“I am a human being, but on the strength of my imagination – tied as it is – I can be a bridge”
Hannah Hoch wrote this in her diaries. She was a German artist who was born at the end of the 19th century and who died at the end of the twentieth. Her career was interrupted by the rise of Nazism and the second world war when she was forced to stop creating and live quietly and invisibly on the outskirts of Berlin for fear of being persecuted (or worse) as a subversive and a deviant. Nevertheless, she communicated, and through her scrapbooks, work, and diaries she shows us our world from multiple perspectives, challenges our understanding of history and art, and expands our minds. She is a bridge between what we were, what we are, and what we will be.
I met Alison Swan Parente last week who founded the School of Artisan Food for many reasons, one of which was that her son begged his dad to “get her a new job” after she had interfered once too often in the farm shop that he was managing. I have to add she was only doing that because she had given up her important work in London and was suffering from not having enough meaningful, purposeful, life defining activity as a result.
Fast forward a decade and the School of Artisan Food is one of the leading schools in the UK for courses in bakery, butchery, dairy and “other” – courses ranging from preserving to chocolate making to how to brew cider. Cheap it ain’t and, in many ways, therein lies the opportunity and the dream.
We operate at different ends of the spectrum, SAF and Virtuous Bread. VB seeks to change the world through bread, making it fun and interesting for people to make and find and learn about good bread and in so doing to forge the link between bread and virtue. We teach courses (that are highly affordable), we volunteer, speak, write, bake, and dream about good bread. We are also in the business of creating entrepreneurs. The micro bakery course is aimed at people wanting to change their life and/or enrich their life by setting up a micro bakery. It’s a self selected crew – men and women from 25 to 75 and from all walks of life – who not only buy into the good bread vibe but who also want to build their communities and change lives. We are not set up to teach big groups, we are not set up to teach all aspects of baking, we are not set up to run a foundation course, degree course or indeed any kind of course for which you could get an official certification. That’s simply not what we do and we are cool with that.
“There is a dearth of trained craft bakers, a huge demand for properly made bread that is not being met, and thousands of young people that need skills and training in order to have a meaningful future,” she said when we spoke. “The problem is that our course is too expensive for most school leavers. We would love to train as many youngsters as are interested in learning how to become craft bakers but we just cannot. We don’t want to live on grants (to pay their fees) and we don’t think we should have to.” The goal is to get the 10 month bakery course recognised by the government (Department of Education, policy wonks, and anyone else who matters) which will enable the school to be registered as an official place of higher learning which will enable students to attend it for the same price they attend industrial baking courses that are well established and that prepare youngsters for a career in an industrial bakery. All very well until you realise that the market for industrial bread is shrinking, not growing.
Skills, employment, entrepreneurialism. These are issues both Virtuous Bread and The School of Artisan Food like to tackle. Whether you see the solutions to our society’s ills from the perspective of the ant or as if you were standing on the moon, from the perspective of the School of Artisan Food or the perspective of Virtuous Bread is not important. What is important is that you see them and aim to be the bridge between the problem and the solution.
So what can you do? You can reach Jane Mason at Virtuous Bread here and Alison Swan Parente of the School of Artisan Food here. Tell us your thoughts and ideas, open up your networks to really useful people who can help us change the world (David Cameron is perfectly nice I am sure but not useful in this case so aim higher), or otherwise help cut through the bureaucracy that is preventing some young people from embarking on a meaningful and much needed career path.