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Food + Cooking

It Takes a Lot of Bread to Make Bread


It always seems to me that while food lovers wildly applaud the idea of raw organic foods and artisanal products they grumble just as loudly about the price. Even Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, complained in his new book, Slow Food Nation, about the cost of food at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, much to the consternation of the hard-working farmers and producers who sell there. I like a bargain, too, but I do realize I have to pay for what I get. Consider the price of bread. The first thing I do every Saturday at Ferry Plaza is pick up some loaves at Della Fattoria, run by Kathleen and Ed Weber. I happily stand in line for their pumpkin seed bread, their crispy, salty flatbread or one of their only-in-California Meyer Lemon-and-Rosemary loaves. They bake with organic, whole-wheat artisan flour that they get from Central Milling, which is run by the third generation of the Guisto family, in Sonoma. A 50-pound bag cost $19 a month ago, but has now gone up to $27 a bag. They’d like to use local sea salt, but don’t like the taste; instead, they import a gray sea salt from France that’s about $100 per 55-pound sack. They spend at least $1,000 a month on eucalyptus logs to fire their wood-burning ovens, and employ 12 bakers and three drivers for the baking operation alone, plus various cooks and counter people at the Della Fattoria café in Petaluma, with health insurance and workmen’s comp for all. When I spoke to Keith Guisto, of Central Milling, he painted a bleak picture for the future price of bread, thanks in no small part to the current shortage of wheat. With the cost of ethanol rising, farmers are switching to corn in droves. Others are selling their land off to vintners and developers. Guisto said that, five years ago, there were 1,200 wheat farmers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho; today there are only 400. So eat your bread…while you can still get it for $5 a loaf.