Erin Justus is a farmer who spends most of her time in a kitchen. She’s not sautéing carrots for garnish or thinly slicing beets to pair with a fresh chevre—she’s baking bread, and not just any kind. Justus’ bread, made from local, seasonal ingredients, is inspired by her early years working on a farm. Her connectivity with the agricultural community has lead Justus to serve as president of Slow Food Santa Cruz, where she recently earned the Summer Kitchens Change Makers grant. The grant, generously awarded by Paul Arenstam and Charlene Reis of Summer Kitchens, allowed Justus to attend the 2010 Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy.
We caught Justus between batches of bread to find out a little bit more about Companion Bakers and just how inspiring Terra Madre can be.
SF: When did you first know that you wanted to be a baker?
EJ: Baking sort of fell into my life! I was a young farmer gaining experience and baking was something that felt natural. I started baking first for CSA programs and then got into local farmers markets. For me becoming a baker is a really sweet way of life. Working with the seasons, the early mornings and the interaction with customers—that’s why I am a baker.
SF: How has being a member and the leader of your Slow Food Chapter affected your baking practices and food philosophies?
EJ: I am honored to serve on the board for Santa Cruz Slow Food. I have learned
so much from the amazing individuals that I work with and have gained great skills in communicating and working as a team. It has affected my baking practices by knowing that there is more than being in the kitchen. There is advocating and supporting our community in good food practices and making good food experiences available to others in our community.
SF: What have been the best and worst moments at your bakery this year?
EJ: Best moment: watching our farmers markets succeed! Also getting to pick out
all the wonderful fruit and vegetables for the bakery, and, of course, getting into
Terra Madre! Worst moment: burning the ginger cookies—again! I guess it has
been a good year!
SF: What do you see as the most promising trend in the food movement?
EJ: People recognizing the crazy pace of life and making a decision to slow down. Seeing families coming out to the farmers markets and knowing that schools are starting to educate youth about food and healthy lifestyles.
SF: What is your favorite thing about your community?
EJ: My favorite thing about Santa Cruz is the acceptance of interesting lifestyles. You
see a little of everything here. There are also some of the most amazing small
family farms and a supportive community. We have some of the best food grown
SF: Do you have a favorite type of bread to bake?
EJ: I love baking the sourdough varieties. We have a traditional method of hand
mixing and proofing in baskets. I always feel like I have to take my time and not
rush. How nice is that? I also love to make pies. They are a great way to
celebrate the seasons.
SF: Have you ever taken a risk on a bread that ended up being a success? What was it?
EJ: An accident or risk was making a cracker recipe out of our sourdough starter. We
didn’t really know what would come of it, but turns out it makes a tasty cracker!
SF: What is the most inspirational book that you have read about what you do?
EJ: I love the book Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Very inspirational and honest.
It gave me hope and made me positive that I am on the right path. Peter Reinhart baking books are also some of my favorites.
SF: Last but not least, how was your Terra Madre experience?
EJ: My Terra Madre experience was one that I will look back on with very fond memories. What I was mostly inspired by was the community and human relations aspect of the conference. With thousands of participants and over 150 countries represented, I was in awe of the magnitude of the great connection to people to their food communities and empowering change. I am offering to give a presentation to my Santa Cruz community on my experience and what I feel I can bring to my own community through this experience.
What I would like to bring “home” is the idea that food brings us together every day. Coming together to harvest, prepare and eat a meal is a special daily opportunity to connect, build relationships and respect those around us. I am vowing to do this in my own life and through my small bakery.