A little over a year ago, Steve Bardwell, founder of the Asheville Bread Festival, sent an email announcing that after 13 years, he was ready to step down as organizer. He added that AB Tech, too, would no longer be able to host the festival, and maybe it was time for this festival to come to an end. A couple days later I was on my road bike, riding with my dear friend Cathy Cleary, former owner of West End Bakery, and I mentioned Steve’s email. Cathy was at the table, along with myself and a handful of other bakers, 13 years before, when after our very first Asheville Bread Festival, we shared a meal. It was the first time many of us bakers met. It was an amazing evening that began with polite exchanges, but as wine glasses were filled and wine began to flow, so too did the conversations and realizations — a common thread connected all of us — we were bakers — that unique slice of humans — determined, driven, maybe a bit crazy?
Fast forward 5 years and those same bakers would pull chairs into a circle and discuss the idea of working directly with growers here in the South. Three years later, Carolina Ground, a mill dedicated to closing the gap between farmer and baker here in the South, was born. Six years after that, Steve Bardwell passed the reigns to me, Cathy Cleary, and Rich Orris, ushering in Asheville Bread Festival 2.0. (A BIG thank you to Steve for all the years he has given to this festival. It would not be without him. And a big thank you to Vince Donatelli and A-B Tech who hosted this festival for a solid decade.)
We now partner with New Belgium Brewery for a centrally-located, extraordinary space for our main hub and Bread Fair. And, most exciting, we are now a non-profit under the umbrella of Slow Food Asheville, with proceeds from the festival going to support agricultural grain diversity. We are literally using profits from the festival as seed money for farmers to plant "risky" grain varietals, hoping not only to ensure the future of grain diversity, but to make both heirloom and regionally-adapted modern grains more available to bakers who are excited to engage with the flavors of our region. In the past, it was the miller and the farmer that carried the risk of any efforts in this direction, and now the baker can contribute in a way that lifts us all up and strengthens our ties as a community — farmer, miller, baker.
So 2019 marks 15 years since this festival began! And it is time to SAVE THE DATE!
15th Annual Asheville Bread Festival
April 13 + 14, 2019
Theme: A Celebration of Natural Leavening
(We’ll start announcing presenters soon!)
Eat bread. Speak TRUTH.
— Jennifer, Cathy, + Rich