The mantra could be, if it's not going to benefit the planet, then why bother. And that makes perfect sense because the bakery is part of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village . The village is run on holistic principles that promote sustainable agriculture and society (see Permaculture ).
Les Bartlett and Lesley Halliday built the bakery for goodness from the ground up. It is essentially an Alan Scott oven, a simple enclosing structure, a store room, a sink and a bench. There is no bread machinery. The doughs are hand mixed and hand shaped. There are no additives on the premises. It is a minimalist setup and the process is just as simple. Community members Pat and Lorell bake with Les, while Lesley takes care of the markets.
Watching Les hand mix a dough in a plastic tub reminded me of the difficult early days that many artisans experience. But this is 4 years since opening, and Les is quite happy to leave things just as they are. Growth is not a priority at Crystal Waters bakery. Staying small supports the philosophy that our communities are better served by many smaller bakeries in tune with their neighbourhoods, rather than monstrous bread factories flooding large regions with unconnected products.
Most artisans make a concession of some sort: machine mixing, larger scale wholesaling, retardation...
Les and Lesley shake their heads and you truly have to love them for it. I played devil's advocate for over an hour, arguing the benefits of larger distribution amongst other things. Some of these conversations were filmed but unfortunately the sound quality is not perfect due to the most gorgeous breeze blowing across the fields, through the grape vine and into the microphone (which has no appreciation of such things). But some extracts will be available soon on the Crystal Waters video page .
Disadvantages to the village concept exist in the short term, because a larger network of holistic bakeries is needed to address the problems of: customers having to travel further distances to purchase, and economies of scale determining a more expensive item. A contradiction to holistic baking at present is that the purchase (1) price of sustainable bread makes it an exclusive product. At $5.00 - $6.00 AUD, many Australians feel excluded from purchasing. Lesley pointed out that an educated market might see the benefit of purchasing one loaf of goodness over two loaves of chemical goo.
A window in the bake gave us an opportunity to sit and share a meal. Les, the bakers and I tucked into a chook plucked from Pat's paddock, served in freshly baked pita bread. Every baker knows the feeling of taking a break with bread proving up and a batch in the oven. It feels like you have left the iron on, or that any second the bath is going to overflow. But relaxing in this setting was not difficult. Our meal was complimented by home brew and gourmet cheese courtesy of Pat.
All bread is essentially the same was a recent comment in our forum. The poster, chembake, was referring to technical characteristics rather than any philosophical practices of the baker. Crystal Waters holistic process distinguishes them from bakers who use all the right ingredients but do not make a philosophical commitment to sustainable living. The distinction between holistic artisan and technical artisan may annoy and appear petty to many. However Crystal Waters are simply expressing another level of respect for their customers and in fact all of us.
20 June 2006
Les has written to the site and says that he is particularly grateful for the work that James Mayhead put into getting Crystal Waters bakery going.
"James Mayhead who had worked for a while at Sol Breads (and is now back with them) spent 18 months here setting up our bake and training Pat and me. I would really like to see this acknowledged. He headed off in the early stages and spent 3 months in Sonoma County building ovens with Alan and baking with some of the bakers who use Alan's ovens."
(1) Sustainable products have a lower environmental impact than unsustainable products. It is difficult to compare purchase prices because costs associated with managing damage caused by unsustainable practices are usually not included in the ticketed price.