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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."

"As Papa said, the Farmers' Market stopped in October, but the bills didn't stop then," eldest daughter Hannah puts in.

Amy says, "Then we found the Las Cruces Farmers Market. It's a market that runs all year long. Because of the larger population base and the market's year-round consistency, we were able to stay in business."



And then along came the Atkins Diet, with its low-carb philosophy. "You'd think the Atkins Diet would hurt us," Amy says. "But the low-carb diet actually grew our business, because people began to realize that it was the simple carbs that needed to be avoided, and the complex carbs were the healthy ones."

Whole wheat and other whole grains are complex carbohydrates, and products made of whole-wheat flour also qualify as complex carbohydrates. Products made of white flour do not.

White flour is whole wheat flour from which both the wheat germ and the bran has been removed. This allows the flour to be stored longer without spoiling, but the downside is the loss of vitamin E and about 20 other nutrients, healthy fiber and a number of important proteins.

In the Living Harvest Bakery brochure, the Coffeys add, "Another important factor. . . is that the milling of white flour renders the flour down into a simple carbohydrate. One piece of white bread converts to sugar in the blood as fast as eating two marshmallows. This is why white flour products are so fattening. The sugar can quickly turn to fat."

Most people in this country, however, have grown up eating white bread. They are used to its bland taste and light texture. For this reason, the Coffeys use a different variety of wheat than is found in most whole-wheat products. "Instead of red winter wheat, we use a white spring wheat that comes from a company in Three Forks, Montana," Travis explains. "The bran coating is thinner and golden in color rather than red. White wheat bridges the gap for people raised on white bread. It's lighter in color, lighter in flavor and lighter in texture. But we don't take anything out. It's all there — the wheat germ, the bran, all the nutrition without the heavier texture and flavor."

As an added bonus, the white wheat "tends to be higher in protein than your usual wheat — about 15 percent," Travis continues. "The reason this particular wheat tends to be higher in protein is because of the weather patterns in the area of Montana where it grows — wet, followed by drought, then wet again. Apparently this concentrates the protein content."



Hanging around the Coffey family for any length of time, you're bound to pick up interesting bits of information like this. That's simply part of their philosophy of education. In the Coffey household, education is inextricably woven into the pattern of everyday life. "We are constantly talking, constantly teaching, whether we're cooking a meal, making change for a customer, whatever," Amy says. "That's the thing we like about homeschooling: you're always teaching."

So, apparently, are the bakery's customers. "Tim Donovan — he's the customer who most taught me how to give change," Hannah says. "And now we have another guy who's teaching Elizabeth."

"The children are so interactive with the customers," Amy says. "There's one customer in Las Cruces of Spanish descent who Hannah is talking into helping her learn Spanish by simply holding a conversation in the language whenever they meet. She's quite persistent. She really wants to learn."

Persistence and ingenuity obviously run in the family. Travis rigged up economical but comfortable living quarters for his growing family by putting together two old mobile homes. The storage room behind the bakery is housed in an old truck box. The certified bakery kitchen was built on site — but not on the site where it currently stands. It was originally built at the Beiler residence and, when the partnership was dissolved, Travis popped the kitchen on a flatbed truck and moved it — not once but twice: first to the house the family was renting at the time, and later to their own property, where it remains today.

The storage room behind the bakery is housed in an old truck box. On the same property, and nearing completion, is the brand-new, solar-heated, ultra-insulated and thoroughly attractive house Travis and son Benjamin have been building for the past two years with very little help from professionals. A walk-in freezer has just been built and is operational, and future plans include construction of a wood-fired oven for the bakery.



The Coffeys have also expanded beyond baked goods. All the other products the Living Harvest Bakery sells put an emphasis on health, of course: fresh ground peanut butter, fresh ground almond butter, fresh ground almond/peanut butter mix, fresh roasted almonds, Cinnamon Roasted Almonds and a brand-new creation, Cajun Roasted Almonds.

They also sell xylitol, a sugar substitute that occurs naturally in fibrous vegetables and fruit, in corn cobs, and in some hardwood trees. Originally extracted in Finland, xylitol is said to be indistinguishable from sugar in taste but to behave much better in the human body, with 40 percent fewer calories than sugar, 75 percent fewer carbohydrates, and a much slower absorption rate.

You can also buy Chia seeds through the Living Harvest Bakery — super little seeds that the Aztecs first discovered and used as a high-energy endurance food. The claims made for Chia seeds range from helping to alleviate thyroid problems, blood sugar problems, digestive problems and insomnia, to treating depression and difficulties in concentration.

If you want to know more about any of the Living Harvest Bakery offerings, Travis and Amy Coffey will be happy to tell you more. They're eager to help educate everyone, not just their own children, in the benefits — spiritual as well as physical — of our daily bread.



The breads, muffins, cookies and other products of the Living Harvest Bakery can be found at the Las Cruces Farmers & Craft Market, the Valle Mimbres Market and in a number of locations in Silver City, including the Silver City Food Coop, Javalina Coffee House and the Yankie Creek Coffee House. The bakery itself is harder to find, tucked away on a little side street in the tiny village of San Lorenzo in the Mimbres Valley, near the school. Ask anybody in the village. Or call for directions: (575) 536-3263. The family does sell products directly from the bakery itself.

 

 

Peggy Platonos is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor
who recently moved to the Mimbres Valley.



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