Chiseling A New Life with Bread
If you draw a line from the raw material of a particular product to the end user, the length of that line and the stops along the way tells you how complicated its supply and distribution chains are.
The longer these chains are, the higher the carbon footprint is, and the more unfamiliar the consumer is with the source. In many cases, the source is the farmer. The traceability of the supply chain is lost as more trucks and middle men get in the way.
Meet Murat Demirtas, who is trying to make that line as short and as transparent as possible with his home-based bread business “Firinimdan Ekmekler”. As an ex-sculptor, café owner, and set-designer, he has set himself a new path with a much more purpose. As Murat answered my questions in between his kneading, shaping and baking his weekly capacity of 60 bread, I learned that he is not only a bread maker, but a climate change warrior, with a dislike for consumerism and a strong belief in exchange-economy. The return he gets on his breads is sometimes money or eggs, sometimes a new or rekindled friendship. What can top that kind of exchange?
For Murat Demirtas, the desire to know where his food was coming from and to live a life with less impact on the environment started after his son was born in 2010. A news article, pointing out to 17 different preservatives in bread – a product which should be only made with four ingredients - caught his attention and he started experimenting with sourdough starters. As he developed his skills in bread making and tamed that sourdough starter better, he was baking bread for friends, family and whoever wants from his weekly home production capacity of about 60 breads. He chooses to buy his flour directly from the farmer who uses heirloom variety. The difference in his bread comes from the knowledge which we do not have in our daily purchases. If you are buying his bread, you know the origination story of the flour he is using, and that is the relationship you want to have with your food and people who are touching it.
Of course, having a small pool of farmers who can supply this type of wheat comes with its own challenges. Murat is someone who likes to share – the bread, the knowledge, the contacts. He wants to help the farmers with more access to market and customers. The challenge of the small scale farmers who uses heirloom varieties comes from the lack of scale in their production. This eventually increases the cost as well as the production time at the mill. The shelf life of such heirloom products without preservatives also shorter compared to the industrial flour, so the farmers don’t have the luxury to turn all of their harvest into flour at once, they have to wait for the orders. Environmental conditions such as water availability (or lack thereof) also put stress into mill operations, causing delays sometimes.
Once Murat shared the source of his flour with the growing community of sourdough bakers, he said he had difficulty getting enough flour for his own production. Even though this created a bit of hiccup in his production, causing some frustration on his end, he was happy at the end because the farmer was able to sell all of his flour in a timely manner. At the end, that is part of the goal – to keep the small scale farmers, especially the ones using heirloom varieties in the agricultural sector.
That is where his approach to growth and impact is different from the capitalist way of “growth”. When I asked his plans about “growing his business”, I received a response that you are not used to in this “investment and growth obsessed society” – “To grow, to invest, to create jobs and franchising – these are not what we want to do. To invest in this business more means to consume more. Every single product we have to purchase to grow this business means more production of other things we need. The world can not handle more waste.”
Instead his growth approach involves in growing the impact via localization and encouraging the others to follow the same path - “The bread should be something you buy locally, from the baker around the corner. If 1000 more people do the same thing I do, overall contribution to the economy will still be 3-4 million lira revenue”. His motto: Everybody can make bread. He is not shy about sharing his starter or his recipe with anyone who is willing to give it a try. The bonus of localization is that you have a chance of a lower carbon footprint while still helping the economy.
His desire to keep lower carbon footprint shows itself in the way he plans his distribution chain as well. He tries to do most of his distribution himself to the places he can walk or use public transportation. This limits the areas he can sell his bread in. Being a firm believer in local economy makes the “shipping the bread by mail” out of the question as well (he has some disappointed potential customers in far-flung places.) So he fills up his backpack every day, walks miles around Istanbul and creates a warm smile behind every door he knocks. Murat considers this a part of the transaction. It is beyond making money, it is nurturing a relationship.
Business owners are normally focused on profit, even if the main goal is the social impact. It is how the business sustains itself and eventually grows. However, Murat again deviates from the norm here when asked about the sustainability of social entrepreneurship initiatives:
“The sustainability of the social entrepreneurs should not depend on money. It should be based on the desire to keep our social relationships alive and fresh. If the goal is profitability, it is very easy to veer away from the main goal. We have converted our lifestyle into a sharing-economy.”
His advice is simple:
“Set yourself very simple goals and try to stay on your path. You will have difficulty most likely but this is the cleanest way to do it”
It is easier said than done, of course. Our system is obsessed with growth and profitability, so that you can pay back your investors and earn your bread too. And all the while, trying to stay on your own path and not to forget what your goal was when you first started. Big kudos to the man who is literally walking miles and miles on the streets of Istanbul to stay on his path.
To learn more about Murat and his breads, you can visit the sources below: