MINNEAPOLIS — For 11 years Steve Horton grew his bakery, Rustica, located on west Lake Street in Minneapolis, into a baking powerhouse. Artful, beautiful breads and baked goods were created by Horton day in and day out. This three-time James Beard award semifinalist gave his heart and soul into Rustica. In 2015 Horton was ready for a new adventure in baking. Not knowing exactly what that adventure would be, he sold Rustica.
Horton enjoyed the process of creating bread, but there was limited flour choices in the Minneapolis area. “Just not a lot of options,” he said. Horton was interested in making breads with specific flour that wasn’t always readily available in the Twin Cities area. He decided if he couldn’t get the flour he wanted, he would mill that flour himself. Only one problem though — Horton knew absolutely nothing about milling. He traveled to Vermont and North Carolina to get a crash course in milling from some experts in the craft. Horton purchased a large stone mill from Andrew Heyn with New American Stone Mills in Elmore, Vt. and a sifting system. Thus a new adventure began.
In 2016 Horton partnered with Kieran Folliard to open Baker’s Field Flour & Bread located in the Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis. It was then time to focus on getting the grain Horton needed to start milling. Horton began with cold-calling farmers and purchasing some of their extra grain that year. Horton initially was interested in rye and soft winter wheat for their baking properties.
Baker’s Field mills flour for the baking they do on the premises, along with producing flour to be sold at retail stores around the Twin Cities, and wholesale to restaurants. In-house, Horton and his baking crew make 10 different types of breads and cinnamon rolls; plus have 10 seasonal items which includes Stollen (available in December) and Chocolate Babka in May.
Having a connection to the farmers who grow the grains is cornerstone to Baker’s Field’s success. Horton knows that raising a crop isn’t as simple as putting seeds in the dirt and walking away. There’s risk from planting through marketing the crop. The farmers have to be willing to work with Baker’s Field and the small amount of grain they need; plus be flexible when it comes to when the grain is needed. For Horton, having a direct connection to the farmers who produce the grain he uses allows him to have a better grasp of what is going on in the agricultural landscape. “It really helps us understand the challenges for them,” Horton said.
At this time, Horton is working with three farmers. “Always trying to find someone to grow soft winter wheat,” he said. He’s currently looking for a producer he can purchase rye from. Horton currently mills around 9,000 pounds of flour a week.
The amount of grain that Horton needs from the producers varies. “It’s more farmer to farmer.” Dawson, Minn. producer Luke Peterson grew Forefront last year and Horton bought most of that wheat from him. For Horton, it’s a matter of projecting and figuring out what he needs and what the producers have. Peterson is also growing flax for Horton. “He sends a couple hundred pounds to us a month,” Horton said.
It’s not simple milling your own flour. “All of the issues that can happen, do happen.” Horton has dealt with storage, distribution and cost issues. “It’s pretty hard. We’re big enough that we can do volume, but not big enough to do big volume.”
As Baker’s Field continues to grow, size restraints have become an issue as there’s only so much room to store grain at their Food Building location. “We don’t have any more space.” Some of the farmers want grain bins there, but space and money is the issue. “How do we best use our resources?”
Horton is focusing on making more revenue with what he has. “I would love to build a separate facility in Minneapolis and St. Paul.” That facility would be where grain could be stored until needed for milling.
There really isn’t any other place in the Twin Cities and beyond that is milling flour in the quantity that Horton is. “Our product is ahead of the market.”
It is all about relationships. “Because most people don’t have a direct connection to their food anymore.” Horton doesn’t just mill and bake, he also educates. Customers have inquired about whether his products are non-GMO. He lets them know that all wheat is non-GMO. While he’s noticed that his products — specifically the flour bought in the co-ops — is more popular with urban customers, they don’t have that direct connection with where their food comes from. He provides that connection to his customers. The farmers that grow grain for Baker’s Field are prominently featured on the website. That connection is vital for Horton and one he strives to maintain as his business continues to grow and develop.
Horton’s baked products are a little different than most bread found in bakeries. He produces naturally-leavened bread which is similar to sourdough. The breads feature complex notes and texture.
The stone milling done at Baker’s Field keeps elements of the germ and bran in the bread flour that is produced. All the kernel parts are in the whole grain flour they mill. The difference in freshly-milled flour vs. industrial milled flour is that the fresh milled flour absorbs more water and produces less volume when baked. All seven types of flour sold on the Baker’s Field website have all been milled a day before being shipped to customers.
Having been in the milling business for three years, Horton is excited about the future of producing flour. Working alongside farmers is part of that excitement. He knows that an excellent baked goods begins in the field. Using innovative grains to produce great bread is at the forefront of what Baker’s Field is doing to take fresh baking to the next level. “We really are doing something different in this market.”
For more information on Baker’s Field, their products and the farmers who grow their grains, visit https://bakersfieldflour.com/.