New program eases strain for small businesses, farmers in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created tough times for both small businesses and farmers. But there is a program throughout the Midwest that is designed to support them -- while also helping families in need.

Stephen Blanchard has always been drawn to the art of breadmaking. 

"It's always a unique challenge. No loaf is going to be the same as the other," Blanchard said.

In early March, Blanchard decided to turn the hobby into a business. He secured a spot at the Mitchell Park Domes winter market. 

"They wanted me to bring 70 loaves for the week, and I thought well that's way too much. But figured I'd do it anyways," Blanchard said. "I was able to get 70 loaves. The day before the market, they call us and say the market is canceled because of the pandemic."

Determined to continue, Blanchard transitioned his business online. One of his popular products now -- the Neighbor Loaf.

"I just hit 100 last week. I think I got another 10 on order," Blanchard said.

20 bakeries across the Midwest are selling what are called Neighbor Loaves. It's a project through the Artisan Grain Collaborative

"The Neighbor Loaves project is a way to link farmers to food pantries connecting the dots of all the essential businesses along the way," said Amy Halloran, Communications Director for the Artisan Grain Collaborative.

Each Neighbor Loaf is made with at least 50% locally grown flour. They are then sold by local bakeries who donate the loaves to food pantries. The goal is to help farmers, small businesses, and families in need. It is also why Blanchard figured out how to get his own kitchen involved. 

"If I could do it, I wanted to. So I worked out the details on how to do it from here," Blanchard said.

Across all bakeries taking part, 15,000 Neighbor Loaves have been sold. You can buy Neighbor Loaves at Stone Creek Coffee locations.

Stephen’s Breads

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