by Len Lear
I shop at Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill every so often and like to try out different breads because there are so many great ones (and day-old breads are half-price). Last week I purchased a sesame French bread that Weavers Way in both Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill gets from the Sweet Water Baking Company in Kimberton, Chester County. A notation on the label says it is “wood-fired brick oven bread, naturally leavened.” It has a list of seven ingredients, and each one sounds ridiculously healthful.
When my wife and I tasted the bread, we went nuts (figuratively speaking; there are no nuts in the bread). We both rhapsodize over the bread every time we eat it. When it is toasted, the amazing crust really does have that wood-fired taste. I proceeded to Google Sweet Water Baking Company and found this comment on yelp.com by a Nathan R. of Phoenixville, whose opinion mirrors ours:
“This is probably the best bread I have ever tasted in my life. And I’ve eaten a lot of bread, homemade and commercial, both in the U.S. and in Europe. I like bread. This is mind-bendingly, impossibly good; you won’t believe your taste buds. It’s got the most subtle flavors and the most perfect texture I’ve ever experienced … You need to get busy trying to get hold of a loaf. (The price) isn’t that bad, except for the fact that you are likely to consume most of a loaf the first time you taste it simply because you won’t be able to think of anything else you’d rather eat. ”
As great as the bread is, I still was not thinking about doing an article on it until I saw the following words on the label: “Baked with the members and volunteers of Kimberton Hills, a life-sharing agricultural community that specially includes people with disabilities.”
That definitely piqued my interest, so I called and spoke to Saul Schwartz, 42, who founded Sweet Water Baking Company with his wife, Natalie, 44, in 1998 in the mountains of southwest Virginia. He had previously worked on several farms, and she had run her own market vegetable garden. So these people are the real deal.
The Schwartzes moved to the Delaware Valley in 2007 to be close to Natalie’s family in Valley Forge. Since 2008 they have been making bread, cookies and granola with their four children — Osheana, Agile, Coral and Free.
“Here in the Sweet Water woods,” said Saul, “where we live and run our bakery, we are surrounded by the natural elements; the creeks flow and birds sing. The trees blow in the wind, and the smell is always fresh, although it is slightly altered with the scent of bread or granola.
“As the steam rises out of the oven chimney, it fills our little valley with the wholesome smell. This is our way to give back to the beauty around, in baking and preparing our products naturally. The earth is important to us, as it should be to everyone. We hope that in eating our products, people can feel the earth’s energy, which we put into it.”
What is even more impressive, however, is that the Kimberton Hills agricultural community, which also contains a dairy farm, orchard, wool weaving facility, etc., has about 100 residents, and half of them are developmentally disabled. Most have Down’s syndrome, forms of autism or other kinds of cognitive or intellectual impairment, even childhood brain injuries.
“On a typical day,” explained Saul, “we will have five or six (of the developmentally disabled residents) working in the bakery. They help bake cookies with supervision, scoop, bag and cleanup. Each one has a volunteer co-worker who supervises. In general, they are pretty high-functioning and competent if you find the right job for each individual.”
In addition to the Weavers Way markets, Sweet Water sells its products to markets in the western suburbs, food-buying clubs, Door-to-Door Organics in Bucks County and Amish farmers in Lancaster County, among others. They have been selling to Weavers Way since 2008. “Sales at Weavers Way have not been our absolute best,” said Saul, “but they have always been decent and steady.”
Beware, consumers: once you taste Sweet Water products, you may just become hooked. And then sales at Weavers Way will be even “decenter” and steadier.
For more information, call 610-935-1060 or visit www.sweetwatergranola.com.