The bread bank

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August 27, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Patrick Roche
Patrick Roche

Tom Henry stopped people in their tracks on the Washington Avenue bridge earlier this year when he started tilling up land in Bohemian Flats Park to grow wheat for his latest art installation, “Amber Waves.”

The payoff from his three rows of wheat, 850-feet each or a combined total of about a half mile, will be the 250 or so loaves of bread that will go to local food shelves after the wheat is milled to flour.

Henry has lined up six bakeries to bake the bread after Great River Milling processes it to flour. 

Turtle Bread, Sun Street Breads, Patisserie 46, Rustica Bakery, Butter Bakery Café and Three Tiers Café have agreed to do the baking.

“Amber Waves” is Henry’s second landscape art installation. Last year, Henry planted 365 sunflowers at the airport, marking his first landscape installation, “Sunflowers of Summer.” The airport project spanned 600 feet along Highway 62.

“Things went really smoothly,” Henry said. “I just kind of threw the idea out there and the airport picked up on it right away. This year was a little tougher.”

Henry has been fighting a series of small battles since starting the wheat project. This is his first time ever dealing with wheat and only his second agricultural venture.

“I can push a lawnmower,” Henry said of his agricultural background. “I can push a garden tiller.”

After planting the wheat seed, a gang of geese saw the uncovered seed as convenient source of food. Goslings were born and foraged the seed.

When the first week of July hit with temperatures in the 100s, plant growth slowed. Henry said the weather had likely stressed his crops, which are now ready to harvest and around 3 feet high.

And weeds. Henry has been fighting back encroaching weeds since the heat wave in early July.

“We were hand pulling weeds up until about two weeks ago [and] it was still manageable,” Henry said. “Now they have just gotten too plentiful.” 

Despite his constant battles, Henry has had some luck in the way of getting others interested — specifically, his project’s four sponsors: the General Mills Foundation, the Grains For Health Foundation, People For Parks, and the Bread Bakers Guild of America (BBGA). 

General Mills Foundation spokeswoman Mary Jane Melendez said that the foundation wants to share with the community and raise awareness of the growing number of hungry Minnesotans. 

Melendez said her organization gave $4,000 to Grains For Health in support of Henry’s project. President of Grains For Health Len Marquart said his organization gave Henry $2,000.

Marquart said he became intrigued after hearing about the sunflowers.

“We thought, why couldn’t he do the same thing with wheat?” he said. “[Artists] have some creative ways to get people interested. That connection is huge.”

Solveig Tofte has supported both of Henry’s projects. Tofte owns Sun Street Bakery and is on the board of directors for BBGA. Sun Street roasted the sunflower seeds last year, and will bake around 30 loaves of bread this year.

“Tom’s work is showing the beauty of wheat, and the final result is feeding people,” Tofte said. “That cycle nicely sums up our lives as artisan bakers and millers.”

Tofte said BBGA’s sponsorship of this project was a new direction for the guild, as it is primarily focused on education through classes, conferences and festivals. 

“We were happy to help because in one light, this is all about wheat, milling and bread, which is precisely what the guild is about,” Tofte said.

Marquart sees Henry’s project as an illustration of a concept he calls “from field to fork” — a process by which the public can see the planning, farming, milling and manufacturing of the end product: bread.

“From about 1880 to about 1930, Minneapolis was the milling capital of the world,” Marquart said. “Allowing kids and adults to see wheat as it is grown is an unusual occurrence most anywhere because most people don’t pay attention. 

“They have seen it as they pass by in a vehicle, but don’t know what it looks like as it grows in a field.”

Henry cultivates the wheat by himself by weeding, watering and eventually harvesting. The exception was a little help he got with seeding, and his daughter — who is home from college — helped dad out a few times.

“In one glance it’s an art project, but it’s also about farmers, millers, bakers and nourishing hungry people,” Tofte said. “A field of wheat requires lots of work, lots of hands, and this is a very tangible effort showing what it takes to feed a community.”

Henry plans to do another wheat installation next year. He is in the process of pitching his project to the Minneapolis Park Board, a new location and different theme.