Community Loaves: Edmonds bakers rise to the occasion

Nancy Leson with four loaves fresh out of the oven.

The Edmonds Food Bank helps to feed an unbelievable number of families — nearly 1,000 families a week — and among their most pressing and persistent needs is bread. As food bank volunteer Tom Treanor says, “it’s a big factor for us. We’re consistently short on sliced bread; we only get 15 to 20% of what we need.”

Enter Community Loaves, bread and energy cookies “home-baked by neighbors.”

Dough rising.

In Edmonds alone, 40 local bakers make and donate more than 100 fresh whole-grain, honey-oatmeal loaves and 200 energy cookies every other week. But it’s a drop in the bucket. The food bank could use twice that many.

Edmonds Community Loaves bakers, L-R: Nancy Fleck, Kim Wahl, Sarah Boyd, Barbara Harris, Lori Tollefson, Chris Fleck, Nancy Leson, Lynne Behrendt and Esther Hyun.
Sarah Boyd makes hearty chocolate chip cherry energy cookies.

“The cookies have gone over very well,” says Andrew Brokaw, food bank programs manager. “They’re a perfect fit for snacks at a local school and distribution at the hygiene center. We can also take on additional loaves thanks to the bread slicer — up to 100 more loaves each donation would be perfect.”

The bread slicer at the Edmonds Food Bank is a game-changer. Sliced loaves make life easier especially for seniors, so Community Loaves founder Katherine Kehrli wants to get bread slicers at all the food banks. She and her husband Tim donated this large machine to Edmonds for a trial run.

Edmonds Food Bank volunteers Tom Treanor and Nancy Winch at the newly donated slicer, also shown at right.

“It takes two hours to slice 100 loaves,” says volunteer Nancy Winch. “The hardest part is getting the twist ties off.” It’s a funny problem — home bakers are so diligent about packaging the loaves tightly to keep them fresh, but some people twist left and some twist right.

Success! Twist-tie off, bread sliced and rebagged.

Why bake bread at home when commercial bread is so cheap and easy?

Community Loaves’ whole-grain loaves are not just any old bread. Store-bought bread can never compete with homemade and especially not when the homemade is baked with freshly ground locally grown wheat, plus olive oil, honey and oats. The energy cookies, too, are packed with nutritious ingredients, and while the recipes are proprietary, the whole enterprise is about individuals sharing with their neighbors.

Baking bread at home is a fragrant, delicious way to serve the community. It’s a way to give on your own time without overcommitting.

Community Loaves provides online training for bakers of all levels, from professionals to absolute beginners. Volunteers bake in their home kitchens; they don’t need to have commercial equipment or food-handling licenses but for food safety’s sake, Community Loaves regulates the ingredients and the process.

About Community Loaves

Community Loaves is entirely the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and visionary Katherine Kehrli. During the COVID shutdown, Kehrli worried when her students at Seattle Culinary Academy lost their part-time restaurant jobs. As associate dean, she wanted to help them, but in doing so she uncovered a larger need in the community. Community Loaves is the collaborative result.

Community Loaves Founder and CEO Katherine Kehrli with 50 lb. sacks of Cairnspring flour>(Photo by Julia Ratcliff)

In April 2020, Kehrli engaged some friends and together they donated 19 loaves of fresh bread to Hopelink in Kirkland. Six months later, some 300 bakers donated 4,000 loaves. Now it’s close to 900 bakers. As food insecurity grows, the Community Loaves organization also grows throughout Washington and now Oregon, Idaho and California.

Behind each loaf of bread is a whole army of volunteers. You can’t imagine how many people it takes to get that loaf or cookie from farm to table.

First, the flour.

Early on, Kehrli established relationships with two mills in Skagit Valley that were producing organic flours from local grains: Cairnspring Mills and Fairhaven Mill.

“Our farmers are contractually prohibited from using glyphosate … and from using neonicotinoid-coated seeds due to their documented harmful effects on humans, pollinators and wildlife…” says Kevin Morse, founder and CEO of Cairnspring. “Our wheat is never blended with commodity wheat or any other wheat we didn’t buy directly from the grower. Our flours are not artificially enriched or treated. We don’t add dough stabilizers or conditioners such as enzymes, ascorbic acid, mononitrate or malted barley. None of our flours are bromated or bleached.”

Morse says the relationship with Community Loaves is a true partnership. “Katherine Kehrli and the hundreds of bakers in the Community Loaves network are an inspiration to me and to all of us at Cairnspring. We’re proud to be a part of the Community Loaves story”

This short video by Kevin Morse will give you confidence in the nutritional quality of Cairnspring’s flour.

Thousand-lb. bags of flour at Fairhaven Mill.

Flour is a fundraiser for Community Loaves. A slight markup still makes it less expensive than the specialty stores, and bakers can get their flour directly from Community Loaves once a month.

David Johnston, Paul Tollefson and Bob Witzgall alternate driving the Edmonds Food Bank van to Burlington each month to pick up 1,500-lb. pallets of flour. They deliver the flour to Community Loaves’ central office, where volunteers divide it up for distribution to the hubs.

At left, Bob Witzgall. at right, Lori and Paul Tollefson (front) bagging in Kirkland.

Below, Chris Fleck picks up 2,000 lbs. of supplies from Kirkland, stops off in Green Lake and then delivers to the Edmonds Waterfront Center, where more volunteers sort the orders.

At left, Chris Fleck in Edmonds Food Bank van. At right, Edmonds and Shoreline delivery coordinators Valerie Stein and Cathy Martin.

Then, the bakers.

Renowned food writer and teacher Nancy Leson started the Edmonds hub in the fall of 2020. She still bakes but has passed administrative duties on to Lynne Behrendt, an Edmonds School District educator. Valerie Stein, a retired school librarian, handles flour sales, and retired police officer Lori Tollefson delivers the loaves to the food bank, where, as Bob Witzgall reports, “they fly off the shelves.”

Bakers pick up their orders of flour, yeast, sourdough starter, flour mix for cookies and branded packaging at the Waterfront Center. They buy their own honey, oats, oil and cookie add-ins and pay for all ingredients as a donation.

Everyone uses the same recipes or “formulas” that they get from the website after signing up online. They bake over two weeks, freezing whatever they’ve baked ahead, and they deliver loaves and cookies to the hub leader’s home on the second and fourth Sundays each month. Bakers come by car, on foot, by bicycle and even on a Vespa.

Chris Fleck delivering his loaves and
wife Nancy’s cookies by Vespa.

And finally, the food bank and its clients

Community Loaves delivers the loaves to the food bank on a Monday morning, and most of them are out the door in 24 hours.

The Edmonds Food Bank has been an extraordinary partner, lending their van for just the cost of gas, sharing resources, providing dedicated volunteers and distributing the baked goods where they are needed. Many Community Loaves bakers also volunteer there.

Every aspect of Community Loaves is a labor of love, from donating ingredients to volunteering physical labor to the baking itself. As Kehrli says, “bakers already love to bake, and they love to nourish. And Community Loaves is a matchmaker of that heart and passion directly into the emergency food system.”

Want to help? Here’s how.

Edmonds’ newest Community Loaves baker Esther Hyun.
This is her fifth loaf!

Edmonds photos by Chris Walton. Other photos by Katherine Kehrli and Nancy Leson.

–Story by Marty Ronish

  1. What an amazing group of people. I had no idea the amount of work and coordination that went into community bakers. Serving our community with such love…fantastic!

    1. Beautiful story. Glad to know about this. Saved the donation link to add to my list of places to donate.

    2. Community Loaves has made an enormous difference to our customers and our food bank. We are so excited when we get all of those loaves of fresh bread on distribution Mondays.

  2. Great to see the publicity. A slicer at ever bank that has space would be awesome. (Some bank patrons don’t have a lot of utensils.) Those cherry chocolate cookies are wonderful. I tried one to be able to describe them. (That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. )

  3. This is an amazing community. l look forward to seeing more partnerships like this with local schools. It is a struggle to find healthy affordable snacks to have available for students.

  4. Today is another bread delivery day to our local hub. My wife, Nancy & I are bringing 4 loaves and 32 Energy Cookies. Every time I bank my loaves I get a great feeling deep down. I encourage any home bakers who have either basic baking skills or is willing to learn to please reach out to CL and join us.

    I foolishly thought when the pandemic was over, the need would be lower.

    Silly me!

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