Interview with Artisan David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow – Asheville, NC

by Caroline Hatchett
November 2013

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

David Bauer: It was a by-product of building brick ovens with my mentor in Minnesota. I’m mainly self taught but have visited tons of bakers over the years, sharing their craft. I thought of it as a hobby, not a career. Then friends showed me small-scale bakers.I accepted a job baking in wine country in California; but a wood-fire bakery’s lease was up, and I heard and moved to [Asheville] without knowing the city. It was out of pocket, all the money, about $900 to buy grains to start the business. We leased in exchange for maintenance for two and a half years. Later I raised the money from friends and family and moved to Candler and built everything [for Farm & Sparrow].                                                                                                                     

AB: What are your production capabilities out hear in Candler?

DB: Our oven holds 75 loaves. We do two bakes a week. The first is about 225 loaves; the second, about 400 to 550 loaves; [totaling at least 32,000 loaves a year].   We scaled down from 1,000 loaves a week because quality was suffering, especially in control of the fermentation process—with only two people working. I started All Souls Pizza with Brendan Reusing in order to keep the bakery small. Milling is expensive. The baking remains small scale. Pizza saves the bread.                                                                  

AB: How did All Souls Pizza come about?

I first met Brendan Reusing [from Lantern Chapel Hill] when he was catering a field dinner event. We both wanted to do something more. So we talked about our ideas: smokehouse, deli, pizza. I wanted diversity from what I was doing beyond just bread.

AB: Tell us more about the evolution of Farm & Sparrow.  

DB: We’ve been at this space for four years—milling, selling to grocery stores, etc. Then we started doing farmers markets and hiring people.                                                                 

AB: What are you milling?       

DB: Only wheat, rye, and corn were grown in a certain radius right around us. Local grains are important because of relationships and better control of the process. An artisan means being a person who goes deeper and deeper into process. If I just bought flour, I’d have no control over [the process]. What makes a flour suitable for what we do is that it has moderate gluten content, making for a tender crumb. The fragrances of a grain are in the germ. Blank industrial grains are stripped of the germ to create a more shelf-stable product. Wealthy folks wanted whiter flour and it could sit on the shelf for a year without going rancid. Germ oil gives aroma to bread. With traditional stone milling, the germ is preserved even after sifting out the bran because the oil is rubbed in. When the body senses the germ oil, it recognizes that as whole food. When separated, the body recognizes and digests differently, affecting people who are sensitive to sugar and gluten.

AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do?                                                 

DB: Going for long periods time in a confused state and losing a lot of money trying to get into the wheat business and figure it out.                                                      

AB: What are you most proud of?

DB: People who have worked for me have gone on to do things that are really interesting on their own: Bolton Bread in Raleigh; Tara Jenson’s Smoke Signals.

AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?

DB: Having a Farm & Sparrow retail shop in Asheville and deepening our relationships with farmers in the region. Chefs, bakers, millers were pretty isolated before. Farm & Sparrow has finally found its thing.