Kneading Conference Brings Bread Buffs & Grain Enthusiasts to Skowhegan

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SKOWHEGAN, Maine. (WABI) 250 'grainiacs' are attending a three-day summer camp of sorts at the Skowhegan fairgrounds for all things grain.

The 11th annual kneading conference brings bread buffs and grain enthusiasts from across the country to learn the art and science of baking breads, growing grains, and brewing beer.

"We've got some of the world's best bakers, but we also have just the passionate home bakers that want to be here. We've got millers, we've got maltsters, we've got brewers, oven builders- we're building an earth oven. We've got a whole host of different types of things that are happening," said Tristan Noyes, Executive Director of the MGA.

The Maine Grain Alliance started the conference ten years ago sitting around a table in Skowhegan. The goal of these community members and volunteers was to bring back the grain culture that was once alive and thriving in the Northeast by organizing an event for passionate professionals and amateurs to network.

"How could we re-energize and reinvigorate the regional grain economy and do something that helps to address a certain agricultural segment that felt like it needed some support?"

"Give us this day our daily bread. It's a spiritual thing really for a lot of people. There's almost a zen element about baking when you get really into it," said Dowse.

Harold 'Dusty' Dowse is the director of the Artisan Bread Fair that follows the two-day workshop conference on Saturday. He owns a small bakery in Cambridge and will be presenting at both the conference and the fair, which is free and open to the public.

"So I'm going to do a short talk on sourdough baking, and I'll do a short talk on making tortillas, which is going to be in our kids area, and I'll also talk about how to make better bread at home," said Dowse.

The fair draws 3,000 people and runs from 9-3 on Saturday featuring over 70 vendors.

Folks attending the kneading conference say everyone, across all cultures, has a great familiarity with bread and grains. For Stephanie Swane, whose family is from Denmark, the sight, smell and taste of rye bread reminds her of her childhood.

"And so to have an open faced sandwich with rye bread underneath is a comfort food to me because it takes me back to my lineage and my family, and the connection when I'm having a bad day-having a nice pierce of bread with something on it I think 'this is my food. This is comfort to me.," said Swane.

Swane is a keynote speaker here and is publishing a 50 pound, five volume compendium on all things bread that hits bookshelves in November.

For more information about the conference and fair, go to