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Food sovereignty in times of transition

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

DIANA MENCYTE:  It's not about simply that protectionism and nationalism that we only want to make sure that we eat Lithuanian food. It is a much deeper sense of urgency that as a state and its political sovereignty depends on the ability to produce food and feed its population for a long time.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, a conversation with sociologist, Diana Mencyte,who studies food systems in post-socialist Eastern European states like Lithuania. And Muddy Fork Bakery's, Eric Schedler,guides us through the steps for a traditional yeasted bread. That's all just ahead. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young. It's spring and most of us have rolled out the lawnmower or heard that telltale noise, but in the US there's an ongoing debate over the traditional turf grass yard. Harvest Public media contributor, Teresa Homsi explains how lawns became the default in American communities and today's environmental reckoning.explains how lawns became the default in American communities and today's environmental reckoning.

TERESA HOMSI:  In the summer, Denise Whitebread-Fanning'syard is filled with flowers like Zinnias, black-eyed Susans and milk weed. Her overgrown garden sticks out among the rows of tidy lawns here in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, but she says she's never understood the desire for manicured green grass.

DENISE WHITEBREAD-FANNING:  It's so beautiful to come out here and witness this evolving ecosystem and to see all of the new life that is finding home here, that didn't exist on this land two years ago.

TERESA HOMSI:  Fanning is among a growing group that's re-imagining lawns. Dozens of municipalities across the Midwest, including Mount Pleasant, are considering loosening restrictions on height of grass or even what can be grown. There are strong feelings about what lawns should look like.

MICHAEL BARNES:  A lot of people really view their yard as an extension of themselves.

TERESA HOMSI:  Michael Barnes is a rare social scientist in the field of horticulture. The University of Minnesota researcher says "lawns are synonymous with the American dream and homeownership."

MICHAEL BARNES:  Having a nicely maintained yard is part of feeling good about not only your contribution to the neighborhood, but also fitting in with the rest of the community.

TERESA HOMSI:  He says lawns have been around for centuries. As early as the 1200s, people were already making guidelines on how to cultivate a grassy space. They later became popular with European elites around their intricate gardens. The modern American lawns we know and love, or hate, cropped up more recently.

MICHAEL BARNES:  It's really that post-war suburbanization that drew lawns into the defacto form of vegetation in urban areas.

TERESA HOMSI:  Lawns are also now highly industrialized. The landscaping service industry in the US has a market value of around $150 billion.

ZACH SCHUMM:  There's nothing that is natural about a lawn or a landscape that is completely turf grass.

TERESA HOMSI:  Zach Schumm, an Entomologist at Iowa State University, is not a fan of turf grass. He says "mono-culture lawns are essentially ecological dead zones."

ZACH SCHUMM:  Not many insects are utilizing turf grass spaces for food, water and shelter. A lot of them tend to be pests. All of the pollinators we think of, a lot of the beneficial insects utilize flowering plants, larger trees, shrubs, things like that.

TERESA HOMSI:  And lawns use a lot of resources: fuel for mowers, chemical pesticides, fertilizers and tons of water. According to an EPAestimate, landscape irrigation accounts for nearly a third of all residential water use: about 9 billion gallons a day. Water usage is what caught geographer Cristina Milesi'sattention when she moved to Montana from Italy and noticed how her new neighbors watered their lawns.

CRISTINA MILESI:  At times they would just keep watering even maybe when there's a thunderstorm and so I said, "Oh, interesting." [LAUGHS]

TERESA HOMSI:  This inspired her 2005 study for NASA that calculated how much land the lawns take up. It turns out they're estimated to be the largest irrigated crop in the US, three times that of corn.

CRISTINA MILESI:  That captures where generally most of us live in cities and that's where we can maybe have an impact on changing our behaviors.

TERESA HOMSI:  Today, Milesisays she doesn't know whether lawns take up more or less land. Urban sprawl has increased, but turf grass is also becoming impractical in places prone to drought, like California where she currently lives. Turf grass scientists say we do use lawns. They're welcoming spaces, places to gather and play, but lawns could be pared down. In Michigan, Denise Whitebread-Fanning'syard has become a pollinator haven. She understands that her busy colorful lawn is an acquired taste and says "not everyone needs to rip up all of their grass."

DENISE WHITEBREAD-FANNING:  Even the smallest thing, like planting one beneficial pollinator plant, right, in your yard that wasn't there last year is going to feed more pollinators this year than before. It's making a choice to not put pesticides on your lawn anymore. Small little things matter.

TERESA HOMSI:  And Fanning is playing a part in a larger movement to redefine the lawn. For Harvest Public media, I'm Teresa Homsi.

KAYTE YOUNG:  When examining our food system, it's easy to get myopic, focused only on local issues or even just limiting our understanding to the policies and the forces here in the United States, but it can be illuminating to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, or to focus on a different part of the world. My guest today is doing just that.

DIANA MENCYTE:  I am Diana Mencyte. I am a Socio Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York. I teach environmental sociology, but my research is more in focusing on food and its environmental and social dimensions. I'm particularly interested in questions of food sustenance and how do we create a system of food that provides access for everyone to have culturally appropriate healthy food. Also, how do we have a system where workers are paid justly and that environment is also taken care of. This very environmentally and socially holistic view on the food system is my interest.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Can you tell me a little bit about some of the kids of research that you've done and places that you've been doing research in these areas?

DIANA MENCYTE:  Most of my research is in the Baltic states in Lithuania in particular. Eastern Europe is considered very post-socialist area that has undergone major social and political changes in the last 30 years, in particular. Being part of the Eastern Block during the Cold War, they became part of the European Union. That means not only just transitioning from one country, becoming part of a different country, but also major reforms where the socialist agriculture, collectivized agriculture had to be privatized and it became subject to all rules and regulations for health and hygiene and became subject to global food markets. Lithuanian farmers now have to compete on the global market with producers in other parts of the world that might have better technology and access to easy access and transportation costs to consumers.

DIANA MENCYTE:  It's a very dynamic space and that tells us a lot about how that system works. I find that things that happen in the Baltic States are a precursor of what we are about to see in other parts of the world just because of this being a place on the edge between these explosive different forces.

KAYTE YOUNG:  One of the areas where change takes place in agriculture is around regulations and standards.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Regulations and standards are something that we take for granted, that these are important for consumers to know that food is safe and healthy. This puts a lot of pressure on farmers who have not only to comply with these regulations, they also have to file paperwork, get inspections, be knowledgeable and gain skills in areas that they did not have to do before. They become accountants and fill books in ways that they were not aware they needed to do before, which is a very steep learning curve to go through the process.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Also, joining the European Union alongside selling to Russia for a long time, there's been the largest consumer of food and dairy in particular in Lithuania and Russia. It raised a lot of issues for Lithuanian farmers because they were becoming dependent on different countries. A lot of economic pressures that Lithuanian farmers are facing have brought them to realization and the need about questions related to the concept of food sovereignty. With the start of the war in Ukraine, in the Baltic States there has been this interesting debate about how to ensure food security for all. It's not about simply that protectionism and nationalism that we only want to make sure that we eat Lithuanian food. It is a much deeper sense of urgency that as a state and its political sovereignty depends on the ability to produce food and feed its population for a long time.

DIANA MENCYTE:  In addition to experience an understanding of this fragility of the economic system and the implications, gas prices, refugees, cutting off fertilizers coming from the war in Ukraine, that put extra pressures on and stresses on the economy, it was also very clear that environmental crisis is also happening and this year in particular we are seeing drought that will undermine dairy economy. There is just feed is very limited and this compounding crises have brought to the fore the issue of the longterm sustainability of the food system that will ensure that everybody has food and as part of that there will be social order and life will continue.

DIANA MENCYTE:  It goes to this very profound sense of importance of food. That is this particular sense of urgency in terms of food sovereignty that we have seen in the context of the war in Eastern Europe in general and the Baltic States in particular that may be different in other parts of the world what that food sovereignty looks like. It has the national security implications in ways that it may not be visible in other countries. In general, food sovereignty is understood as a movement of farmers, indigenous groups, peasants, who seek to claim their right to produce environmentally, socially and culturally appropriate foods that would provide them also with livelihoods and power to shape the food systems and ensure that there is food security for local communities and regions.

DIANA MENCYTE:  That additional understanding of the importance of food sovereignty for national security is something that, I think, is very new for understanding food sovereignty movement as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I can see as you're talking that this obviously has just probably become a really glaring issue in the Baltic States and I think there was a similar awareness about the fragility of food systems around the pandemic here in the United States. When we couldn't access the same markets that we always had or supply chains were broken down, suddenly people started thinking about "what kind of food is produced locally, and how do we get it to each other?". It became more important than just a quaint local food movement.

DIANA MENCYTE:  In fact, it's very, very similar that the idea of local food provisioning as being this front and center of food security and food sovereignty in this shadow of the war that is similar to the pandemic. What also became clear, I think, in the Baltics is also how a lot of these local economies really depend on women's labor. That food sovereignty is actually a very gendered project. In Lithuania and Latvia, almost half of farms in the countries are managed or owned by women. This is very unusual. They rank some of the highest in the world in terms of percentage of farmers and that is historically specific for the reasons of particular experience of socialism and balance in rural economies that put men in the back seat of running rural households.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Women have access to land, but they very often do not have enough recognition for the kinds of additional challenges and additional work that they are doing for maintaining these local food economies and being so central for that food sovereignty and, by extension, national security. In some ways, one of the realizations in this process of doing this research was just getting to see how women are important for national security. Women farmers are central for that project of enabling a diverse spatially distributed food economy that is very resilient.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Can you say how it came to be that men took a back seat in the rural household or the farms?

DIANA MENCYTE:  That goes back to the history of World War II. Right after World War II, when the Soviet army rolled into Lithuania and the Baltic States and made them part of the Soviet Union, they went through collectivization that was even more brutal and more violent than it had been in Russia and Ukraine at the same time. Because of that, there was a lot of resistance and local resistance movements that tried to overthrow the Soviet regime with hopes that the world will intervene and they will not be allowed to forcefully join the Soviet Union. But that did not happen, so a lot of men went into forests. It's not a civil war, but it was a resistance war taking place and, as a result, the demographic simply meant that most households were ran by women. But also men, to a certain extent, were seen as more dangerous when they were talking to collective farms.

DIANA MENCYTE:  When the collective farm state came to pick up the requisitions of food, women were negotiating just because of this fear that men would be taken away, they would be considered as possible fighters. That was in the period from 1948 to '53, '56. What that meant is that women increasingly transitioned into being administrators and office workers in collective farms, accountants and they gained jobs that in some cases would have been taken by men. At the end of the fall of the Soviet Union in the early '90s, with the restoration of property rights to the owners of the land who lost it in the reforms of 1940, women were the ones who just went to the offices and claimed their land.

DIANA MENCYTE:  This very messy, at times very unjust and complicated process of creating property out of land, resulted in a very strange configuration where women do have land access which is very unusual. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, they have under 10% of farms are ran and managed by women, but in the Baltic States and in Latvia and Lithuania, it's 46. That's very close to what is happening in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa as well. It's interesting how these violent colonial histories in some ways create these unexpected changes and all of these processes are uneven and contradictory to say the least.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you for explaining that because that's not a history that I'm familiar with and I know a lot of our listeners probably aren't either. I'm also just really getting a sense for why this is such an interesting space to study. It just sounds like so many different forces going on at once, and to look at it through the lens of food is just really, really interesting.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Through the lens of food, but also just thinking about the food itself gives an understanding of the experience of what it means to be in these transitions, constant instability and very dynamic economically, politically worlds that increasingly every place becomes much more dynamic as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes. Do you specifically have a focus on dairy and dairy farming and dairy products?

DIANA MENCYTE:  One of the areas for me is the focus on milk in the Baltic States and somewhat increasingly looking at the United States as well, that both parts of the world undergoing major structuring and loss of dairy farms and increasing concentration and industrialization of dairy making.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Are women also involved at the level of production of dairy products? Like, I'm thinking of cheese and maybe even large scale operations? Or is it mostly in the farming realm?

DIANA MENCYTE:  Women are very much involved in dairy production and from the 1990s, almost most of the farms were actually dairy producing, not necessarily selling, but the idea of a cash-cow has been very popular, precisely for the reason that cows provided the much needed access to cash at the times where pensions or any other kind of social security system was not around. Having a dairy cow or two or three meant that you would be able to consume food, the much necessary protein, and your family as well. If you have surplus, you can sell it or exchange it for what you needed and if that fails, you produce cheese and you can sell it for more or store it.

DIANA MENCYTE:  There are all these ways in which dairy allows you to ensure your food security, access to cash and just the livelihood that in some ways the sense of identity, being in the world where you do things and you see results. A lot of farming is about seeing the meaning in process of doing that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  My guest today is Diana Mencyte. She's a sociologist at City University of New York. We'll have more from our conversation after a short break. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. Let's return to my conversation with sociologist Diana Mencyte. I asked her about the talk she gave when she visited the IU campus in 2023.

DIANA MENCYTE:  I was talking about the decline of dairy farming that is really troubling because of the growing consolidation in dairy production. This year, in particular, in Lithuania, just to get a sense of how stressful and dire the situation is, because of the war gas prices and energy prices have gone up significantly. The country does not have natural resources that it could use for energy production, so everything is imported and with very limited production of hydro energy and biomass burning, basically. Today, gas price is over $6 a gallon in a country where the average salary is just over $1,000 a month.

DIANA MENCYTE:  That means two things. That farmers, even when they don't do everything by hand and they don't need electricity, they still need to drive that product to the city or to buy food. The price of food has gone up because of the gas prices and inflation in Lithuania. At the time when in the US it was nine, it was 25% for a long time. So, the consumers cut all things they could cut and the producers production prices went up no matter what they did. Even to run to get fodder, to get hay, you have to have a tractor and if you don't you will have very little. Added to that is droughts, the cycles of drought seasons that we have had in the last, in 2018 across the entire EU, but also this year in Lithuania.

DIANA MENCYTE:  In the first seven months, we lost over 1,000 dairy farms in a country that there are 2.7 million people. From 21,500 farms, it became 20,400 or something along these lines. The expectation is that many more will be lost once the season when cows can be in the pasture will end and they will need to be eating fodder and feed. That will be basically the time that a lot of cows will be either sold to the large farms or they will be going into the slaughter houses. To be observing these kinds of transformations, it really raises these questions of where we are going and how to change that.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Of course, there are cases where farmers have figured out, those who live closer to big cities and they are able to deliver shorter distances, they have the consumers near by and they have established connections with consumers. They are doing well. Larger farms are doing much better. That's why the consolidation has taken place because there is really economic pressures to either get big or get out. Without saying that it is happening on the ground.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Very strangely to be in the United States, there are also trends of dairy consolidation. The levels that had not been seen in a long time. That's something that raises an interesting question of what kind of landscape do we want to have around us? What kind of economy? What kind of system we want to have? Food being supplied and the breeds of animals and what is the goal of this, kind of, food system?

KAYTE YOUNG:  Would you say that the conditions that you just described about Lithuania would apply to many of the other states in the area?

DIANA MENCYTE:  Definitely, but it also has another dimension that tends to be overlooked is the level of co-operation. Cooperatives, for example, in Poland where more than 73% of all milk produced and sold is produced by farms that are cooperatives, part of cooperatives. In Lithuania, it's 12%. So, they do have the bargaining power. Smaller farms are able to continue to operate because they have the collective bargaining power to get to processing. Sometimes some cooperatives will have their processing facilities, so you do not have to sell your milk to a processor who is able to then lower the costs. And as a result, dairy production is growing in Poland, while it's in such a steep decline in Lithuania.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay. So each country has its own systems and forces in play. Okay. But it just sounds like some of the supply restrictions and energy difficulties as a result of the war are probably touching all of those countries, but maybe in different ways.

DIANA MENCYTE:  That is an important issue is that national governments within the European Union do have power to shape policies and tweak with the support funding that comes from the EU and set up criteria, but there are also these historical reasons. That particular history of resistance and violence in Lithuania create conditions for women to have access and yet then there is an issue of how they are representing and how the lack of co-operation is often because they don't have simply time because in addition to farming, they are also caring for their aging parents and they are raising kids and to work in the cooperatives is another dimension. There are these very interesting, to say the least, competing forces that shape production and the outcomes of the entire industry that very often get overlooked and we see just the big picture, but it's very specific historically in that respect.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's a really interesting point you bring up is that about the other demands on women's time and energy. They can't be out fighting for certain, I don't know how to put it, rights or provisions or whatever, and they can't work on collectivizing because they're just too busy running the farm and taking care of these other people that they're responsible for.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Well, in fact, women are doing a lot of things and, in fact, environmental movements, women are usually the face of environmental movements and alternative agrafood economies. In the conditions of economic hardship, they carry the added burden of all this unwaged care labor that makes it really challenging to do anything else but to be able to try to meet the demands of immediate people who need care.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Right, right, so harder to focus on long-term changes that might need to happen. Did you want to say anything about the research that you're planning on doing with Elizabeth Dunn and other colleagues in Ukraine?

DIANA MENCYTE:  The new project is involving not only scholars who are working in the United States, but working directly with scholars working in Ukraine. That is of immense learning for everyone and it will focus on the dairy economy and the challenges that it is experiencing right now, but also how the post-war, that hopefully we're edging towards that outcome. Reconstruction will inevitably be bringing the reforms in terms of land reform that, in fact, will be happening starting January 1st where the first time since 1917 people will be able to buy land. It's not only people but also foreign companies also, all kinds of investment companies and that will inevitably create a very dynamic situation where there is going to be the adjustment process and in that process we would like to be able to go and understand what is happening on the ground. How the experience of the war, and how these impending reforms will impact the industry, the sector and the food that has been so central for the sustenance of rural economies and livelihoods, especially for the smaller farmers who really depend on dairy cows for their survival.

DIANA MENCYTE:  We are looking at the question of how they will respond and what can we learn from the lessons that took place in Poland and the Baltic States before, where these transformations took place so fast as well. We'll try to apply these lessons and hopefully provide some insights for policymakers and scholars and the public as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Those land reforms in Ukraine, those will go into effect in January regardless of whether the war is over or not? That's just already set in motion?

DIANA MENCYTE:  That is already set with the idea of ensuring that the economy is growing and there is interest in development and attracting the capital as well as part of the idea of the national security, will depend on having capital invested in the country. At the same time, one of the arguments that scholars of food sovereignty have proposed was exactly that food sovereignty relies on small scale farmers who provide food locally. So, there is a bit of a clash between these two ideas about the economic growth based on capital infusion and investment and land property versus producing food and distributing it through sometimes semi formal networks and ensuring that people do get it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, the smaller scale community food security, yes. It definitely sounds like there's a pretty good chance of losing a lot of that in this transition.

DIANA MENCYTE:  From the experience from looking at what happened in the Baltic States and Poland, a lot has been lost and what's, of course, it's very interesting looking back that there is a nostalgia for these small scale farming at the same time as they continue to disappear. People in the cities, people shopping at upscale markets and farmers markets that are expensive, everybody craves that manual, hand-milked cheese production, anything that's produced non-industrially with care and we just having figured out how to make sure that that doesn't disappear in its entirety. It needs to be built from the ground at the time when people will be gone and lost their skills and knowledge.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, I mean I think it's very similar here. There's plenty of nostalgia and craving for that, kind of, farming. I mean you can see it in advertising and everything, you know, the images that show up on the industrial dairy products and egg products are usually very romantic and pastoral. And, you know, in the community like this, the farmer's markets and small scale farmers are pretty highly valued by a certain segment of the population.

DIANA MENCYTE:  It is unfortunate that we have that nostalgia and we have definitely put value onto these kind of farms. It is just that the same economy that makes it possible to buy products with these labels also contributes to making them extinct and reducing their place in the larger economy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Well, I'm just really grateful that you came into talk to me today. It was really great to speak with you.

DIANA MENCYTE:  Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Diana Mencyte, Associate Professor of Sociology at City University of New York, City Tech. She visited the IU campus in October of 2023 to give a talk on the decline of dairy farms in Baltic states, such as Lithuania and Latvia. You can learn more about her work on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  Welcome back to Earth Eats.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  I'm Eric Schedler. I'm the owner and baker of Muddy Fork Bakery. Today, we're going to make some challahs. Challah is a traditional, slightly sweet egg bread for the Jewish Sabbath and typically it's eaten in the home on a Friday night or at any kind of Jewish holiday, any holiday at all. There's always challah, except Passover. It's usually done in a three or four-strand braid and it's got egg wash on top and it looks shiny and golden and pretty. I use filtered water to make the bread. Then I heat some in a kettle and mix it with the cold and see what we have here. That looks pretty good. I'm actually going to throw two eggs in the bucket of warm water to warm them up because I didn't think to bring the eggs to room temperature without cracking them.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yeah, by throw, I think you mean gently set.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  Okay, so to make the challah dough, we're going to do it in a few different steps. We want to hydrate the yeast in the water. We have to crack a couple of eggs and measure out, it's not going to be two full eggs, to make the dough this size. Then we're going to mix the dry ingredients together, which is flour, sugar and salt. Going to start with the yeast, so it'll have a moment to sit. This is going to take 128g of water. It has to be to the gram, within a couple of grams is fine. More yeast than you would put in some other doughs because an enriched dough that has a significant amount of fat in the dough, that inhibits the action of the yeast, so you have to add a little more. And it's also a really stiff dough and that also slows down the fermentation. So, this dough needs 5g of yeast and about half a tablespoon. That's going to take a minute, so while that's sitting, I'm going to measure out flour, sugar and salt.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  For making challah, if you can, you want to use bread flour as opposed to all purpose flour. A little bit stronger gluten structure in the bread flour is going to be helpful because that oil in the dough is going to counteract against the gluten development. I recommend against using any bleached flour. Bleaching, the reason for it is actually not to make the flour look white, it's done as an artificial way of aging the flour because white flour changes as it ages and the gluten bonds are stronger once it's aged a little bit. Space is money, so it's cheaper to not have a bunch of warehouse space where your flour can age and oxidize. It's cheaper to artificially oxidize it by bleaching. Alright, here's the sugar. It's the closest thing I have to white sugar.

KAYTE YOUNG:  How much sugar is that?

ERIC SCHEDLER:  This is 32g of sugar. Professional bakers use percentages to measure their ingredients. That system called Baker's math, in that system the total flour counts as 100%. So, your recipe adds up to more than 100% because the flour is already 100. The sugar in this recipe is 8%, so it's definitely a noticeable amount of sugar and you can't use a lot more than that in yeasted bread without causing it to burn when you bake it. Then we'll put some salt in, 8g, which is a little bit less than two teaspoons. farm. This one's a bit of a workout to mix. Okay, that looks pretty good.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  All right, I'm going to check the yeast. It looks pretty dissolved but and I'm going to whisk it just to make sure it's all hydrated before I start throwing a bunch of other ingredients on it. Okay, so we've got our water and yeast dissolved and our dry ingredients measured out, so let's add the oil to the water and yeast. This dough has 30g of olive oil in it, which as a percentage is 7.5%. Alright, we've got two warm eggs that we stuck in a bucket of warm water and we're going to weigh them out here. A large egg is usually 50 to 55g. Now, this recipe calls for 85g of eggs, so I'm going to scramble it and then add 85g to the dough. We don't have to throw out the rest because the challah needs to be egg washed before baking, so you can just save the rest of that egg to brush on the outside.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  We start mixing. In goes the dry into the wet. This is another one that's going to get tough to finish with the wooden spoon here because it's such a stiff dry dough. Until you get your hands in there, you almost think how can you even make that into dough?

ERIC SCHEDLER:  Alright, getting my hand in there because I can only get so far with the spoon. I'm trying to pick up all the little bits that are stuck to the bowl because I get too far into the mixing. Then use my hands to kneed and get everything evenly incorporated. And I'm pulling, each time I go around, I'm pulling a piece of dough from the edge the bowl and pressing it down into the middle and spinning the bowl and repeating that process. I can tell I'm not done because there's darker yellow pieces of dough in there where there's a little bit more egg in those spots. These are beautiful deep yellow yolked eggs from Schachtfarm. This one's a bit of a workout to mix. Okay, that looks pretty good.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  We're setting our dough aside covered to start its fermentation process and we want to fold the dough every 30 to 60 minutes. If you have a kitchen timer, it's a good way to not forget. Just set the timer for 30 minutes and every time it goes off, just come by and fold your dough.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  It's going to be less messy if you have a little bowl of water next to your dough and if you have one of these plastic bowl scrapers. So, we're going to uncover the dough, stick our hands in the water and fold the dough. So, I'm going around the edge of the bowl, pulling the dough up into the middle. And I've gone once around. It feels like it's getting some tension in it. This particular dough feels like it could go just a little more than once around. And you're helping build that tension in the dough so that it has more strength.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  Now our challah dough's been sitting at least three hours. You can mix your dough and let it go for a few hours, or you can move it into a fridge over night and then braid the next day, or you can braid the bread and put the shaped breads in the fridge and then finish proofing them the next day and bake them the next day, so you break up the process how you need to to make it work for your schedule. So, this dough is ready to go. The recipe that we're making makes two small 12 oz challahs. We've found in our house that if the challah's too big, then the kids only eat challah for dinner. [LAUGHS] So, we like to make them small and serve only half. So, we're going to cut this into four pieces. I have a nice two-strand braid that simplifies some of the work. You actually braid it like a four-strand braid, but you only have to cut and roll two strands per loaf. So, that's where we're going to start.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  We're going to get a little bit of flour on the table. You don't want too much for any bread, but challah's a pretty stiff dough and if you get too much flour it will just swim around and you won't get any traction. There's the dough coming out. Going to make some 6 oz pieces. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the more even you get them, the more symmetrical you're likely to get your finished challahs. I'm just not even using flour because my dough is so dry and the table's dry and everything's dry today. So, I'm going to flatten these pieces out. If you can, cut them rectangular so you start with an evenly shaped strand. So, I'm going to roll it up and then roll it out. Oh, 16 to 24" long here. As long as we can get it, because this strand is going to get folded in half to serve as two strands. You start to braid in the middle and then you work all four ends down one way.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  This recipe makes two challahs, so I'm just going to get all four strands rolled out before I start to work with any of them. Challah is also one of the stiffer things that you will ever make out of bread dough. A lot of your loaves are a lot more hydrated than an enriched dough. Challah is considered an enriched dough because it has some oil in it.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  It could be made with butter, but it's definitely traditional to use oil to make challah because if you keep Kosher, which most people don't who eat challah, but if you do, you want to separate your dairy and your meat. If you put butter in your challah, then it would be a dairy food and you would have to not eat it with a meat meal. So, people like to be able to eat challah with anything.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  I'm going to do my best to describe a braid with words. [LAUGHS] So, I am going to make a plus sign with these two strands and I'm putting the horizontal one over the vertical one. The point where they meet in the middle is going to be the top of the loaf so the whole braid is going to work down from that point in the middle. It's a two-step process and you keep repeating the two steps over and over again. We're going to take the vertical strand and we're going to flip the ends with the one that is currently down, passing to the left, and the one that was up passing to the right. We've flipped them over and then we're going to flip the horizontal pieces starting with the left and remember we're working down, and then the right over the top of it. Then we're going to repeat. Flip the vertical strands, so the one that is down passing to the left, flip the horizontal ones, left first, then right. Okay, flip the vertical ones again. Bottom passing to the left, flip the horizontal pieces, left first, then right, bring that one down. If I can, I'll flip these again, or maybe I'll just pinch that over here.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  You don't want to braid a challah too tight. You want to let it be relaxed as you're braiding so that the strands just pop out more. If you pull everything tight, then it doesn't pop as much after it rises. Okay, after you've braided your challahs, depending on the weather, you might need to spray just a little water on them as they're proofing because if the dough gets dried out on the surface that can, kind of, prevent it from expanding. It loses its ability to stretch. Today is definitely dry. I'm getting them a little wet. I'm going to cover them with plastic.

ERIC SCHEDLER:  We're checking on the challahs and it looks like they've risen by at lest 50% and so it's time to brush on the egg wash. So, we're going to take that part of an egg that we didn't use in the dough and a pastry brush and we're going to brush it on the outside of the dough. And that is going to give these challahs a nice shine to them as they bake. So, we're going to bake the challahs in our big brick oven, which is 7.5 ft deep and 5 ft wide and it's a little bit cool right now, because we have a weekly heating and baking cycle and the oven just retains heat for the whole week. And when we're finished heating it on a Friday night, it's about 670 and at this point on a Tuesday in the middle of the day it's at 365, which is a little cool for challah, but we're going to put it in the oven anyway.

KAYTE YOUNG:  About 20 minutes later, we check on the loaves. When Eric pulled them out of the oven they looked perfect. They were deep golden brown in color and had puffed out evenly throughout the braid. Unfortunately, bread needs to cool before you cut into it. Eager bakers have been known to ruin good loaves by ignoring this step. The bread is still cooking inside and you have to learn to walk away and let it cool or you can end up with a gummy mess in the middle. Challah, I can tell you, though, is a soft, light bread, slightly sweet with a tender golden finish. It's beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. This recipe lives with all the others on our website, Eric Schedler is the co-owner and baker of Muddy Fork Bakery near Bloomington, Indiana. Find out more about Muddy Fork at

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show. Thanks for listening. The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. Earth Eats is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is Eric Bolstridge.

Diana Mincyte headshot

Diana Mincyte is a sociologist at City University of New York. Her work is focused on food and its environmental and social dimensions. She visited the IU campus in October of 2023. (courtesy of Diana Mincyte)

“It’s not about simply that protectionism and nationalism–that we only want to make sure that we eat Lithuanian food. It is a much deeper sense of urgency that as a state–and its political sovereignty–depends on the ability to produce food and feed its population for a long time.”

This week on the show, a conversation with sociologist Diana Mincyte who studies food systems in post-socialist Eastern European states such as Lithuania and Latvia. She talks about the particular forces shaping agriculture in the Baltic states (with a focus on the dairy industry) and reflects on the similarities and differences with other EU nations and with the United States. 

Diana Mincyte visited the campus of Indiana University in 2023. In our conversation, we talk about the dairy industry research she is doing with other scholars, including Elizabeth Dunn, who we have featured on our show several times in recent years. For more on the dairy industry in Ukraine, listen to this converversation with Elizabeth Dunn. 

Also on the show, Muddy Fork Bakery’s Eric Schedler guides us through the steps for a traditional yeasted bread and Harvest Public Media shares a story about non-traditional, environmentally-friendly home landscaping. 

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.


The Earth Eats’ team includes: Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media.

Earth Eats is produced, engineered and edited by Kayte Young. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge.

Stories On This Episode

Muddy Fork Bakery's Challah

Finished Challah

Challah is a light, enriched dough that is enjoyed on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays.

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