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KNKX Connects: Bread Lab helps farmers grow tasty wheat

MOUNT VERNON, WASH. — When the Bread Lab was founded eight years ago, it was just that — a lab inside Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research Center. 

Now, it lives in a gigantic building full of ovens and flour mills, where bundled wheat stalks adorn the walls. Food commentator Nancy Leson visited (and indulged her way through) the Bread Lab recently.

The air is warm and delicious inside the test kitchens, and the scientists who work at the Bread Lab get to eat their experiments.

Leson learned that everything begins with wheat and farmers. Steve Lyon, senior scientific assistant, is in charge of that.

“I say I do everything in the dirt,” he told Leson.

If the strains they develop don’t grow well, they’re abandoned. But the wheat also has to taste good after it’s milled into flour and baked into cookies.

Inside Skagit County's Bread Lab.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
Inside Skagit County's Bread Lab.

That’s where test baker Julia Berstein comes in.

“We have over a hundred samples of wheat from Montana that we’re testing,” she said during a recent experiment upon Leson’s visit.

And Niels Brisbane, culinary director, uses the grains developed at the Bread Lab to create enticing food that has nothing to do with bread.

Brisbane uses his background at Seattle-based restaurant Canlis to inspire new creations, such as roasted poblano peppers stuffed with miso made from barley and chickpeas.

Listen to the full story above.

Ed Ronco came to KNKX in October 2013 as producer and reporter for KNKX’s Morning Edition. Ed started in public radio in 2009 at KCAW in Sitka, Alaska, where he covered everything from city government, to education, crime, science, the arts and more. Prior to public radio, Ed worked in newspapers, including four years at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, where he covered business, then politics and government.
Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.
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