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Bread Lab: For the love of local grains

Sep 3rd, 2017 | Category: Community, Features
by Mary Vermillion, Grow Northwest

Research labs don’t typically draw crowds. But when the subjects are wheat and grains that promise the revival of a piece of Skagit Valley’s agricultural heritage, you’re bound to develop a following. And sooner or later, you’re going to need a bigger lab. Such is the case for Washington State University’s Bread Lab in Burlington, which in August celebrated the grand opening of its 12,000-square-foot facility at the Port of Skagit with more than 400 in attendance.Led by Dr. Stephen Jones, The Bread Lab is equal parts research facility and test kitchen, combining science, culinary art and innovation to advance the use of whole grains. Jones and WSU graduate students work with local farmers, bakers and processors to identify wheat, barley, buckwheat and other small grains that perform well in the field and have the best flavor and nutrition for baking, cooking, malting, brewing and distilling.

Soon after the 2008 opening of its original 600-square-foot location, Bread Lab leaders realized they would need more space.  “We had so many visitors,” Jones recalled. “We wanted the community to be involved, to visit and to participate.”

The new facility, which includes labs, a milling room, meeting spaces, a professional kitchen and the King Arthur Baking School, makes that possible.

By doubling its footprint, the Lab can “do more than one thing at a time. We can be teaching in one room, doing research in another,” Jones said.

On a recent summer day, a visitor from Pakistan was in the kitchen baking loaves of bread with new wheat varieties while down the hall grad students worked on research projects. Local master gardeners and the Skagit Community Foundation board of directors are among the groups using the Lab’s new meeting rooms. This mix of activities “100 percent reflects the goal of community coming together,” Jones said.
Community has been part of The Bread Lab’s story from the start. “My first day at work, I met with Patsy Martin from the Port. The second day, I had breakfast with growers. We haven’t stopped talking since,” said Jones, who moved from eastern Washington to head up The Bread
Lab’s community-based agriculture.
He added, “we can help farmers first and keep the value where it’s produced. We’re reclaiming the beauty and tradition of raising our own grain for our own community.”