Vermont is well-known for its bakeries, from artisanal bakeries to nationally distributed brands. Finding locally grown grains that are suitable for making good bread has been a long-term challenge for Vermont’s bakers.
Vermont’s small bread bakers sell products through food co-ops, independent retailers, and farmers markets, and to cafés and restaurants. Larger bread companies’ primary markets are regional major metropolitan areas. Consolidation in the distribution and grocery sectors has made it difficult to operate successfully as a mid-sized bakery, as access to national grocery chains necessitates a certain scale, leading Vermont’s bakers to either scale up to national sales or remain at a smaller scale and mostly distribute in-state.
While Vermont bakers wish to purchase local ingredients, local wheat faces barriers to bakery sales. It can be difficult for small-scale farmers to get access to the same resources that are available to large grain producers (see Food-Grade Grains brief). These challenges extend from the field right through to storage, cleaning, and milling, as well as competing against commodity prices. Bakers are thus more likely to purchase honey, maple syrup, barley malt, or non-wheat grains from local producers.
While Vermont’s bakers purchase far more wheat than any other grain, many small bakers are interested in purchasing local, non-wheat grains, are willing to pay a premium for them, and would need relatively small amounts, ranging from one to eight tons annually. Bakers are also interested in processed products such as malted barley.
With specialty grains that are added in small quantities primarily for flavor purposes, the farmer is not subjected to the challenges and costly testing involved in growing a quality wheat crop.
By growing specialty grain crops, or selling non-grain inputs to bakeries, our local farmers can focus on what makes other local foods superior: flavor. They also enter a market that demands neither large quantities nor globally competitive prices.