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Sustainability Spotlight: The Bread Lab | Nature’s Path

Posted by Sarah West on September 14, 2017 Nature’s Path, Organic News & Sustainability

When most of us think of wheat country, we imagine the nation’s heartland – broad, flat, and covered in swaying grass as far as the eye can see. Not in Washington State’s Skagit Valley. Here, wheat grows in rotation with vegetable crops like cabbage and potatoes, the air carries a hint of brine, and the view sweeps up into evergreen foothills flanked by toothy North Cascade peaks. If the visual offers any cues, these are not your average wheat lands.

Sitting a stone’s throw from the Puget Sound, a Washington State University outpost known as the Bread Lab is also not your average agricultural research facility. Though it resides hundreds of miles from the closest large-acreage wheat farm, The Bread Lab is the nation’s undisputed hub of small grain breeding and market development, and its story is a hopeful one for eaters everywhere.

Building a Farm-Based Food System

Steve Jones, the Bread Lab’s founder and one of the world’s preeminent wheat breeders, started his tenure at WSU on the east side of the state, surrounded by 2 million acres of commodity wheat, breeding varieties appropriate for large-scale farming and bread-making systems. This intimacy with commodity farming didn’t suit his sensibilities toward organic farming, nutrition, and flavor, so Jones left. He took a job at an WSU outpost in the Skagit Valley, where wheat was an afterthought, used as a cheap way to condition the soil rather than a primary crop.