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