Lessons learned from a sourdough journey

Article was written by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

I’ve never been much of a baker, but like many others, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon these last few weeks and decided to try my hand at the art and science of sourdough bread.

With just water, flour, time and the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast of my home environment, I was finally able to bake my first loaf this week. It was edible!

Some lessons from my sourdough journey are similar to those that we’re all learning these days, especially when it comes to how we view food and agriculture:

Self-reliance – the inability to find yeast at the grocery store precipitated my decision to try sourdough. Why not rely on the wild yeast around me? Seeing empty shelves has spurred a desire for self-sufficiency, as evidenced by the renewed interest in gardening. Supplementing food needs with a small garden plot or even a tomato plant in a container can help us all become a little bit more self-reliant. If you find yourself among the garden-curious this spring, visit hort.extension.wisc.edu/topics/vegetables/ for more information about growing vegetables in Wisconsin.

Respect for the experts – learning a new skill like baking sourdough bread makes me appreciate those who do it well. With cooking more of our own food, or growing our own produce comes an acknowledgment of how much work and skill it takes to do it right. Despite efforts to be self-sufficient, most of us still need to rely on expert farmers to produce our food. You can show your appreciation of their expertise this year by buying direct from a local farm or visiting a local farmers market (which are still happening this season!) – find a farming expert near you at farmfreshatlas.org.

Decreasing food waste – caring for a sourdough starter requires discarding a portion of it every day. Feeling wasteful, I started making simple sourdough pancakes in the morning. With limited trips to the grocery store, many of us are finding ways to stretch the food we have on hand. As we hear about food going to waste on the farm level due to supply chain issues, we can all do our best to prevent waste on the home front. Find tips for reducing food waste at www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home. One way you can help address food waste on a state level is by donating the Hunger Task Force’s Dairy Recovery Program, www.hungertaskforce.org/dairy/, which is working to ensure that milk isn’t dumped, and reaches those who need it throughout Wisconsin.

Thinking about what life will be like post-COVID, I recall how my grandmother would water her plants with used dishwater and save every scrap of fabric for future quilting projects. Lessons she and others learned during the Great Depression stayed with them long past the 1930s.

Hopefully those we’re learning today will stay with us.

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