For the Love of Bread & Community

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Bakewell Farm connects people and builds community, one loaf at a time.

By Lisa Gregory
Photography by Kelsey Kinard

The bread was fresh, homemade, multigrain, and delicious. But it was different than the processed, store-bought white bread to which they were accustomed, and some of the children were not so sure about it. 

“To them, it doesn’t look like normal bread,” says Jim Dunlop, board president of Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg, which provides weekend backpacks of easy-to-prepare foods to food-insecure children in the Gettysburg Area School District. “And I think our instinct is that if it is something we’ve never tried, that maybe it doesn’t look the most appealing on first glance.”

This different bread they were offered had come from Bakewell Farm, a nonprofit created by local baker Marc Jalbert that focuses on using the idea of baking bread to connect the community.  Bakewell Farm provided 12,900 slices of multigrain bread to Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg during the 2018-19 school year.

Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg’s priority is putting food in hungry stomachs. This must be done on a budget, and the food provided must be easily transported and shelf-stable. “You’re going to see a high degree of sodium and less-than-healthy ingredients to preserve whatever is inside those backpacks,” says Dunlop. “We try to do our best.” 

As such, the only fresh food was an apple. “So, when Bakewell Farm said, ‘We want to help you with this and do something way better than anything you are able to do,’ it was like, ‘Great,’” says Dunlop. “‘This is awesome.’”

But some of the children needed convincing. So, Bakewell Farm took the next step: Education. The organization applied for and received a grant which enables the nonprofit to go into schools and offer hands-on bread kneading and baking sessions, exposing children to and educating them about healthy bread. 

For Jalbert, the Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg experience, with its focus not only on providing healthy bread but educating about its benefits, is a perfect example of what Bakewell Farm hopes to accomplish. “It’s the idea of making the bread, but also the idea of making connections with the bread,” says Jalbert. 

Jalbert established Bakewell Farm after semi-retiring. He had previously owned the Gettysburg Baking Company in downtown Gettysburg and Pomona’s Woodfired Bakery Café in Biglerville. 

He and his made-from-scratch, wood-fired-oven bread are well-known and well-loved in the community. 

“I wasn’t ready to give up the apron, so to speak,” he says. “I really wanted to continue baking bread.” And more. 

With its motto of “Bake Bread. Build Community.,” Bakewell Farm is developing “bread-centric” programs and initiatives in the hopes of educating people about the benefits of baking and eating healthy bread and the importance of community building. 

“This is a way for [Jalbert] to continue doing what he has honed so well and is a master at and also share it back with the community,” says Janelle Wertzberger, a Bakewell Farm volunteer. 

“I think it’s something we really need as a society,” says 17-year-old Elisha Young, Jalbert’s apprentice and a Bakewell Farm volunteer. “Everyone is so busy. There’s a lot less of a connection to your neighbors, to your neighborhood.”

As part of its mission, Bakewell Farm is creating the Community Baker Program, which will offer classes on baking bread and encourages participants to share the bread they make with others. “Ideally,” says Jalbert, “you would bake a loaf for yourself to keep and then a loaf to give away.”

That extra loaf can be given to a next-door neighbor or donated to a soup kitchen, for instance.

“We hope, through our community baker program, we develop that sense of belonging,” says Sarah Stokely, another Bakewell Farm volunteer. “It starts with the bread and hopefully is facilitated by the community baker.”

Participants can learn how to make no-knead bread, a simple process that Jalbert says teaches new bakers the basics. “Using only four ingredients, a few everyday kitchen items, and time, everyone can have fresh bread at their table,” he says. 

Novices aren’t the only ones invited to join the community of bakers Jalbert envisions. A love of baking bread is all that is required. “We aim to build a community of home bakers, bread enthusiasts, and professional bakers who enjoy putting their skills to work for others,” he says. 

As part of the Community Baker effort, Jalbert is looking to create a Community Baker honor roll on Bakewell Farm’s website. There, people can share their experiences of baking bread with others. “We want to hear their stories,” says Jalbert, who has a deep admiration for the art of baking and what it can mean to the baker. “I see the potential for taking the act of baking bread and turning people on to baking, giving people a sense of their abilities and skills, raising those abilities and skills, and giving them the empowerment of ‘I can do this. I can feed myself. I can feed my family. I can feed my neighbor,’” he says.

And he sees bread as a metaphor for life in many ways. This is best illustrated, perhaps, by his work with a Gettysburg College psychology professor on a seminar that explores children’s resilience amidst adverse and traumatic experiences. Jalbert and Bakewell Farm will participate in a workshop that asks the question, “What if making bread could teach you something about life?” The objective, says Jalbert, is linking the process of making bread with the concept of resilience and involves a
two-hour baking session with middle school students. 

Jalbert proposed using bread-making terminology to develop language that reinforces resilience. “You’re building your dough to have strength by kneading it and stretching it. You can think about how you can stretch yourself as a person so you can become strong and have resilience,” he says.

Besides these programs and initiatives, Bakewell Farm is a frequent participant in area farmers’ markets and community-focused fundraising events. Jalbert and Bakewell Farm volunteers present demonstrations on baking bread and offer samples of bread for people to try—all for the love of bread and the love of community. 

“I think it’s a phenomenal calling,” says Dunlop of Jalbert. “There’s no mandate that he do this, sharing this incredible gift he has with people who would probably be the least likely to experience it ordinarily. I think that’s incredible.” And, as the children with Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg are beginning to learn, not only incredible but delicious and healthy, too. 

To learn more about Bakewell Farm, visit www.bakewellfarm.org.

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