A little over a year ago, I blogged about Barn Owl Bakery, a locally owned, wood-fired oven bakery on Lopez Island, WA. The ritual of Saturday Bread that I wrote about then continues and evolves as owners Sage Dilts and Nathan Hodges refine and expand their products.
During the spring and summer, Sage and Nathan (and their two little ones, Eden and Skye) take their growing variety of Barn Owl breads and pastries to our local farmers’ market every week. They load the table
with tordus, sandwich bread, artisan loaves (including gluten-free), scones, cinnamon rolls, focaccia, and rye thumbprint cookies, most made using locally-grown gains.
For the past two winters, Barn Owl has joined with other local producers to offer a Little Winter Market every other week, sometimes at Sunnyfield Farm (goat dairy), and much of this season at a local coffee roaster. Now, they also deliver their wild-leavened breads to three grocery stores and five restaurants/cafés, including some on nearby Orcas Island.
Receiving Barn Owl emails makes my mouth water with its list of baked goods available at upcoming markets. I respond quickly with my request so the bakery will hold them in case I don’t arrive before my favorites sell out. These posts also feed my mind and spirit with inspiring words from Sage and Nathan. The most recent one, though, had my brain spinning. Here’s how it began.
Ever wonder what wood-fired bakers are up to when there is no market?
Sage supplied a few photos of Nathan getting their bakery oven fuel together after they received two loads of logs from a clearing job at the island’s small airport. Then she asked:
Ever wonder how we make so much bread without having to fire our oven with mainland electricity or natural gas (the fracking !)?
They did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the amount of energy required to turn those logs into about 9 cords of firewood.
To buck it all up with the chainsaw will take about 3 gallons of gasoline. Kilocalories in a gallon of gas are 31,500; kilocalories in a cord of Doug fir equal 6,657,140. So, for using 100,000 calories of fossil fuels, we’re getting 60,000,000 calories of wood energy for our oven.
This is when my temples started to ache. Words, I get. But numbers, well, they make my heart pump faster to push more blood to my cerebrum.
We use about a 10th of a cord of wood per bake. So, that’s roughly 1,000 calories of gas and 650,000 calories of wood to make about 300 loaves, or 400,000 calories of bread.
Now my pulse is really racing.
In contrast, a gas-fired deck oven, which is pretty much industry standard, consumes roughly 32,000 kilocalories of natural gas / hour / deck. We could probably bake 50 loaves of bread / hour / deck. So, for the same 300 loaves we’d be burning 192,000 kilocalories of fracked natural gas. Interesting!
P.S. Thank you to Chris Greacen who comes and magically chops our wood in trade for the exercise and bread. You can’t imagine how helpful that is.
Interesting for sure, as I begin to think of the implications of the Barn Owl baking practices. Sage shared a few reflections on their approach.
I guess all things considered, we feel good about island wood as our energy source. It’s renewable and getting cut without our demand for it. However, there is something about standing on so many fallen trees and just feeling the impact of any amount of consumption and creation. We recently did a survey to find out how many planet Earths it would take for all people to live as our family does. We got a sobering score of 3.2 Earths! Really just because of where we live (America) and how much infrastructure and resources and things-to-buy we have access to. Despite eating locally and “shopping” at the dump, we still demand more than everyone in the world can have. That’s one of the reasons why keeping our bakery fueled with local wood and baking with local grain is such a priority for us; it keeps our footprint just a bit smaller.
I haven’t figured out my household’s carbon footprint yet, but I’m checking in to a couple of sites that provide tools for these calculations:
I have no doubt, though, that my lifestyle requires at least 3.2 Earths, and likely more.
I also haven’t added up how many calories of Barn Owl bread I’ve consumed since I first wrote about the bakery. I suspect I’d have to split and stack plenty of wood like Chris does to burn them off.
I’m grateful for the kind of awareness and commitment that Sage and Nathan bring to their practices. Their values are shared by many of the other local producers featured in my latest book, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, and are a step in the right direction to preserve the planet.
One scone at a time.