Bakery/shed 5: Closing in

You could say we’re in the home stretch of this project now. Here’s what has happened in the last month or two.

The plumbing and electrical were roughed in.

Big red trucks came, replaced a pole, took down a pole, ran a new service and buried the electric to the house–bonus!

Ben moved lots and lots of gravel around.

We couldn’t excavate close to the oven, so in a feat of masterful framing involving strange angles, our contractor connected it to the building with a little interior alcove.

The foamers came and made it look like it snowed upside-down in there.

The doors and windows closed it all in.

Then the sheet rockers came and made walls appear.

And Ben took on a second full-time job as our painting subcontractor.

Now the exterior siding is going up, the interior trim is getting put in, the HVAC is installed and the building is energized.

It won’t be long now!


The farmer’s market season opens!

Come find us this morning (Saturday April 2) at the very first 2016 Charlottesville City Market (7 AM to noon) and at the last winter market at the Rockfish Valley Community Center (9:00 to noon).

We have beautiful plant starts for your garden, fresh spinach and wood-fired breads. And, we also are introducing hand-laminated croissants and scones, fresh from our brick oven. Quantities are limited, so get there early!

Looking forward to seeing your friendly faces!

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Bakery/Shed 4: Raising the roof

What hasn’t been apparent thus far is the “shed” part of the this project. We designed the building so that it would streamline our vegetable harvesting in addition to providing Heather with a place to bake bread. The new shed will be attached to the bakery building via a covered driveway.

This phase of the project also began Ben’s intimate acquaintance with the shovel. Each of those posts is set in a hole three feet deep–no small feat in ground that has in places more rocks and dirt, thanks to  Hurricane Camille.

Then Ben and Craig hoisted those beams into place by hand. The trusses on the other hand, got to ride on a crane.

In the above photos you can see the scissor trusses for the main floor of the bakery–these create a lofted ceiling.

The shed already has a high ceiling, so that got standard trusses.

But our favorite part of the design is the loft created by the “attic” trusses over the cooler and office. This space is too beautiful and restful to be used for storage–it will be a retreat, a guest room, a practice room, a yoga room.

The next day, the OSB and tarpaper went on. Suddenly it didn’t rain in the building anymore.



Bakery/Shed 3: Hello walls

Construction projects are notorious for going over budget and off schedule. Somehow this winter, it seems the stars have aligned over our project; apart from rest and rain days, there has been no down time. Credit for working that magic goes to our contractor Craig Swingle.

In the last half of February, Craig and Ben framed the walls, and Ben laid the drainpipe and moved a bunch of gravel around. He helped finish waterproofing the foundation, then he and I filled the area behind the retaining wall with rocks and gravel.

Then the sheathing went up. It looks like the oven is outside the building, but it will be tied in with a concrete floor, shed roof and wing walls.

At some point, we took a break to start farming again. We put the plastic on the greenhouse and started seeding for the 2016 season.

The last steps in this phase were placing the beam over the little “hallway” to the oven, and building some stairs up to the bakery.

The building has to sit high off the ground because of how we built the oven. Last year, if you recall, we were scrambling to get the oven built, and didn’t think through how it would tie in to the rest of the building. In building it on the high part of the pasture, we essentially fixed the finished floor height for the rest of the building.  Early next week, we’ll show you the roof.

No Cause for Alarm: Food Safety and Farmers’ Markets

We read this recent opinion piece in the New York Times after a skeptical friend sent it to us. A few days later, another friend, a science journalist, sent the same article to a group of farmers (including us), asking if anyone would draft a letter to the editor in response. After checking out the piece and its source–this unpublished working paper–we agreed that the author, Marc Bellemare, was overstating his results when he sounded the alarm that farmers markets are correlated with a higher incidence of food-borne illness per capita. To his credit, Bellemare reminds readers that the correlation that he found does not imply causation. But reports like this get picked up and repeated without the caveats that Bellemare included in his article. We agree with our journalist friend who said that the New York Times gave Bellemare a big megaphone for results that are less than conclusive.

To understand the difference between correlation and causation, imagine reading that states with more traffic accidents also had more food-borne illnesses. Another way of saying this is that there is a positive correlation between traffic accidents and food-borne illnesses. It would be difficult to imagine anyone arguing that traffic accidents caused the illnesses, or for that matter, that illnesses caused the accidents. Similarly, there is nothing in Bellemare’s results that would prohibit the conclusion that food-borne illness caused increases in farmers markets, rather than the other way around.

Still, a correlation between two variables is usually the first clue that they might be related. The stronger the correlation, the more likely it is to catch a researcher’s eye. If you look at the figure above, you see one of Bellemare’s main results. It shows a correlation between farmers’ markets per capita and a variable that is not well-explained in the paper, but which presumably represents all reported outbreaks of food-borne illness. The green dots are the actual data, the red line is a type of trend-line, and the blue shape is the uncertainty about the location of that trend-line. The steeper the trend-line, the stronger the correlation, so a flat line would indicate no correlation.  Look at the actual data points (green dots). If you were looking at the data for the first time, without the blue shape and red line, would you think there was a relationship, or would this just look like a blob of points?  If you do think there is a relationship, is it a strong relationship?

We don’t think so. To us, it looks like a shotgun blast of points that show no trend. But even if you think it does show a trend, it would still just be a correlation.

Mistaking correlation for causation is a common error that we have written about before. What bothers us most is the New York Times should have known better. By publishing the piece with the headline, “Farmer’s Markets and Food-Borne Illness,” the NYT is implying that shopping at farmer’s markets increases the risk of contracting a food-borne illness. This, despite the fact that in the conclusion of his unpublished working paper, Bellemare himself writes “from a policy perspective, it would be a mistake to take the results in this paper and discourage or encourage people to purchase food from farmers markets on the basis of our results.”

That said, we welcome a discussion of ways to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. It is the responsibility of small and large producers alike to ensure the food that they sell is safe. Regulators rightly focus on larger producers, whose products are available in supermarkets nationwide. Higher risk foods, like cheese and meat, are also more closely regulated, even at farmers’ markets. It is likely that small producers of lower risk foods, like vegetables, are not inspected because the risk of an outbreak is low relative the impact it would have, since each farm serves a small area, and not an entire region.

And therein lies the main safety mechanism for consumers. By shopping at a farmer’s market, you are buying food grown by a member of your community. No-one wants to make their neighbors sick, and we all know that word travels quickly if there ever is a problem. Farmer’s markets give customers the opportunity to make food safety judgements for themselves, by asking producers about their practices, or by visiting their facility. It is when food production is removed from the community that it becomes necessary for the government to step in and inspect on the consumer’s behalf. So until there is actual evidence that food purchased at a farmer’s market is unsafe, we can relax and continue to enjoy farmers’ markets for their fresh nutient-dense food, local economic benefit, and sense of community.

We did send a letter to the editor in response to Bellemare’s opinion piece, but the Times declined to publish it. Here it is:

To the Editor:

Marc Bellemare writes that certain outbreaks of food-borne illness are correlated with the number of farmers markets per capita in a state (“Farmers Markets and Food-borne Illness” Op-Ed, Jan. 17). He rightly concedes that correlation does not imply causation, so for the Times to publish his non-peer-reviewed analysis seems premature and risks sowing undue fear of local food. To imply that farmers markets are to blame ignores that, as Bellemare writes, “most…illness [is] caused by consumers who undercook or fail to wash their food,” no matter where it is purchased. Food at supermarkets is anonymous. But at the farmers markets where we sell in central Virginia, customers can ask about food safety issues including pesticide applications, use of growth hormones and antibiotics, and worker conditions. The Times’ ill-considered publishing of Bellemare’s results stands to misinform consumers.

Ben Stowe and Heather Coiner

The view from the dirt pile

Bakery/shed 2: Foundation and Floor

It was bound to happen. Any winter construction project has to build in time for snow. Ours arrived mid-January, and delayed the foundation by two weeks.

But once things thawed, the project entered a phase where things start taking shape very fast. It is very exciting. We were delighted to hire our neighbor Scott Franklin to build the foundation. This is what he and his crew accomplished in three three short days.  They did a wonderful job.

They incorporated charred block from our first oven into this foundation, which feels good and has a nice resonance.

The next step was to frame the floor, and we both helped Craig, our awesome contractor, finish this stage in three days. On the first day, we built the beam and secured the rim board.

On the second day, we added the joists, and on the third, we glued on and screwed on the subfloor. This floor is not going anywhere!

And now that we have a floor, our first thought is: let’s have a square-dance on it!  And if we have our way, that is just what will happen at our annual old-time music party, Thorny-O, which is coming up this weekend.

Bakery/shed 1: There’s a hole in the ground

We kicked off the new year with a little ground-breaking here at Little Hat Creek Farm! After months of planning our new bakery and packing shed, the yellow machines showed up to dig. We could not have anticipated how exciting it would be to see the realization of our dream!

Last week JD Pippin carved out the site. There were rocks–from the 1969 Hurricane Camille landslide–but not nearly as many as we had feared. JD came back with a backhoe, dug the footer, and then the concrete truck showed up. Early next week, the foundation should appear, laid by one of our neighbors here in the Hollow.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Day 7: We’d like our kitchen back please!

Our wood-fired brick oven is big. It’s bigger than we are. That is, we don’t yet use it to its full capacity. Our kitchen, on the other hand, is too small for us. We are still using our home kitchen to make about 200 loaves of bread per week during the farmers market season, not to mention storing all our bakery equipment and ingredients: speed racks, hundreds of pounds of flour, and bins for mixing dough. This winter, we’re sending a memo to our business: we’d like our kitchen back, please.

Currently, the project that’s taking up the most space in our heads (and wallets) is a new building to be attached to the wood-fired oven. We’re going to take the bakery from semi-pro to all-the-way-pro here, making it bigger than we are right now, to match the size of the oven. The new bakery will have a 8′ x 12′ walk-in cooler, which could fit 8 speed racks, and an insulated flour room that will be cooler than the rest of the building to help keep the flour fresher.

And so, as long as we are going to hire big yellow machines to excavate a foundation, we asked ourselves, could we imagine a building that would improve the efficiency of the farm, too? Of course! Also included in this new construction will be a packing shed where we will wash and store harvested veggies, and a covered driveway connecting it to the bakery. The covered drive is where we will store our farmer’s market setups for easy access when we load the bread and veggies for our three markets per week.

We are thankful to be working with the amazing builder and good friend Craig Swingle. He is not kidding when his business card proclaims “Projects taken on”. He has guided, rather than advised, so the resulting design is at once wholly ours and also simple and easy to build. We’re excited for this new construction to tie together many of the threads that we must pull every week in order to bring our bread and produce to market. The big challenge will making it all happen by the beginning of markets next April.

That’s it for our seven posts in seven days. Thank you for reading! We’ll see you in the New Year.  Happy holidays!

Day 6: We’re hiring for the 2016 season!

Our business is growing fast, so we have created a new position for 2016! We are hiring a second intern to work closely with Heather in the bakery.

Apply now for 2016 by sending a resume and cover letter to

General description: Little Hat Creek Farm is a small diversified vegetable farm and wood-fired bakery. 2016 will be our third season of selling at three farmer’s markets and through a 25 member CSA. We use ecological farming practices on one acre of annual vegetables and a small fruit orchard. Our bakery specializes in naturally-leavened breads made by hand with local flours. We also produce pastry using the fruits of our farm. This winter, we are expanding our business by building a self-contained bakery building to house the oven, which will allow us to take on additional sales outlets for our baked goods. We are hiring an intern to help us grow and develop these outlets. This is a training position.

Skills desired: You are a good fit for this internship if you love making and sharing good food and if our farm+bakery business model excites you. You get as much pleasure out of mastering a technique as you do in creating new recipes using ingredients from our farm. You also want to have a hand in producing those ingredients. You are creative and a self-starter who can also perform routine production tasks. You are consistently attentive to cleanliness and organisation. You are able to work quickly and efficiently while attending to detail, and you are able to problem-solve on the fly. You are punctual, able to safely lift fifty pounds, and able to meet deadlines.

Duties: You will be responsible for routine bakery tasks like mixing, shaping, and baking bread and pastries, dishwashing, oven and firewood management, ingredient restocking, and general cleanup. Beyond this, your experience will be shaped by your interests and our needs. We currently fire the oven and bake bread three days a week, but this may increase as we take on new accounts. On some days, additional duties may include farm activities, including greenhouse work, harvesting, mulching and weeding; post-harvest processing like pickling, jamming and drying; deliveries; marketing and developing new sales outlets; and/or recipe development.

Duration and Hours: April 2016-October 2016 with the possibility of continuing into the winter. Working hours will not exceed 50 hours per week and may include late night or early morning shifts in preparation for our Wednesday and Saturday farmers’ markets. You will have 1.5 days off each week.

Meals: You will have access to our farm produce, including eggs and bread. Should you live on the farm, you will have access to a shared kitchen and the possibility of also sharing meals with us and another worker.

Compensation: Stipend TBD. Indoor housing with a shared bathroom and kitchen is available as part of your compensation. You will have access to the food the farm produces, and receive training in marketable skills.

You will learn how to:
-operate a large wood-fired oven
-make pastries and naturally-leavened bread on a commercial scale
-adjust recipes to account for weather and ingredient variation
-develop new recipes
-handle food safely
-grow, harvest and process fruits and vegetables
-market farm products
-successfully grow a small local food business

You will also have access to the logic behind everything we do. We make a point of sharing the details of our farming, baking, and business practices, so we encourage you to ask about all aspects of starting and running a business like ours. And because there are many ways of doing things, we also take you on visits to 2-3 other farms and bakeries over the course of the season.

We will consider proposals that give you creative space while meeting our needs.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Day 5: 2016 CSA signups are now open!

We are excited to announce that signups to our 2016 Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) are now open!

Purchasing a share entitles you to 19 weeks of ecological produce from our farm and a loaf of wood-fired sourdough bread. We pack our CSA boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables that are picked at their peak, so that our members can experience the best our farm has to offer from the beginning to the end of the growing season. We also publish a popular weekly newsletter with farm news and recipes to help you make the most of your box.

To keep things interesting, every year we introduce a few new varieties. For 2016, we are adding carrots, beets, broccoli raab (rapini), as well as new varieties of tomatoes and squash. But we are keeping prices, pickup times, and locations the same! For more details on our CSA, please go here.

You can sign up by filling out this form. We sold out last year, so don’t dally too long. We look forward to welcoming you to our community!