I set a three year deadline for myself when I started Raven Breads. Three years to dabble and explore, to decide whether I want to be a Baker. I'm at the two and a half year mark now, and the answer is yes, I do (with many doubts, caveats, and qualifications). The next step is figuring out how.
Before last winter's bakery bike tour, I was mostly sure I wanted to continue on my current path as a market baker, but those weeks spent exploring different bakery models changed my mind. There were many reasons for the shift, but the primary among them was the uncomfortable recognition that brick and mortar bakery owners, unlike their homesteading, market-selling counterparts, seem to (sometimes) achieve some level of financial security and work-life balance. As idyllic as my imagined tiny backyard bakery was, I aspire to someday pay myself a living wage, to have the flexibility to occasionally escape the mountains in the summer or visit family on the weekend.
It's exciting and scary to imagine taking the leap into a physical bakery, but underneath the normal anxieties about growth and capital and customer base, there's a nagging worry that the fundamental shape of my dreams may be unrealistic. I want a business with a triple bottom line: financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable. This seems so basic, so obvious, that it should be a given. Of course I should strive to build a business that provides a decent livelihood to suppliers, workers, and owner(s), that enriches its community and treads lightly on the earth. But our entire food system is built on externalized costs, on underpaid farmers, farm workers, and kitchen staff, government subsidies for industrial-ag, cheap oil and gas, environmental degradation, and uncompensated work. As I think about internalizing all these costs into a larger business, I worry that price may be too high. Will Bellingham pay the real cost of food?
In the present day, I went a little cake crazy this week. I have Plum Anise, Poached Quince, and French Apple, along with my first try at Election Cake. This old recipe is unlike anything I've ever made (an entirely naturally leavened cake!), and will take some work to bring into line with modern pastry expectations. I'm joining with bakers from across the country make Election Cake this year as a way to embrace our baking history--in colonial America,it was traditionally served in town halls and at polling stations to encourage people to vote--and the power of food to bring people together.
All profits will be donated to the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County, a nonpartisan voters' rights organization. Come buy a slice!