If you feel skeptical when you find the words “when possible/available” after a companies claims to using sustainably sourced or organic ingredients, we’ve got that in common. Because, what does “possible” or “available” mean, exactly? It often feels like a euphemism for “when convenient” or “when inexpensive” but doesn’t really reflect the intentions of purchasing decisions the way I wish it would. I often feel like I’m being sold a pitch for magic beans, with the number of companies wanting to capitalize on the interest garnered from these movements. You might have heard this referred to as "green-washing." So, how can you tell if a business’ sourcing practices are heartfelt or just another marketing ploy? Maybe the fruit in your fruitcake is local or organic, but what of the flour, sugar, butter & eggs— you know, the stuff that 90% of baked goods are actually comprised of? As a consumer, it can be hard to tell.
Now I’ve found myself on the other side of that conversation, wanting to communicate my purchasing habits with the public, and struggling to find the right words to do so. On one side of the spectrum, claiming to use 100% local and organic ingredients is impossible— unless you know of some Washington-grown sugar, vanilla & chocolate (in which case quit holding out and give me the deets!), these items just don’t exist in our local economy. In the past, I’ve been very heavy-handed about these ideas, holding businesses to insane expectations and standards. And then I started my own business, and realized that it’s super complicated. Before taking my first order, I spent months learning about local sourcing options, where to find organic non-local ingredients (chocolate, sugar, vanilla, etc.) and over two years later, there are still ingredients that I struggle with. It’s not as simple as my stubbornly defiant self made it out to be, which I realized sometime in between calling around to find out which baking soda was mined (yes, mined) in the US, and realizing that my purchasing schedule and irregularity is incompatible with many suppliers that actually carried the products I wanted to use.
What IS simple is owning up to the reality of what I can manage with this modest baking operation… so here we go!
An interjection: some years ago (before moving to this area), I worked a short stint making truffles for a chocolate company. We only made truffles, and all over the packaging they claimed to be organic. The ingredient label even specified both organic chocolate and cream, but when I got into the kitchen, I learned that neither the chocolate nor cream were sourced organically. Small things (like the peppermint extract) were organic, but comprised less than 1% of the finished product. I wasn’t upset that they had decided organic ingredients didn’t work with their current pricing structure, but I was livid that they deliberately misled their customers. This is why transparency is essential, and I've unfortunately learned than a moderate distrust of some of these claims is well-founded.
My goal is to use 100% local and/or organic ingredients (and since we’re having some real-talk honest time here, I'll tell you I’m not completely there yet). Most of my options tend to be one or the other. Small scale local farms often struggle to meet the requirements (it’s a hefty financial investment) for organic certification, but conversations with my local farmers and visits to their farms have revealed that they practice the same methods of farming, just without the stamp of approval from a certification agency— and that’s usually good enough for me. Other ingredients are more complicated, but I’ll admit that to you as well. For example, I’m still working to find a good source for almond flour. I just use it in macarons, but for sake of honesty, I’m honestly not stoked on my current almond flour source. BUT I am also working to change that, and hope to soon. Know of a good option? I'm all ears!
All of this is to say, I’ve decided that the easiest way to navigate these waters without feeling like a massive hypocrite is to give you all of the information that I can: to share the specifics of my sourcing and encourage others to as well. You can make the most informed decision with the most information. So, while often changing and evolving, here it is in the current form:
Between wedding cakes, baking production, and humble gardening ambitions, there's constant experimentation, growth, and a never-ending learning curve. Follow along to see what I'm up to.