Dan Bar­row bakes slow-fer­mented breads, pas­tries, pies and cook­ies in the wood oven he built on a small farm in North York­shire


The oven links all that we do at Stark Farm

It ties to­gether the farm’s pro­duce and the bak­ery busi­ness. When I de­cided to start a bak­ery at home, a wood oven was the ob­vi­ous choice – the farm’s hedgerows need reg­u­lar main­te­nance, and some trees are cop­piced each winter, gen­er­at­ing a lot of wood. Our long-term aim is to plant more trees and cre­ate habi­tat for wildlife. We’ve planted about 250 trees al­ready over the past four years. I used to read cook­books all the time, now I’m read­ing books about trees.

Suc­cess can look like many dif­fer­ent things

I was work­ing at a lo­cal deli when I be­gan to think about start­ing my own busi­ness. Un­til the bak­ery be­came es­tab­lished, I worked there part-time. Now I’m full-time at the bak­ery, I re­ally en­joy the bal­ance be­tween baking and the so­cial side of go­ing to mar­kets. I meet some re­ally in­ter­est­ing peo­ple, many of whom have be­come reg­u­lar cus­tomers. I get asked if I’m plan­ning to open my own shop, but at the mo­ment, it’s hard to find a good rea­son.

We make the most of the re­sources we have

We’re lucky to live on a small­hold­ing where we have space to grow fruit, veg and herbs. I use a lot of our home­grown pro­duce in the bak­ery. The toma­toes, herbs, sum­mer and au­tumn fruit bring sea­sonal changes to my baking. I use edi­ble flow­ers on some of our sweet tarts, and the savoury tarts re­flect sea­sonal har­vests. We have cus­tomers ea­gerly await­ing the first beet­root of the year, be­cause they love the beet­root and blue cheese tarts so much.

The rhythm of my work­ing day is de­ter­mined by the oven

On baking days, I light the oven first thing in the morn­ing, so that it will be ready to bake in the even­ing.

With ex­pe­ri­ence, I’ve worked out an or­der to my baking that fits the heat cy­cle of the oven. Flat­breads go in first, be­cause they need a high tem­per­a­ture. Next are the larger loaves and then, as the oven tem­per­a­ture be­gins to drop, the pas­tries. Last to go in the oven are the cook­ies, which can eas­ily burn if the oven is too hot. The oven re­tains its heat for a day or two af­ter baking. I make the most of this, us­ing it to dry toma­toes, slow roast lo­cally reared lamb and cook home­grown fruit, both for fam­ily meals and the bak­ery.

We try not to waste any­thing

While the bak­ery has to be fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able, we also try to be as low im­pact as we can. I use home- or lo­cally grown pro­duce wher­ever I can, and buy stone­ground flour from York­shire Or­ganic Millers. Waste is com­posted if pos­si­ble, which means we can then use it to en­rich the soil for the fol­low­ing year’s veg­eta­bles. Driv­ing to mar­ket I pass a dis­used land­fill site – a re­minder of where any­thing we throw away will end up.

The bak­ery is en­twined with fam­ily life

Work­ing from home gives me flex­i­bil­ity to fit in things like the school run and fam­ily meals, which is great. Our chil­dren are grow­ing up and learn­ing about home cook­ing – they re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate home­baked bread. But there are some draw­backs, too. Ex­pand­ing the busi­ness would mean em­ploy­ing some­one else and not just some­one I’m go­ing to work well with, but also some­one that I’m happy to work with at home.

There’s al­ways some­thing new to learn

I had no plan to be­come a chef when I left uni­ver­sity but, af­ter spend­ing some time teach­ing English over­seas, I came home and found work in a kitchen. I loved it. I be­gan tak­ing on new jobs to learn as much as I could. Set­ting up a wood-fired bak­ery took a lot of re­search. I ended up buy­ing plans for the oven from the United States and build­ing it with the help of a friend. But com­plet­ing the oven wasn’t the end, just the begin­ning. I had to learn to ad­just my baking to fit with the rhythm of the oven. And I’m still open to new ways to ex­tend this rhythm into other ar­eas, to make the bak­ery bet­ter, more sus­tain­able.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: VICTORIA HAR­LEY

Us­ing gar­den veg and his own wood to fuel the oven, Dan’s busi­ness is home­grown from start to fin­ish

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