Nothing in the display case at Springfield’s 100 Mile Bakery immediately tips you off to the fact that this place is different. The berry pies, crumb-topped muffins and buckles, vegetable quiches, jam-studded cookies and dark-hued breads look just as delectable as those you’d find at any bake shop.
Then you notice that the cheesecakes come with a teff crust, and the cream puffs are sweetened with honey. All the fruits and nuts are familiar to local foodies; there’s nary a pecan, lemon or poppy seed in sight. And suddenly it hits you – there’s no chocolate. Anywhere.
These are just a few of the sacrifices owner Leda Hermecz has made to reach an admirable goal: sourcing nearly every ingredient from within 100 miles of the bakery. With the exception of salt and leavening (and the beverages served at the café, which include coffee and tea), it’s rare to find anything that wasn’t produced in (or close to) the Willamette Valley.
“Sourcing locally speaks to me on so many levels as a food entrepreneur that it just makes so much sense to do it,” she says. “I feel like sourcing locally is one of the best ways we can interact with our community and be more environmentally sustainable as businesses.” When food comes from local sources it’s also fresher, she points out, and that makes it taste better.
Hermecz has long been passionate about baking and the environment. When she moved to Oregon 15 years ago, she worked at Sweet Life Patisserie and Metropol Bakery in Eugene before starting her own restaurant. The business, which grew about 10 percent of its food in an onsite garden, was short-lived. But it got Hermecz thinking about what it be like to have a fully sustainable restaurant someday.
She went back to work at Sweet Life, and not long after she returned, “I really felt a calling to work on their sustainability issues,” she says. “They were kind and generous enough to let me make a lot of changes.” Among them: altering the lighting, getting genetically-engineered ingredients out of their recipes, adding a composting program for pre- and post-consumer food waste, and supplying customers with compostable to-go boxes.
“It was a year-long process, and after I did that I realized it was something I wanted to do more of,” she says. She started a consulting business to help restaurants and bakeries green their operations.
Her new office was at the Sprout! Regional Food Hub, a business and kitchen incubator. The location offered a front-row seat to the renaissance taking place in downtown Springfield. The neighborhood was rapidly evolving from a place with a seedy reputation to one that was drawing people and families in droves. A bakery, she knew, would be a welcome addition.
“I tried to talk other people into opening a bakery downtown and using the Sprout! kitchen,” she says. “Instead I talked myself into it.”
Two and a half years later, everyone is grateful she did. 100 Mile Bakery offers a wide array of sweet and savory delicacies inside the converted church that houses Sprout! The cozy café has become a community gathering spot as well as one of the best places in town to buy farm-to-table food.
It’s not always easy to source from within 100 miles, Hermecz acknowledges. In fact, she believes it’s something that’s possible only a few places in the country.
But the amazing variety of foods produced in the Willamette Valley makes her job a little easier. Local farmers grow everything from berries and tree fruits to greens, herbs and potatoes. Soft white wheat for pastries, hard red wheat for bread, and less common grains that are perfect for other recipes are harvested and processed not far from the bakery. Foragers gather wild mushrooms, and creameries produce outstanding goat and cow’s milk cheese. When Hermecz wants nuts, she turns to hazelnuts. Honey – the only sweetener she can really use – is available from multiple sources, as are eggs.
Her experiment in baking with only local ingredients can also be fun. When asked to name her favorite thing at bakery, Hermecz says, “I enjoy making the next thing. It’s the thing I work at and wrinkle my forehead up at and fail several times at. I’m pretty proud of my cream puffs for that reason. Using honey as a sweetener – it’s quite challenging because of all the moisture. It doesn’t harden up once you bake it like sugar does.” She still hasn’t found the perfect crispy cookie recipe for that reason – but it’s a good bet she will at some point.