#3: Bake Bread (or, Use Your Hands For Something Other than a Keyboard)// Loja, Ecuador



travel well

live well

When I was 25, my best friend and I bought one way tickets to Argentina with no real plan for the next year of our lives. We spent months bus-hopping across the continent: surfing in Peru, cuddling orphans in Bolivia, accidentally taking a drug run bus through the dead of night in Colombia. It was a dream.

Except for one part, in Ecuador– the part when we convinced ourselves that we should become coffee farmers. We loved coffee! Naturally we should work at a coffee farm! Where else would we even BE?! We’re from Seattle!

Hahahahaaaa brb laughing FOREVER. Have we met? I’m not a “live off the land” kind of gal, but I forgot about that until we somehow wound up hiking for hours into the jungle to find a farm we had heard about online. We finally discovered the farm, eagerly brushed the dirt off our shirts, and said “we’re ready to harvest coffee!” 

Just one teensy issue: we got to the farm in the fallow season. The soft, in-between time when crops are neither sewn nor harvested, when everything is still and quiet and mending. The time that looks unproductive at first glance. The first hippy we encountered let us know: “Nothing’s growing right now. We’re just taking care of the land.”

Cue the sad trumpets. A real farmer would have looked this kind of thing up before arriving confidently! Rather than living our vision of gently tending our budding coffee plants before packing them off to the roasters and waving goodbye with a satisfied yet exhausted smile on our faces (“growing coffee isn’t easy but it’s our passion!”), our job was to clear rocks from a cow field.

Basically, the fallow season felt like a crock of shit. But then I learned how to bake bread. 

A chef from the Netherlands was also living at the farm and, upon my request, brought me into the kitchen to learn how to bake a loaf that would feed a farm full of workers. In the quiet Ecuadorian morning light, he showed me how to measure yeast, properly knead, and bake until the top cracked and steam escaped. It was the only task on the farm that I liked (except flicking fleas off the newborn farm kittens), but more importantly, it was the one that forced me to reexamine my ideas of what the fallow season vs the growing season actually meant. 

Not every season on a farm or in a lifetime is reaping. Some seasons are a bit boring: moving rocks out of the cows’ field so they can eat well and make milk for another day. Letting the coffee plants rest so they can produce beans when they’re ready. GahDANG I hated it! But when the only thing to do is bake bread, then… you bake bread with great love. It’s one of the simplest and earliest things mankind learned to do, and it feels right.

Fast forward a decade, my husband is baking bread to keep his hands busy during this strange fallow season. He’s removing rocks from the proverbial cow fields every morning in the kitchen so our hands remember work and our future productive growing season can be sweet– when it gets here.

And we take little slices off the loaf all day long, each mouthful an offering from the fallow season that we didn’t ask for or really want– but here it is, so we have to keep kneading.