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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    April 2008

Our Daily Bread

At Living Harvest Bakery in the Mimbres Valley, making wholesome whole-wheat bread is a family affair.

Story and photos by Peggy Platonos



For the Coffey family, the Living Harvest Bakery in San Lorenzo represents not just a way of making a living, but a way of life. It is a way of life that seamlessly integrates family, religion, education, service, community, health, nutrition, exercise, creativity and reflection. "Wholesome" seems to describe it all, from the freshly ground whole-wheat flour used in the baked goods to the obvious harmony and closeness of 45-year-old Travis, his 39-year-old wife, Amy, and their six children, ranging in age from 15 to 2.

13-year-old Benjamin Coffey pulls a joined set of four loaf pans out of the oven, and shows off the perfectly baked bread.

Generally described by customers and the community-at-large as Mennonite, the family does not, in fact, belong to the Mennonite sect. It was, however, the presence of an active offshoot Mennonite community in the Mimbres Valley that initially attracted the Coffeys to the area from Durango, Colo.

"Our reasons were entirely religious in nature," Travis explains. "It wasn't the climate or the food or the culture that brought us here. We were looking for something that was better spiritually."

"We were looking for down-to-the-earth real Christianity," Amy adds. The Coffeys' Living Harvest Bakery brochure describes the kind of Christianity they were seeking as "Pure and simple, no taint, no denominations, just tried and true life-giving hope." Also, Amy says, "We were looking for community." Ultimately, they found what they were looking for in the Mimbres Valley, although the Mennonite group that first drew them to the area has since moved away.

When they arrived in San Lorenzo 11 years ago, the Coffey family was considerably smaller than it is now. Hannah (now 15) was 4, Benjamin (now 13) was 2, and Bethany (now 11) was just 3 months old. The children have since been joined by Elizabeth (9), Lydia (6) and Havilah (2).

"All the children help in the bakery," Travis says. "But the youngest two primarily provide moral support."

"A huge responsibility," Amy agrees, referring to the role of the two littlest members of the family. "They are indispensable to keep us light-hearted when we get too busy."

The bakery operates now like a well-oiled machine, with no sense of rush or pressure. Everyone seems to know what needs to be done. The schedule is carefully regimented.

The three oldest girls take over the bakery kitchen on Mondays and Tuesdays. Monday is muffin day, with six different kinds of gigantic muffins produced: Blueberry, Cranberry Walnut, Apple Cinnamon Pecan, Banana Nut, Organic Bran with Flax Seeds and Chocolate Chocolate Chip. Tuesday is cookie day, producing big slabs of Oatmeal Raisin and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies.

Wednesdays and Thursdays are bread-baking days, with Travis and son Benjamin turning out batches of six different kinds of bread (Honey Wheat, Peasant, Raisin, Rye, Spelt and Organic Multigrain) and three varieties of specialty loaves (Green Chili Cheese Bread, Apple Cinnamon Pecan Bread, Cranberry Walnut Bread), as well as the ever-popular Cinnamon Rolls.

Friday is devoted to putting together orders and making deliveries in Silver City. Saturday sends members of the family off to the Las Cruces Farmers & Craft Market. The whole bakery operation is all very organized and, from outward appearance at least, relaxed.



Things have not always gone quite so smoothly for Living Harvest Bakery, however. "It's been a learning process," Travis admits.

One of the most beneficial innovations was the system Travis and his visiting father devised of piping flour directly from the wheat grinder into a revolving dough mixer. The hose carrying the flour passes through a cover fitted snugly over the mixing bowl to prevent flour from billowing out and covering the entire kitchen with a thick layer of white powder. "It was definitely a problem at first, until we came up with this system," Travis says, laughing. "I can't believe it took five years for us to figure it out!"

The fresh grinding of whole-wheat flour for all the baked goods is fundamental to the concept of the bakery. It's a business the Coffeys more or less fell into.

You have no doubt heard the saying, "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Life had handed Amy, as a teenager, a life-threatening colon disorder and a set of allergies that, taken together, required a radical shift from a sedentary lifestyle and junk food diet to whole grains, fresh vegetables, plenty of sunshine and healthy exercise. Marrying Travis Coffey at the age of 15, Amy enthusiastically abandoned the pot pies and TV dinners of her childhood and began creating a healthier diet for herself and her new husband.

"We got into fresh grinding wheat and making our own bread," Amy recounts. "Whenever we made a batch, we would give loaves away to friends, and we kept hearing: 'You ought to sell this!' Eventually, the message began to sink in."

By the time the Coffeys reached the Mimbres Valley and confronted the problem of how to make a living here, a bakery seemed the way to go — a bakery specializing in healthy baked items made with freshly ground whole-wheat flour, of course.

"We wanted to homeschool our children and have our own business," Amy recalls.

"We started the bakery business in Christmas of '96 with the Beiler family," Travis takes up the story. "The Beilers had seven children and had been born and raised as old-order Amish, but had been 'excommunicated' for homeschooling their children." The Coffeys found in them kindred spirits, and quickly established what Amy calls "a bakery fellowship."

But despite the compatibility of the partners, it soon became apparent that a bakery specializing in wholesome whole-grain bread wasn't going to support two families — at least not at that time and place. "The fresh-ground whole-wheat didn't create as much of a marketing buzz as we had hoped it would. Not enough people in this area at that time were health-conscious enough," Travis says.

The Beilers dropped out of the business and eventually moved away. The Coffeys stubbornly stuck it out. "For the first three years, we about starved to death," Amy recalls.

Travis adds, with grim humor, "We probably would have left, too, if we could have afforded to move."

At that time, the primary outlet for the Coffeys' baked goods was the Silver City Farmers' Market. "It wasn't that Silver City didn't like us," Travis explains. "It just wasn't year 'round."



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