Half Baked

Exploring Arizona’s home baked goods program.

November 16, 2015

HomesteadIssue 15: November/December 2015

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If I get to come back in another life, I want to be born and raised in a bakery. Bread, cookies, cakes, bars—all have a soft spot in my soul and my kitchen. It started years ago when I worked at a restaurant and churned out about 35 cheesecakes a week, in assorted flavors. Lately I’ve been on an Eastern European baking binge and wondered: If I wanted to go all street legal, how could I sell the good grub?

Then I discovered the Arizona Home Baked Goods Program (AHBGP). Whether your moniker is the Cookie Lady or Grandma Cookie or High School Bake Sale Supplier, anyone with a hankering to release their inner pastry chef can join. If you’re a Pima County resident you need to attend the food handler’s 4.5-hour certification class and pass their test. There are assorted rules and regulations that need following, nothing overwhelming, depending on your county of residence. All are neatly laid out at their website. As of May 2015, more than 4,000 people were registered with the AHBGP.

Tim Keene, the market manager at Food In Root farmers’ markets, says he looks for bakers who offer something different or present a local spin. That’s how baker Nadira Jenkins—long a chef specializing in vegan and vegetarian cuisine—found her sweet spot. A recent Tucson transplant, she was having a hard time finding a commercial kitchen when she stumbled across the AHBGP and shortly after started her business, Home Baked Goods by Global Fusion.

With an emphasis on gluten-free, vegan, and no-refined-sugar desserts, she’s now in business selling her pecan bars, banana-lemon bars, cashew protein bars, fruit-filled empanadas, and assorted cookies at several of Food In Root’s farmers’ markets. She also has her sweet treats in the Ajo location of New Life Health Center. Jenkins practiced until she felt confident her textures were similar to “normal” desserts before she went commercial.

For Maureen Octavio, her goals were more personal. When she originally moved to Rio Rico from Hawaii, she just wanted to get out and meet people. So, as an experienced home baker, she teamed up with her daughter and created A Taste of the Islands. She specializes in both banana-walnut and mango breads while her daughter bakes mini loaves in pineapple-coconut, blueberry, and other flavors. They sell at the local Green Valley farmers’ market as well as FoodInRoot’s University Medical Center and St. Philip’s Plaza locations.

danny-martin_homestead-baking_edible-baja-arizona_01The mother-daughter team’s busy season hits in fall. Then, Maureen sells about 50 loaves of her banana-walnut and mango loaves a week. Her daughter sells closer to 100 mini sweet breads a week, along with cookies and biscotti. The extra money her daughter earns is enough to pay for her family’s grocery bills.

But the local rock star of the home baking movement is bread guru Don Guerra of Barrio Bread. He manages to produce 800 loaves a month of hand-shaped, artisanal breads selling out to his ardent fans within an hour of putting them up for sale online early Friday mornings.

He’s pushed the home baking program to a new level with a vertical business model that is more
for the professional than the average at-home cookie meister. He’ll explain that originally the home program was for people with disabilities who needed to be able to earn extra to cover bills.

Guerra makes bread employing ancient long and slow sourdough fermentation and hearth baking. But his business model is more entrepreneurial. You have to register to buy his bread on his website, and after ordering, you can pick them up at certain times and locations. He produces nothing that isn’t already sold before he leaves his house.

Guerra believes in the community supported baker approach, which allows him to produce elite quality nutritional bread, sell it, teach classes on it, and assist others in creating their own baking dreams. Working out of his garage, he’s the new food entrepreneur in a very old business. He says about the AHBGP that it’s far easier to lay out even a hefty $50,000 to start a baking business from home than to get involved in a five-year brick-and-mortar lease, and a build-out of closer to $250,000.

So whether you just want to commune with other foodies, earn some extra cash, or perhaps end up with a full-blown business out of your garage, the home baking program has a place for you.

Laura Greenberg is a Tucson writer.

 







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