This Initiative is Strengthening the Supply Chain
Floriole’s Sandra Holl donates artisan loaves while supporting grain farmersRebecca Treon
January 14, 2021
The James Beard Foundation is committed to supporting women in the food and beverage industry, from chefs and restaurateurs to entrepreneurs dreaming up new ways to make our food system more diverse, delicious, and sustainable. Our Women’s Leadership Programs (WLP), presented by Audi, provide training at multiple stages of an individual’s career. As part of the Foundation’s commitment to advancing women in the industry and the Audi #DriveProgress initiative, we’re sharing stories of trailblazers who have stepped up to help their communities in light of COVID-19, as well as individuals who are putting inclusion and equity at the forefront of building back better. Through #DriveProgress, Audi is committed to cultivating and promoting a culture that enables women to achieve their highest potential by removing barriers to equity, inclusivity, growth, and development.
Below, Rebecca Treon spoke with Sandra Holl about how she is strengthening the supply chain and donating food to her community one loaf of bread at a time with Neighbor Loaves.
There’s no denying the dramatic economic impact that COVID-19 has had on food and beverage businesses from coast to coast, from staff layoffs to complete closures. With millions of dollars lost and the restaurant industry teetering on the edge of collapse, the pandemic’s toll is something we see nightly on the news.
Less obvious is the cost for other parts of the supply chain, like farmers who have lost a majority of their customers because of restaurant closures, or the millions of Americans who are now struggling with food insecurity because they are unemployed or underemployed. Enter Neighbor Loaves—an initiative launched in the Midwest to the crisis to help those in need put food on the table, give farmers an outlet for their crops, and help small businesses like bakeries keep the lights on.
Formed by the Artisan Grain Collaborative—a collective of bakers, chefs, nonprofits, farmers, millers, and more who promote a regenerative food system—Neighbor Loaves supports restaurants, farmers, bakers, and foodbank recipients in one fell swoop. To participate, restaurants produce loaves of bread using at least 50 percent local grain sourced from sustainable farms and mills. Loaves purchased are then donated to a local hunger relief or community feeding organization.
Over 20 restaurants across Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have signed up for the cause, including Chicago’s Floriole Café & Bakery.
“It’s really threefold,” says pastry chef and owner Sandra Holl. “People are buying these loaves of bread, which we bake here. The bread is made from Illinois-grown and -milled wheat. We bake them and send them to a food pantry where the loaves are given to people in our community. They’re getting a loaf of bread that provides a lot of nutrients and it’s also helping the farmers continue to move their grain.”
Holl, a 2018 Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership alum, has a long history of championing locally grown goods. Before transitioning to a brick-and-mortar bakery, Floriole got its start as a tent at the area’s Green City Market, whose mission since its founding in the late 1990s has been to emphasize the importance of the Midwest’s small family farms and their role in sustainability practices.
When the pandemic took hold last spring, Holl looked to the Artisan Grain Collaborative, where she serves on the steering committee, for another way to fortify the local supply chain. “Within the first couple of days of the pandemic happening, the executive director of the [AGC] called and said she had an idea that would keep bakers baking and would keep farmers’ grain moving,” she says. “We jumped on the bandwagon and have been doing it ever since. We’re just kind of the middleman. It’s keeping our employees still working, and it’s good not only for our business, but for the community.”
Holl hopes that this project will teach more people about the importance of a local food supply chain. “The idea is connecting farmers and sustainable agriculture, expanding the grain value chain, [and] connecting the farmers to bakers and consumers,” says Holl. “We want to make sure that people understand the value of sustainable farming and provide an avenue for farmers to move that product.”
While rustic loaves headed for food pantries may be a far cry from the French-style pastry she is used to creating for her Lincoln Park clientele, Holl loves the way this project supports small businesses and local farmers while ensuring that people in the community have access to important food staples during a challenging time. “I don’t think food insecurity is going to go away anytime soon,” she says, “and we’re just going to keep doing it because it’s good on so many levels.”
Rebecca Treon is a Denver-based freelance food and travel writer whose work has taken her around the globe. Her work has appeared in publications like BBC Travel, Hemispheres, Huffington Post, and Tasting Table. Follow her on Instagram at @RebeccaTreon.