by Barrett Hightower
Ben Stowe and Heather Coiner of Little Hat Creek Farm produce artisanal wood-fired bread and pastries, ecological fruits and vegetables, and pastured eggs on a five-acre patch in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Heather bakes naturally-leavened bread that she works by hand and bakes in a wood-fired oven (also called a “black oven,” in which a single chamber houses the fire and the bread). The high heat of the oven turns the water in the dough to steam, opening air pockets on the inside and reacting with the heat to harden and add shine to the outside. Baked this way, the bread has a crisp, flavorful crust and tender, chewy crumb. Heather bakes the breads that prefer the highest heat first, like Country White and Multigrain sourdough boules, and as the temperature drops over the course of the day, she bakes off tea cakes, focaccia, scones, croissants, and other pastries featuring the farm’s eggs, fruits, and vegetables.
Little Hat Creek Farm is rooted in Ben and Heather’s desire to advocate for, and positively impact, the local food system, including locally grown and milled flour. Regional small-batch flours are fresher, more nutritious, and more variable than industrial flours, and flavor and baking characteristics vary in turn. It takes patient and skilled bakers to deliver these flavors and convince consumers of the nutritional and economic benefits of returning these grains to our collective table. As bakers who interface directly with their customers at farmers’ markets and farm stall pop-ups, Ben and Heather are uniquely positioned to represent not just their products, but the growers and millers in the value chain.
Connecting these regional value-chain participants is the first step toward understanding what they require of each other and the marketplace to prosper. As of June 2018, Little Hat sourced 35 percent of its flour from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania growers. Fostering and participating in the CGA network will enable it to increase this already impressive percentage.
Little Hat Creek Farm vends at the Charlottesville City and Nelson County markets on Saturdays, at the Lexington Farmers Market on Wednesdays during the growing season. In the winter, you can find Little Hat Creek at the IX winter farmers market in Charlottesville [https://www.ixartpark.com/winter-farmers-market/], or sign up for monthly Bakery shares (including a Common Grain Share that features breads made with majority CGA flour) for pickup at locations in Charlottesville, Nelson County, Lexington, and Waynesboro http://littlehatcreek.com/collections/all