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Flavors: The Livingston Community Bakery – Feeding Montana

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Stella Fong
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The Livingston Community Bakery opened on S. 2nd Street, just down the block from the Food Resource Center where good food is making the community feel good.

The Livingston Community Bakery encourages the community and Montana to eat good to feel good. As part of the Livingston Food Resource Center, the want for customers and clients are: “Not only will you leave with delicious, made-from-scratch baked goods, but your dollars will be used to created training and job opportunities, purchase goods from local farmers and ranchers, and supply institutions, fresh bread to food pantries across our state.”

George Peirce, CEO of the Food Resource Center shared of the center’s beginnings, “It started in 2009 out of a gas station over on M Street, here in town.” Recently retired CEO Michael McCormick later secured funds to buy the property at the corner of S 2nd and W Lewis Streets where the food pantry, commercial kitchen, and community room opened in 2015.

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Stella Fong
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George Peirce, CEO of the Food Resource Center stands by the counter in the Livingston Community Bakery where the want of the center is to “help people in need and provide fresh whole wheat bread to food pantries throughout Montana.”

These days the pantry supports over 400 households in Livingston and Park County. Bakery Manager Vicki Blakeman began baking bread for the pantry clients because, “Michael couldn’t find whole wheat bread that didn’t have a whole bunch of stuff in it, so he played around for a while and came up with a good solid whole wheat bread that we liked.” Then Head Baker Sean Tillotson introduced a sourdough starter he made from wild yeast to make dough with Conservation Grains .

Initially, Peirce said, “Prior to our bread program, we were getting donated bread from the grocery store.” Instead of always getting bread, “It was really mostly cakes, coffee cakes, old stale Wonder bread, full of corn syrup and preservatives, and we’ve got a lot of clients that have underlying health issues and so we were really feeding them food that was exasperating their conditions.”

When the local community found out about fresh bread being produced, they demanded loaves for themselves. This led to opening the Livingston Community Bakery in March of 2020 with a small retail space in front of the baking operation. Quickly the bakery ran out of space and in October, the operation closed to expand. Now after opening up in January of this year, the 3500 square feet provides for a bread baking area with a steam oven, a space for baking pastries and a temperature-controlled lamination room for making puff pastry.

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Stella Fong
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The Livingston Community Bakery offers about 20 different varieties of breads and pastries including muffins, cookies and croissants.

In the lamination room, a sheeter mechanically helps interlace butter and dough in many layers. The traditional method required rolling by hand with a rolling pin. Butter is placed between yeast risen dough and then pressed into sheets. After the rolling, the dough is rested to be rolled again and rested a total of three separate times. When the dough bakes, air pockets form as the butter melts with the fat lacquering the outside to flaky crispiness and a beautiful dark golden color.

With the philosophy of nothing going to waste, Blakeman bakes up innovative pastries to use up any leftover pieces of puff pastry. These days, she’s exploring savory items such as hand pies with pesto and cheese, and what Blakeman calls “spanakopita kind of pies” with spinach.

With any leftover pastries, Blakeman shared, “What we don’t sell in the store everyday gets bagged up and labeled, and is given away so nothing gets wasted.” Unsold pastries are taken with the breads to the other pantries throughout Montana, but currently no organized delivery system is in place. Peirce said of getting the breads to their destinations, “That has been the biggest pickle.” Volunteers will take breads to places they are heading. “We’re also working on our current suppliers. Western Montana Coop has been kind enough to let us throw some bread on their truck as they head back to Missoula. Same with the Montana Food network, so it’s cobbled together but it's working so far.”

The bakery functions with seven paid employees along with about ten volunteers. “Right now, I have three volunteers who make the pantry breads. They come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and bake bread. They’re all individuals that we’ve trained on how to do that.”

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Stella Fong
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Bakery Manager Vicki Blakeman mixes up muffin batter for the week. Portions are put into the cooler for freshly baked muffins daily.

Before COVID, a six-month, paid apprenticeship program teaching professional culinary skills for a career in the food service industry was offered. In this program, students learned basic kitchen skills, food safety, knife skills, baking, and basic cooking methods.

The bakery offers about 20 different varieties of pastries with cookies, muffins, and croissants along with loaves of bread and other risen options such as focaccia and ciabatta.

By April of this year the Food Resource Center has distributed 100,000 pounds of food with 280,000 pounds shared in 2021.

As summer nears, Peirce said, “We’ve got all kinds of programming that is benefiting families with young children and school age kids as well. That includes our summer lunch program which we’re partnering with the Livingston School District and the Farm to School Park County to get more coverage across the town.” The collaboration covering the three resources will “get equity across the board so it’s the same meal at all the sites.” Tokens will be offered to children at the farmers’ market so “they can buy produce from local farmers, and we’ll reimburse the farmers which is part of our mission of economic development, keeping money local as much as possible.”

At the Livingston Community Bakery and the Food Resource Center, good food continues to make a community feel good.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.