Member Profile: Baker's Field Flour & Bread

September 17, 2023

These miller/bakers work directly with farmers, bringing human-scale milling back to the "Mill City" (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

L to R: Bailey Kimitch - he/they, Production Manager, and Patrick Wylie - he/him, Head Baker/Miller

Baker’s Field Flour and Bread began milling and baking in Minneapolis in 2016, helping to rebuild the regional grain chain in historic Mill City.

When baker Steve Horton started this enterprise in 2015, his goal was to get to know his main ingredient—grain—and the farmers that grew it. The goal was always to mill more flour than the bakery used, and seven years out, this is really happening.

"We work with approximately 15 grain varieties and mill about 1500 pounds of grain per day,” says manager and head miller Patrick Wylie, shown above at right with Production Manager Bailey Kimitch. About a thousand pounds travels to other bakeries and food businesses daily. “We think of ourselves as the community mill.”

Though founder Steve Horton left the business in 2020 (and now runs Miller’s Thumb Bakery & Cafe in Buffalo, NY), the bakery and mill stayed right where they were, in a food production hub called the Food Building. Restaurateur and beverage entrepreneur Kieran Folliard started renovations for the Food Building in 2013, with a goal of incubating food businesses, and still owns Baker’s Field.

Patrick is one of 17 employees, and one of three sharing management duties. He began as an avid home baker, and met Wes Gardner, formerly in his role, through his grandmother. She was best friends with Wes’ grandmother, and when the women learned they each had grandsons baking in Minneapolis, they introduced them, and Patrick leapt into professional baking. He moved into a management role in 2020 and took his current position in 2022, when Wes relocated to Wisconsin and joined Meadowlark Community Mill. Patrick oversees production, and works directly with farmers to source grains; he's baking four days a week, working with nine other baker-millers on staff. Baker’s Field also employs part-time drivers, packagers, and farmers’ market stewards.

“All of our bakers are trained as millers so they can understand the whole process from beginning to end," says Patrick. This is important and helps generate consistency using fresh-milled flour. The breads are all naturally leavened, shaped by hand, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Their bread and flour is sold at farmers markets and into wholesale spots like grocery co-ops and eateries. Making fresh flour for other bakeries is a big part of their jobs, too.

Through word of mouth, Baker’s Field has gained more and more wholesale milling business. Busy-ness in the day-to-day operations prevented the team from making a big concerted marketing effort, but bakers carry their knowledge of fresh flour from place to place, and new orders for Baker’s Field continue to come in. They’ve recently expanded deliveries to Duluth, Northfield, and St. Peter, and are finding ways to keep up with demand. Storage limitations, longer waiting times for small runs of seed cleaning, and high freight costs for smaller grain and flour shipments can really affect their bottom line, which drives up the price to customers or cuts into slim profit margins. “Having more options for handling these types of smaller scale volume shipments would be a welcome solution,” Patrick says.

Being in the middle of the grain chain immerses them in all the challenges of getting grain from known sources. If their farmers—such as AGC members Luke Peterson of A-Frame Farms, Noreen Thomas of Doubting Thomas Farms, Mark Askegaard of Askegaard Organic Farm, and Ben Penner—can’t get equipment and services, cooperative problem-solving is key. One solution has been getting more storage capacity in a building down the street from the bakery, in addition to shelving right in the bakery, to minimize shipping and storage logistics for their farmers.

Fresh-milled flour, pancake mix, and bread from Baker's Field are sold in grocery stores and farmers markets throughout the region as well as to restaurants and other wholesale buyers. Submitted photos in this article are by Isabel Subtil, styled by Betsy Nelson

What they’re doing is the inverse of business as usual in The Mill City. This is the name Minneapolis earned as the modern milling industry developed during the late 1800’s. Aggregation of grains into large, blended lots, use of roller mills, and other innovations are what Baker’s Field is avoiding. They work directly with farmers, providing a market for the grains that farmers want to grow, empowering them to treat their land ethically and sustainably.

Expressing this unseen work, and the difference between conventional grain and milling, is tough, but they find opportunities to do so. "The main thing we try to educate the public about is that bread and flour has totally changed over the last 100 years and that stone-milling flour and baking naturally leavened breads is restoring bread and flour to their former glory,” says Patrick. He notes that folks will spend $6-8 on a craft beer, but not as often on a loaf of bread. “We want people to know the effort that goes into our breads at every stage of the grain chain to hopefully reduce the sticker shock on store shelves."

Being a part of AGC is an asset, Patrick tells us. Last fall, he had trouble finding durum, and a quick message to the listserv led to half a dozen members reaching out with potential sources. “The depth of knowledge shared between all the AGC members has been crucial in learning about the intricacies of this industry.”

AGC is glad to have such eager and innovative peers in our network, and we’re very excited to be able to tell the story of their collaboration with Askegaard Organic Farm and Laune Bread later this month, when we launch our Grain Chain Connections video series!

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