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Exposing 3rd Graders to Bread Making, Milling and Vanessa Kimbell

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Last week it finally happend! After 2 years of planning this historical and revolutionary event, it finally came to fruition! And I knew, the world would never be the same. So, what are we talking about here? Well, where to start....?

Let's start with Miss Dice, the fabulous 3rd Grade teacher at Blossom Valley Elementary who also happens to be a former student of mine; a sourdough student, to be exact, who received our 1847 Carl Griffith Oregon Trail Sourdough starter a couple of years ago, along with personal instructions on how to bake her own healthful bread. Miss Dice had been talking with her students about RIASEC which is a theory of vocational choice based on personality type. Since I was not familiar with this theory, I was grateful for the self-explanatory cupboard decorations in her classroom. Which category does a creative baker who also wants to change the world through bread fall into? You decide...

But before we move on, let's meet the rest of our cast members in this fine play of bread, sourdough and milling:

  1. The awesome 3rd Graders who were so enaged, knowledgeable and just plain sweet

  2. SLODO, our wise yet shy sourdough sloth

  3. Amanda, fine baker and owner of Pan Del Barrio

  4. Sibyl, Founder of BREAD Encounters and lover of all things kindness and bread

  5. Moulin Rouge, the red Mockmill mill

The kids were at break when we arrived. I almost didn't arrive thanks to my phone which was close to dead as I was trying to navigate my way through the hinderlands of Cajon Valley with the help of my navigation system. I had serious visions of losing phone power and being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no one but my sourdough sloth to hear my cries for help. Luckily I made it to the school just before my phone's battery power gave up the ghost.

The kids were very excited to meet us bakers, according to Miss Dice who had been introducing the kids to her sourdough the day before when she brought it to school and set the timer every 30 minutes to complete her "stretch and folds" (which has nothing to with yoga). The outcome of her stretching efforts were beautifully plated and sitting on the shelf next to the teachers desk.

After introducing our team and our mission of spreading kindness through bread, I realized I had neglected to introduce an important member of our team who was sitting behind me on a comfy chair:

Slodo holding his favorite sign

Slodo, our sourdough sloth was a bit shy at first and I asked the kids if they had any questions for him. This was after we already touched on the topics of sourdough versus yeast, and slow versus long fermentation. When one of the girls asked if it was better if the bread takes longer, Slodo was too shy to answer her directly but whispered into my ear. I then shared with the kids what he had told me. Oh, you want to know his answer, too? According to our wise sloth, who lately has been intensely studying the very interesting and informative book "The Sourdough School Sweet Baking" by Vanessa Kimbell, yes, a slow, long fermentation of the dough contributes to better gut health.

We actually talked a bit more about Vanessa and her Sourdough School in the UK, and the kids were intrigued that she is a kind of Doctor of Nutrition and Digestability of Bread. Not that I used those terms, of course. As far as they are concerned, Vanessa studies and teaches others how bread can make your tummy and even your mood feel better. And why is that? Well, "Sourdough’s fermentation process helps to break down the flour, making it more easily digestible, and also increases the bio-availability of nutrients, making the bread more nutritious" according to Vanessa's studies. In my words to the third graders, it was more like "when you let the dough sit for a long time, all the stuff in the dough and flour which might normally give you a tummy ache or make you not feel good, gets broken down and then it feels much better when you eat it."

Slodo, talking about Vanessa Kimbell

Once we breached the subject of sourdough, there was no holding me back! Miss Dice suggested I use the overhead projector to draw a picture of the sourdough pot. Now, the only things I can successfully draw are stick figures, but I have learned that as long as you give a good explanation for your unidentifiable sketches, your lack of artistry will be generously ignored. So, I proceeded to draw a sourdough pot with various colored microbes and bacteria on this new and interesting overhead contraption. I informed the kids that even if they looked into a sourpot and it seemed as if all was quiet in there, not to be fooled, because there was a major party going on in that pot! The main point being that a sourdough culture has a wonderful diversity of bacteria and wild yeasts! And that diversity is a really good thing, not only in sourdough pots but also in life. And ain't that just the truth?!

If you zoom in to the right of my gloriously colorful sourdough pot, you will see another unidentifiable sketch. This is a pot of commercial yeast. The dots are all one color. Boring!!! And not diverse at all. That's because it's saccharomyces cerevisiae, a single celled fungus microorganism , which was domesticated in the early 1900 and developed into a granulated dry yeast during World War II for the US armed forces. It allowed bakers to bake loaves of bread in now record times of less than 3 hours. This increased profits but did nothing for our gut microbiaota who had benefitted for millenia from the slow long fermentation of natural leaven also known as sourdough. I did not share all this with our 3rd Graders, as sweet as they were, I knew their attentions span would only last so long. Which is why we moved on to the next subjects of grain, flour and milling.

I talked about the glory of a wheat kernel which has so much goodness packed into it, yet the two parts which provide the most nutrional benefits, the bran and the germ, are nowhere to be found in white flour. Sadly, white flour only contains the starchy and least nutrionally beneficial part of the grain. The third graders were not amused by this fact! In order to lighten things up, I showed them a small container with wheat kernels in it. Did anyone recognize what was in the jar? I shook it a few times to get a good rhythm going because wheat kernel jars also make for a good back beat for a imaginary song. The kids' most popular guess was that the jar contained rice, which told me that none of them knew where their daily bread came from. Well, we were about to change that!

But first, we looked at the label of a store bought loaf. The kids had already learned that bread only requires four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and a leaven. As I read the ingredients of the bread bag label, Miss Dice kept score on the overhead projector with marks in bundels of five. The more marks were added onto the screen, the more excited the kids got and everyone was aghast that this bread had no less then 14 ingredients!!! I had visions of the students going home and confronting their parents about the number of ingredients in their bread and therfore made a point of telling them that whatever bread they had at home was fine, BUT it was just good to know about other available options, like healthful preservative-free bread. To distract them from this possibly traumatizing discovery they just made, we decided to show them something more uplifting: an actual mill which turns wheat kernels (and so much more) into beautiful, fresh flour.

My darling Mockmill (painted red by the author and named "Moulin Rouge" which translates to red mill) was a hit with the students! Every student got the opportunity to throw two tablespoons of wheat kernels into the hopper and watch the miraculous transformation into whole grain flour. Nothing added and nothing taken away. We then compared the milled flour with the store bought one and the kids realized there was a significant color difference. The freshly milled flour was much more beige than its stark white store bought counter part which had been BLEACHED! The horror!

To finish off our nutrional jouney on the benefits of baking your own bread, my partner in crime for this event, the lovely Amanda, owner of the Pan del Barrio bakery, handed out her lovingly prepared packets of sourdough to the students, which they were instructed to shape into mini loaves to take home and bake. Additionally, they received our BREAD Encounter super easy and delicious bread mix, encouragement and detailed instructions on how to bake their own loaves at home with their families. Finally, each student was provided with a "fresh bread" paper bag and a little card on which to write a personal note to the recipient.

15 children returned their personalized packaged loaves after the weekend along with delightful stories of their successful attempts of making bread with their families. The loaves were donated to a local food bank and received by seniors in the community who are struggling with food insecurities. What a wonderful treat it must have been to receive a home baked bread loaf preprared with LOVE by a third grader!

What a glorious event this was for all who particiated! Thank you to all the students at Blossom Valley Elementary and Miss Dice, for giving us this opportunity to share our love and passion for bread whilst spreading kindness in the community.

Over and Out.

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