Scotland the Bread

An ambitious venture that aims to use high quality bread to improve diet, health and the local economy in Scotland is taking a step up in production thanks to a loan from The Co-operative Loan Fund.

Scotland The Bread, based in the Scottish Borders, is a collaborative project to establish a Scottish flour and bread supply that is healthy, equitable, locally controlled and sustainable. Veronica Burke, one of the founding directors, said: “Our idea is simple – grow nutritious wheat and bake it properly close to home.”

The business sells specialist grain and flour and runs comprehensive bakery courses for community groups. It is aiming to expand during 2017 and start its own quality assurance system for grain, flour and bread. At present eight community-based groups, including the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, are actively involved.

The venture began in 2012, bringing together plant breeders, farmers, millers, bakers, nutritionists and citizens with the common purpose of producing healthy food. Working with scientists in leading institutions, they began to research heritage Scottish and Nordic wheats to find nutrient-rich varieties that do well in local conditions. At the same time, they started building capacity in community-scale, artisan bread making. The co-operators set up a community benefit society in April 2016 to bring the project into community ownership and to raise investment.

Veronica Burke said: “Working together, we’ll change the entire system for the better: fair deals for local farmers growing nourishing food, fewer damaging food miles, more nutrition in every slice of bread and more jobs per loaf.”

Scotland the Bread is aiming to train 100 community bakers a year who by 2021 will be baking over 500,000 loaves a year made from highly nutritious grains. There is likely to be a ready market for such bread among people already interested in healthy eating but Veronica’s vision extends much further. “It is essential that our grain, flour and bread gets into the public procurement supply chain. That’s what will make the big difference to public health – high quality nutritious bread available in prisons, care homes, hospitals, schools – places where citizens with the most need have the least choice.”

Veronica’s husband, Andrew Whitley, is also a founding director. Andrew is one of the best known bakers in Britain. In 1976 he set up The Village Bakery in Melmerby, Cumbria, which from small beginnings became a market leader in organic artisan bread making. His 2006 book Bread Matters is widely regarded as the bread makers’ bible.

So far 160 people have bought shares totalling more than £37,000 in Scotland the Bread. It is one of just six ventures to be selected for the Just Growth funding programme designed to support community-based food and farming projects. Eligible ventures that raise finance from community investment can have it matched with a grant (funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and a loan (arranged by Co‑operative & Community Finance). The loan was released in December and is being used to finance initial staff costs, the setting up of an office and the purchase of equipment of an appropriate scale for community growing and baking.

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, which manages the Co-operative Loan Fund, said: “This is an innovative and highly ambitious venture – a society that is aiming to benefit the community in a very fundamental way, through nutrition. The Co-operative Loan Fund is pleased to support inspiring new ventures like this.”