanical flowers and petals we put in, as well as the organic herbs. We have our own organic chickens, and try to grown all our salads and some vegetables that we include in the lunches here at the school. Our fruit bushes are used to make our jams for the compotes with their high polyphenols. All of the principles around the bread protocol and eating symbiotically, wherever possible, we produce in our gardens.
It starts with the soil…
Looking at the current approach to breadmaking globally, it’s flawed on so many levels. Here at The Sourdough School, we had to stand back from the system. We had to reimagine how our bread could be created according to our guiding principle of making bread that nourishes. The starting point isn’t with the bread itself – it’s with the soil and the soil systems. This includes the way in which our breadmaking ingredients are sourced according to our protocol.
You might say that we’re environmentalists on a macro and micro level because not only have we considered the macro environment – the soil systems, the agricultural systems, the way in which we produce the diversity breads and the way that we teach here at The Sourdough School – but we’re also micro-environmentalists, which is our microbiome. I’m an environmentalist at both macro and micro scale.
The true cost of organic food
Being organic is fundamental to the practice of our values here at The Sourdough School. I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do (it’s not!) and over many years it has been suggested to me that it is not a viable way of looking at breadmaking. It certainly makes it unaffordable for many people who are struggling to make ends meet to afford organically-produced ingredients. But lack of affordability distracts from the true cost of using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and ‘baking improvers’. This includes some very unpleasant chemical cocktails.
Throughout the research here, we’ve seen this adds up to a compromise on your gut microbiome, on our environment and on diversity. There are huge conglomerates that grow grain on an unimaginable scale and our entire food system is reliant on the petrochemical industry, which is completely unsustainable. When you dismiss the health concerns of the carcinogenic and gut microbial damaging aspects of conventional agriculture and breadmaking processes, and then when you dismiss concerns of the impact on our environment, you cannot dismiss the fact that this is an unsustainable practice for long-term global food security.
We really have to look beyond the financial cost of organic
While I appreciate that I’ve been told this unrealistic, I believe that systems change and understanding is actually possible. We have created examples of how this is possible through our partnerships and our own certification here at the school. We have to be pragmatic about our approach to bread and there are always compromises. I think it’s important, whenever there is decision making or whenever there is the possibility of practising organic principles, to do that at part of our value system.