We had driven continuously for a month, through Northern Europe, and had finally crossed into the United Kingdom at Dover, on our way to Ty’r Eithin farm (Carmarthenshire, Wales), where Tony and Sue Matthews managed an organic farm that was part of Banc Organics, a not-for-profit community supported food scheme. We had found them through WWOOF UK—World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms—which is a great opportunity to be fed and boarded while volunteering on a farm. Fortunately, Tony and Sue welcomed children on the farm.
The nomadic lifestyle aboard a camper van hadn’t been ideal for baking. I was eager to settle down for a while, help out, and continue my learning about bread.
Our camper van’s clutch broke just as we neared the top of a hill, near Gloucester. Already exhausted by the long road trip from Sweden to the United Kingdom, we halted for a week-long camping experience in a garage’s parking lot. Every morning at McDonald’s, we drank espresso and used the free wi-fi to search for a 1981 Bedford clutch.
We spent the rest of our days strolling along the River Severn, reading books at the library, and visiting tourist attractions (including a majestic cathedral).
A docked lighthouse boat, completely painted in red, served as a Buddhist meditation center. The abbot first saw the lighthouse in a vision, and then turned his vision into a beacon of spiritual teachings to offer to the world.
Alas, there were no artisan bakers to enlighten my palate during our Gloucester days! On our departure day, I changed gears full throttle and cheerfully shouted, “Yee-haw”!
Ty’r Eithin, Wales, United Kingdom
Tony and Sue founded Ty’r Eithin farm in 1976, with no budget, no seeds, and no tools. They named the farm after the thorny bushes known as eithin in Welsh, as a testimony to the hardships endured.
For more than twenty years, they produced milk and cheese with less than a dozen of cows. In 2010, they converted the farm into an organic vegetable farm when the dairy cooperative refused to pick up their daily production, which was too small according to its standards.
Bread had always been part of the farm’s plan. Sue’s dream was that the farm would become self-sufficient and provide all sorts of produce and baked goods to its members.
I fed a new starter culture on the day we arrived on the farm. And in just a few days, due to the high quality of the organic flour, it developed into a very lively sourdough. Every second day, I’d cheer up the volunteers with sourdough bread, which they would feed upon with appetite. I was quite surprised that most volunteers would snack throughout the day, eating toasts with jam and drinking tea as a formal ritual of socialization and simple living. Working on the farm wasn’t easy—the crops were good but the sales weren’t—but, the tea breaks, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, were religiously observed.
One early Sunday morning, I started baking at five o’clock, in order to pull out the loaves from the oven before leaving for a group hike on the coast—Wales has some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in the world! One of the WWOOFers, a fifty-year-old Irish bachelor, who played the bagpipe marvelously, slept in the same building as the common kitchen and dining room. At seven o’clock, he burst angrily into the room, shouting at me for being such a crazy baker who wakes people up. I smiled at him. I knew that the call of bread was a true calling, and that everyone would be happy to eat it, including him.