Erin Bicknese is proprietor and baker for the Knoxville Bread Co-op—Community Supported Baking. Its members pay to receive a delivery of handcrafted, home-baked bread once or twice a week.
How long have you been in the business?
I started last March selling bread to people—almost all my ingredients are organic. I try to do local, too, although that’s not the overwhelming percentage of what I bake, mostly just the eggs and milk.
How does your business model work?
I sort of patterned it after the CSA concept—community supported agriculture, where a farmer sells shares of produce ahead of time and delivers the produce to a couple of standard drop-off posts at standard times. That way the farmers know they’ll have business before they plant.
Do your customers commit to several months ahead of time?
It’s about half and half. About half the members—I don’t even like saying “customers”—bought in ahead of time, by the month. I have two plans, once a week and twice a week. The other half sign up for just one purchase from an e-mail list—some people just don’t like being locked in.
They order through e-mail and then you have drop-off points?
Yes, most of it goes to the Glowing Body yoga studio off Central. I also have a whole handful of members living in my neighborhood, and their bread is delivered to their doors.
Whatever you’re baking that week, that’s what they get?
That is correct. I do guarantee the first baking of the week is a sandwich loaf. But the second, Thursday, is sort of a fun day; I get to play. This week I’m making Parmesan chive biscuits. The Thursday selection has been everything from scones to pretzels to rosemary focaccia.
Who taught you to bake bread?
I’ve really just been learning on my own. I loved baking sweets as a kid, but I never really baked bread until Christmas 2010, when my mom gave me a baking stone. I got all excited about baking my own bread and just sort of jumped in.
What’s your maximum output?
I can do 16 loaves in a day—two shifts of filling my oven up with eight loaves.
Are you still looking for more people to sign on?
Absolutely. I’d love to do this full time. Right now I’m looking for other jobs to do along with the co-op.
Do you have an ingredient you’re really enthusiastic about at the moment?
I made my own sourdough starter—you basically “catch” some wild yeast. Now I’m making sour dough loaves every other week. It’s a long process with 12 hours plus of rising every time, truly a labor of love.
What advice would you give others who want to start baking bread?
I guess in our culture there are so many things you’re told you can’t do, told, “Thank goodness we have factories for that.” But you can learn if you try and you’ll get so much out of it. Doing things the long way can be rewarding.
Do you use a mixer or dough hook?
I do everything by hand. I love kneading, too. It’s a nice intentional time; for 10 minutes I’m not doing anything except with my hands. I think about how my day should go, and about happy thoughts I want to send people—to knead into their bread.
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