By Kayla Bennett

The Washington State University (WSU) Breadlab team wants to bring more affordable, great tasting bread to the world one loaf at a time.

The Breadlab grew from the work Stephen Jones started when he moved from plant breeding in Pullman, WA. to Skagit County, where he would run the NWREC research station. That’s when he learned wheat was number 80 in the crops the area grows.

Farmers were not making a good return on wheat. Janine Johnson, Special Projects lead, said that the team felt it was time for a change if farmers were not making enough money growing wheat. Their goal was to help the farmers in Skagit County.

“Out of that sprung a pretty robust regional grain system,” Johnson said. “We built a replicable model of a regional grain system.”

Almost everyone at the lab bakes and shares a passion for the conservation and appreciation of grain. During the pandemic, they donated over 6,000 loaves of bread to a local food pantry, a local school and a local cafe. The photo here is a sourdough Janine made from the Skagit 1109 Wheat, developed for the region’s maritime climate.

The WSU Breadlab employs four Ph.D. students working on a variety of research projects from using colored barleys for malting, to the development of a more robust species of grain that can diversify contemporary farming systems. Other projects include breeding for increased wheat fiber content for health and cropping/food system benefits and all things rye, a largely unappreciated grain in the US.

“Our program, both on a macro level and a micro level, we believe in creating alternatives,” Johnson said. “We’re not trying to compete with the commodity system or create a smaller version of the commodity system, we’re just providing alternatives. I think that offering programs such as ours in universities, across the world, not just the United States, is always a good option.”

The WSU Breadlab faculty and staff includes Kim Binczewski, Managing Director, and Steve Lyon, Plant Breeder, alongside Jones and Johnson.