There is nothing ordinary about Rise Up! Artisan Bread. Not its location tucked away on a dirt mountain road in the Applegate Valley. Certainly not the building, a two-story, terra cotta-colored, hexagonal structure of strawbale construction. Nor the round, seven-foot-tall, wood-fired oven brought all the way from Spain. Certainly not the tasty, crusty bread. And definitely not the bakers, Jo Ferneau and Rosie Demmin, who moved up here three years ago with their daughter, now 5, with the goal of becoming part of a community and making a living that would allow them to spend time with their daughter.
Ferneau, 35, and Demmin, 31, left Napa three years ago with five other people from the San Francisco Bay Area. The seven bought their 282 acres in the Applegate together, but the bakery is strictly Ferneau and Demmin's project, while the others are concentrating on making the farmland productive.
Ferneau and Demmin, with eight years of baking experience behind them, do all the baking, sales and delivery, working five days a week to support the two days of actual baking. They are proud that their loaves are hand-kneaded and hand-shaped, work many would consider tedious.
Community and sustainability are watchwords for Ferneau and Demmin.
"We want to be a community resource," says Ferneau. "We want to create an understanding for quality bread. That we are all handmade, not made by machines. A mom-and-pop-type thing. And if people buy our bread, their money stays in the community. We buy strictly from local distributors, and we keep the money regional. We give away excess unsold bread to charities to feed the hungry. We have a commitment to this place."
Ninety-five percent of their supplies are organic. While their flour currently comes from Washington and Utah, half of it is milled locally.
Their first project was to build the bakery building, which took 13 months. It consists of two concentric strawbale hexagons supported by a huge timber frame. The original building design was by Chris Keefe of Organicforms Design in Ashland.
Strawbale builder John DiFruscia of Talent added his own touches. This was his first commercial strawbale building, which presented some unique problems.
"The county requires hardware to connect two pieces of wood together. I didn't like seeing the metal brackets. So I hid them in the wood and used joinery to cover, so it looks like old-fashioned post-and-beam construction," DiFruscia says.
All agreed they wanted the building as natural and organic as possible, so DiFruscia used a natural clay and sand plaster to cover the strawbales, which eliminated the need for metal lath most strawbale buildings require.
The result is impressive, with soaring two-story lodgepole pine supports varying from 16 inches at the base to 12 inches at the top. The naturally finished beams were hand-sanded by Ferneau and Demmin.
The center cupola and an abundance of windows provide good lighting. The thick walls also make air conditioning unnecessary. Even when their huge oven is blasting on the hottest days, a fan keeps it comfortable.
The bakery, storage rooms and a two-story atrium are downstairs. The atrium serves as a passive solar collector and also a lunch/break room. Upstairs is a meeting room, a small office and the kid's loft for daycare.
Their 13-foot diameter, wood-fired oven was recommended as the best by the San Francisco Baking Institute, which advised them on starting their business. It came from Spain in boxes complete with two workmen to put it together. They consider it a wise investment. Designed to run on very little wood, it uses about a cord of sustainably harvested madrone per month. Inside the deck of the oven is a lazy Susan, which makes loading 90 loaves at a time much easier than in standard ovens.
"It makes the best crust in the world," Demmin notes.
They currently produce a ciabatta, a French baguette and a Pain au Levain, a leavened sourdough which compares favorably to San Francisco sourdoughs. They also make a walnut-sage loaf, sourdough fig, apricot walnut, an olive whole grain, a sprouted multigrain and a spelt loaf.
When the bakery opened, they sold about 50 loaves a week. They now make about 350 loaves, and sell to four local markets. They will also deliver to individuals by subscription.
"I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area," says executive chef Tim Keller of the Carriage House Restaurant in Jacksonville, which serves Rise Up! bread. "I know bread, and this is the best bread I've ever had."
"It is really rewarding to bake beautiful bread that people love," Ferneau says.