By Nora Mounce
When Rhonda Weidenbeck started Beck’s Bakery three years ago, infusing Humboldt County with rounds and loaves of nutrient-dense artisan bread, she concurrently set the wheels of our local grain economy in motion. As founder and head baker of Beck’s, Rhonda’s knowledge of agriculture is sophisticated beyond the already complex art of good bread. Both a baker and miller, Rhonda is intimately involved with her bread from the wheat fields to your kitchen table – a circle of economic trust and dependency that she refers to as the local grain economy. Rhonda’s passion and vision for sustainable farmlands in Humboldt County is palpable. If you haven’t had the opportunity to meet Rhonda in person, you can taste her commitment to the traditional craft of baking in every loaf of Beck’s bread.
Rhonda credits local grain farmer John LaBoyteuax as the inspiration for starting Beck’s. Rhonda had been purchasing John’s wheat berries, farmed in Redcrest, at the North Coast Co-op and fresh milling them to bake bread at home. “My first bite, I was like holy cow, this is different!” Rhonda’s excitement prompted her to send a hand-written letter to farmer John, to which he quickly replied and the two hatched a plan for Rhonda to start a bakery using John’s grains. “I had no idea the logistics involved in doing this. It was a leap of faith for all us,” she says.
Three years later, Rhonda works seven days a week to make Beck’s economically viable with a small staff of invaluable, local employees. Beck’s is a bedrock member of Humboldt Made in the way that it encompasses the entrepreneurial spirit of Humboldt County, where businesses planting roots behind quiet of the redwood curtain must be passionate enough to work 24/7 to see their dreams become a reality. Rhonda and her crew are constantly innovating their available products, testing new breads and working to increase their wholesale customer base outside of Humboldt County. Recently, this has included Beck’s signature Nutty Granola and stone ground whole grain crackers made with local Humboldt honey, organic olive oil and French Grey sea salt. Rhonda’s current focus is expanding her wholesale business to ship granola and crackers out of Humboldt County, hoping to boost overall sales and reinvest revenue to increase the volume of Beck’s production.
“People that value the community and the landscape want our products,” says Rhonda. She explains how baking, selling and eating bread made from local grain will “keep Humboldt looking like Humboldt,” by preserving land for grazing and creating a market for local wheat. Producers like Beck’s Bakery and fellowHumboldt Made business, Alchemy Distilling, are able to buy grain from farmers like LaBoyteuax at economically viable prices. Between Beck’s and Alchemy, they currently purchase 100% of the grain grown in Humboldt County (that they know about!). The two young businesses would love to see more farmers growing sustainably farmed wheat, barley and rye, though expanding the local grain economy is not without its challenges. One such limitation is the presence of a local mill. Rhonda faced this problem head-on by setting up a stone mill in her bakery located at the Foodworks Culinary Center in Arcata, where she mills for Alchemy Distilling and sells her flour blends in bulk to the North Coast Co-op. Rhonda and her staff know which varietals of wheat, rye and barley they are milling from each farm and use the different grains accordingly to maximize the depth of flavor in each type of Beck’s breads.
As other cottage businesses consider using local grain (hello local brewers!), they quickly learn to talk to Rhonda at Beck’s about getting in on the deal. “What makes up a vibrant industry cluster is having the farmers, the millers, the bakers, the distillers, the manufacturers, and the consumers, a huge factor that makes it all work,” says Rhonda who is passionate about helping a diverse set of businesses promote local grain farming. Beck’s Bakery, Alchemy Distilling and farmers like John LaBoyteuax and the Hindleys of the Mattole Valley have put Humboldt County on the map as one of the nation’s leaders in a healthy local grain economy. As consumers (aka eaters) everyone can help preserve Humboldt County’s farmlands and promote our local economy with the simple act of eating Beck’s bread. Look for Rhonda and her team at our local farmer’s markets and find their artisan breads at the North Coast Co-op, Eureka Natural Foods, Wildberries Marketplace and select restaurants throughout Humboldt County