The Bread Houses Network is currently developing a European Cultural Route “Bread Route” connecting Bulgaria and Italy and all the countries in-between. The Bread Route will soon be applying to be recognized as an official EU Cultural Route and so far connects various organizations in these countries that link bread-making to diverse cultural, artistic, and social activities, which distinguishes this route from other culinary-related routes (like Wine Routes), since its mission is to expand the realm of food and seek its social meanings and ways to foster social inclusion and participation through food and arts. Any interested organizations from Europe can contact us and apply to become part of the Bread Route!
On October 7th, the Bread Houses Network with representative Dr. Nadezhda Savova-Grigorova participated with a “Theater of Crumbs” workshop in the program for theEuropean Commission visit of Matera (Basilicata, Italy) as a Candidate for European Capital of Cultural 2019. The Matera Candidacy team liked very much the concept and methods of the Bread Houses cultural centers they saw in Bulgaria, in two of the Bulgarian cities finalists for the title: Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo. As a result, the team decided to develop a Bread House project in Matera with the vision to create a space for social inclusion and cultural co-creation, reviving the interesting local Materan traditions of bread-making and use of special wood-carved bread stamps to mark the bread taken to bake at communal bakeries/ovens (forno).
During her stay in Matera, Nadezhda led workshops with an association of social enterprises (cooperative sociali) for people with various special needs so that the Bread Houses Network methods, in particular the bread therapy, can start spreading among social institutions in Matera.
As part of the visit of the European Commission, the Theater of Crumbs workshop engaged the Commission members to make bread and create stories together with local people, from a Moroccan woman Olympic runner and her children to people with Down Syndrome and an elderly lady descendent of a baker. The improvised story that the participants crafted had as a central theme the “seal”: the seal in its varied uses and meanings, from bread seal used to mark the breads and identify the family to the modern seals placed on documents, in institutions and across borders. The participants in the Theater of Crumbs were inspired to imagine and create out of dough their own vision for a seal inspired by what they want to identify them as human beings, the seal as a sign of identity and mission and purpose in life. The outcome was a beautiful (and tasty) story of bread puppets and drawings in the flour-covered table, transformed into a theater stage.
The Commission members took home with them huge smiles and Materan bread stamps with each person’s name initials.
On October 18th Matera won among other 5 candidate cities the title Capital of Culture 2019! Thus, the future cooperation long-term between Matera and the Bread Houses Network will surely evolve not only with the local bread-related activities in Matera and in Plovdiv (the Bulgarian Capital of Culture in 2019) and Tarnovo, but also due to the evolvingEuropean Cultural Route “Bread Route” already envisioned and initiated by the Bread Houses Network in cooperation with organizations that link bread-making to various cultural, artistic, and social activities.
In many cultures, breaking bread is a gesture of peace. For the Bread Houses Network, making bread is the crucial first step. The bread house movement unites people from all walks of life through the simple act of baking. Organizers and participants say bread houses spark cross-cultural dialogues and enhance understanding among community members while bridging ethnic, cultural, racial, economic and religious divides.
“The key mission we have is not culinary, it is community — to get people to simply understand that ultimately we are still human and shouldn’t focus so much on the different divisions between us,” said Nadezhda Savova, an anthropologist who got the notion to found the Bread Houses program while visiting Bethlehem in 2008. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
A native of Bulgaria, Savova said bread houses were never promoted as forums for solving local issues. But as the movement gained popularity, they became places where community members would discuss solutions to local issues and personal problems while making bread together. As interest grew and Savova trained more and more organizers, the movement quickly spread beyond Bulgaria, where the first bread house was launched in the abandoned house where her great-grandmother once lived.
Today bread houses can be found in 20 cities in more than 16 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. The bread house movement consists mainly of two components: community centers, with regular hours and frequent workshops, and events that are held at least once a month at different locations. Some municipalities support the concept by donating buildings for the community centers, and rotating workshops have been run in schools, hospitals, parks, orphanages, businesses, homeless shelters and a refugee center. Savova and organizers in the United States also developed a Mobile Bread House in New Jersey. In 2013, nearly 8,000 people participated in bread house events around the world.
“Bread, it turns out, is a good muse for people,” Savova said.
On any given night, a baking event brings together a wide variety of community members: businesspeople and the unemployed, professors and students, families and homeless people, the elderly and orphans, people with various medical challenges, and even corporations seeking team-building and stress-reduction programs for their employees. Participants work together, making not only bread, but also art. This includes poetry, visual arts, music and, almost always, the “Theatre of Crumbs,” in which participants shape dough into puppets that play roles in issues facing the community. People improvise as they introduce their creations and discuss issues. In the end, the puppets are shared as bread.
“The idea of Theatre of Crumbs is that we are all the crumbs of one loaf,” Savova said. “The whole experience is deeply emotional and inspiring for all ages, and the final result is that, indeed, all feel part of the same play.”
The dough, the art, the aroma, the warmth of the ovens — it all has a purpose, Savova said.
“Even if people just come skeptically and look around, immediately you can get them into the action — that is the key to integration,” she said. “If you get them doing something, they will stay. And their boundaries will break down as they work, share their stories and learn about each other.”
As the bread house movement has attracted more and more people, organizers have adopted a guiding catchphrase: “We are all made of the same dough — and it is the human dough.”
Silvia Nedelcheva, who runs one of two bread houses in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, said organizers aim to create hubs for “people who might never have the chance to meet because they are either from very different economic classes, or isolated in their institutions, or at home because of their disability.”
Medical clinics, nursing homes and retirement centers also encourage participation in bread house events as a form of therapy to help people overcome barriers or deal with difficult issues. Savova recalled an elderly man from a Bulgarian mental health clinic who worked on a project molding dough into puppets.
“He had made a really sad face, and because the bread rises and changes its shape when it bakes, the puppet came out smiling,” she said. “He was really happy, and his doctors told us he couldn’t stop talking about it for days.”
Another participant, a domestic violence victim from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, said bread house workshops not only helped her cope with emotional issues but gave her the strength to strike out on her own. In a letter to organizers, she wrote:
“I was desperate and I had no direction. I did not have the courage to think of life improvements or turning a new page in my life. Baking therapy gave me more confidence and self-esteem to make responsible decisions. … Thanks to the talks and discussions during our meetings, I thought about the different stages of my life. It helped me a lot! Finally, I took the decision to buy my own home. All of my life I lived in rented space.”
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has supported the Bread Houses Network since 2012 through the International Council for Cultural Centers in Bulgaria. Vera Dakova, a Mott Foundation program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, lauds bread houses for engaging disparate and sometimes marginalized people in education, skill development, networking and community action.
“Bread houses are a wonderful illustration of Mott’s community engagement objective,” she said. “They are the result of grassroots self-organizing by citizens who want to improve their community’s social inclusion and inter-ethnic and inter-generational exchange, as well as local civic initiatives.”
Before launching the Bread Houses Network, Savova had been to 77 countries to conduct research for her Ph.D. in community cultural centers and the role of community arts in social transformation. But it wasn’t until December 2009, when the roof caved in on her great-grandmother’s house in Gabrovo, that she decided to try out the bread house idea that came to her in Bethlehem. As she contemplated fixing the house, she thought, “Maybe we should have a nice community cultural center where people come together to make bread.” Community members embraced the idea. With donated materials and volunteer labor, they converted the dilapidated home into the first bread house, a model for others to come, with a theatrical theme and artistic atmosphere.
“What I saw first in my grandmother’s house was that people were really hungry for very simple relationships,” said Savova, who was named a 2012 National Geographic Traveler of the Year. “It was very clear to me: There is a hunger in society, a hunger among people, and it is not for bread — it is for the relationships that it generates. ”
Source: C.S.Mott foundation
Source: C.S.Mott Foundation
In addition to encouraging innovative engagement in dozens of communities around the world, the bread house movement attracts a wide variety of dedicated organizers. Bulgarian native Silvia Nedelcheva is an example of someone who left her country after college but returned, determined to make a difference. Nedelcheva had moved to Italy, where she was a teacher’s assistant for students with learning disabilities. Longing to work in the arts and connect with people in need, Nedelcheva moved back to Bulgaria in 2001 after meeting with Bread Houses Network founder Nadezhda Savova, whom she credits with inspiring others like her to return to the country. An artist and inveterate volunteer, Nedelcheva runs a bread house in Gabrovo and serves as a member of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) for the mayor’s office. She called the bread house her “dream workplace.”
Mott: How have bread houses benefited your community in ways that might not have happened otherwise?
Nedelcheva: Many different people regularly come together to take part in our community bread-making sessions. One example is children from the local orphanage and various other locals. We had multiple meetings of local, well-off families with these children, and the unplanned result was that one family decided to adopt one girl and take care of her despite already having children! If it had not been for the bread house, these people would have never met, let alone had the chance to interact in such an informal, entertaining, but also very sincere and open way.
Another story that deeply touched me recently is about a boy with mental disabilities whose parents try hard to find him friends and integrate him into society. In the bread house, they found a place to help him feel accepted around diverse people. The boy loves to play basketball, but he usually only plays with his father because his peers scorn him and do not accept him. Recently, at one of our events, the boy met a family in which the wife is a basketball judge and her husband and older son — who is the age of the boy — turned out to be basketball coaches! I cannot describe the joy of the boy when they invited him to take part in their trainings, meet the team, and learn all the rules in the most professional way! The boy almost jumped like a basketball from his chair! From now on, he will have real and regular opportunities to interact in a new way with his peers and be even more accepted in society.
Mott: What are some of the challenges in your community?
Nedelcheva: In the past 25 years, with the transition from socialism, the Bulgarian people have undergone a series of crises — from economic to social — resulting in individual and psychological traumas. Bulgaria also suffers a huge problem with the emigration of young people, and we seek to inspire more and more people to come back, the way I came back.
Mott: How would you characterize the impact the bread houses have had on the community?
Nedelcheva: At the bread houses, people exchange ideas, cooperate, and give each other support to find self-confidence. They start small community initiatives, like cleaning our little park in front of the bread house, planning the construction of a children’s playground, and others. What is very important is that people who have had very difficult and miserable lives have a chance to connect to beauty; to create with others; to talk about metaphors and poetry, about life and its meaning.
What I find personally touching and inspiring, as well as surprising, is that people think of the bread houses as the right environment to share their very personal pains and tragedies. Once, we had an old woman in the community whom we had met only once during a baking session. She came to the bread house crying, and she said she had recently lost her husband and had no one to talk to. She felt the bread house was the place where she could share and feel at home, with a company of people who, even as strangers, felt close to her — perhaps precisely due to the unique environment that the wood-fired oven and the bread aroma create.
Mott: The bread houses seem to inspire people to give to the community in new ways.
Nedelcheva: I am surprised how the bread house becomes the occasion for various people to donate who had never donated before. In our case, they see exactly where their money goes, whom they serve, what we have bought. And we realized that we inspire new ways of giving, which in Bulgaria are not developed or popular.
Mott: Why did you get involved?
Nedelcheva: I wanted dynamic and inspiring work that creates beauty and something good in society by giving people the chance to express themselves. I wanted to contribute whatever I could to help the bread houses “fill the world with the aroma of peace,” as we like to say! There are so many people who are inspired by Nadezhda Savova’s example of someone who came back and is doing something good in a simple but innovative way.
Mott: What is your role there?
Nedelcheva: I am responsible for organizing the events at the bread house, which include various types of community, cultural and social/therapeutic activities. On the one hand, I organize big community events with diverse themes, from bread and music to bread and poetry and theater, where people from all walks of life come and participate. On the other hand, I organize smaller sessions for people with disabilities that function as therapy for them. I often lead the therapy sessions in the centers and hospitals where these people stay during the day. I also attract volunteers, take care of all administrative documents, and promote the social value of our products and services.
Men with mental disabilities use flour to create art.
Mott: I understand there are other projects you are undertaking within the bread house movement.
Nedelcheva: I am currently involved with the development of our social-enterprise bakery in Gabrovo, a real commercial bakery that we opened in October 2013. At the bakery, we train three orphans who are 18 or older to become bakers and community workshop facilitators. I spend time with them talking about their lives and personal problems.
My education is in sculpture and wood carving, so one thing I love in particular about our work at the bakery is that we try to revive forgotten, old traditions of baking — using sourdough instead of commercial yeast, the ways to build wood-fired ovens, and the wood carvings of traditional bread stamps used for the Bulgarian and Orthodox Christian holidays. We will soon start organizing trainings in these old crafts.
Also, I am now working to develop the bread houses as part of cultural tourism here.
Mott: Why do you think bread houses have made such an impact?
Nedelcheva: Because the idea is so simple, real, true, so widely applicable. Most important, it is accessible to anyone. Everything we do ultimately teaches goodness, equality, giving, respect and love!
Last weekend, Gabrovo Bread House and Social Enterprise participated in an eco-sustainability festival at Uzana in Central Bulgaria, selling home-made bread and promoting the concept of slow food. During the festival, the team also had the chance to talk to local bakers and festival-goers about their opinion of bread. Let’s take a look at what they said:
“I love bread, especially white bread. My mother and sister sometimes bake bread at home. The idea of bread-making workshop is great and I’d love to join!” – Stefan, South of Uzana
“Yes I love bread and my favorite is black wheat bread. I sometimes bake bread with my family. I think bread-making workshops are great and it’s good for people in the community.” – Dora, Gabrovo
“We eat bread every day. We usually just buy it from the shops because we don’t have time to make our own bread. If time permits, we would definitely love to join the bread-making workshops.” – Savina and Miro, Sofia
“I eat bread every day and I try to bake my own bread if I have enough time. It’s healthier because you know what’s inside the bread.” – Tanya, Pleven
“I bake bread with my mother. We sing songs when making bread, infusing positive energy inside the bread and passing on love to whoever eats it.” – Iliana, Pleven
We also had the chance to speak with John Mulrow, business/industrial sustainability specialist and featured speaker at the Uzana Fest. They exchanged ideas about eco-sustainability and slow food, which has definitely provided lots of insights for the future work of Bread House.
Q: What is your definition of eco-sustainability?
A: The quantitative definition is the regenerative bio-capacity of the earth divided by the global population. Everyone should have a fair share of the earth and no individual is allowed to consumer more than this number, which is called the global hectare.
Q: How do you as an individual live a sustainable life?
A: I worked in Zambia and Southern Africa with the UN Refugee Agency for half a year. There were very few resources, but it was an awesome experience which makes me realize that one can do a lot with very little. However, this kind of lifestyle had not been possible when I returned to the United States, but I have picked up some good habits such as using handkerchiefs and biking instead of driving. I realize that I have to stop being an “eco-virtuist” and doing everything right in my daily life, but doing things that the system allows me doing easily. It’s all about striking a balance between living your values and doing the work of changing the system.
Q: What is your opinion on slow food?
A: Slow food is a standard way of sharing values, rules and methodologies. But I sometimes feel that some slow food groups are more like “foodie groups”, like people of a different social class sitting together to enjoy good food.
Q: What do you think about the concept of Bread House?
A: Social enterprise is awesome and it would be great for everyone to eat real bread rather than the crappy bread from the grocery stores, but the amount of bread we need to offset the factory-made bread is incredible. But I think this model could scale up to that, with the collaboration of different parties.
We are proud to announce that we have recently launched an Indiegogo Campaign to raise money for our Plovdiv Bread House! We are currently in need of funds to renovate a 150 year old bakery in Plovdiv’s Old City in order to be able to establish a community cultural center. Any and all donations are welcome, and we encourage you to share this campaign with friends and family to help spread the word. For more information about the project and to contribute, please click HERE.
Thank you for your support, without which, none of this would be possible. When we make our bread, it takes a combination of ingredients to come together to create a final product. Similarly, it will take the collective effort of many individuals to be able to accomplish our goal!
During the last weekend in June, the team at the Bread House and social enterprise in Gabrovo visited an artisan foods and crafts festival in Sliven, Bulgaria, to spread the word about our program and connect with other like-minded individuals. Set on top of a mountain overlooking the plains of Southern Bulgaria, it was a festival full of interesting and unique projects dedicated to producing goods with the utmost skill and care, from artisan cheeses to jewelry to pastries. At our own booth, we had information about the Bread Houses Network projects and our social enterprise, as well as a ton of our traditional sourdough to sell. Needless to say, it was a hit, and we just about sold out by the end of the weekend. We also met lots of new friends and supporters, and had a ton of fun while promoting the mission of the Bread Houses Network.
As a result of the workshop of the Bread Houses Network at the Austrian Euroguidance Conference in October 2013 in Vienna, the Salzburg-based network of guidance organizations invited BHN to lead a workshop in Salzburg in March 2014. The particular method presented was the “3S: Sifting-Shaping-Sharing”, method for alternative and creative career orientation. 3S aims to engage the people seeking guidance (youth at schools, immigrants, refugees, unemployed, etc.) in collective bread-making mixed with deep metaphors, story-telling, imagination and critical analysis of potential future life and career paths.
The workshop was a training of trainers working in diverse guidance organizations, mainly with immigrants and refugees, and the professionals agreed that the method can be very useful in their work since bread-making creates a common language among various age and cultural groups, create equality among people and opens dialogue and discussion, which lead to deep and serious reflections on past and future paths, mission, and purpose, meanings and values in life.
The long-term vision for the cooperation between the Bread Houses Network and the Salzburg-area guidance organizations is that the 3S method and other BHN community-building methods (such as Theater of Crumbs and Kitchen Music) can be diffused throughout various regional and national organizations in Austria.
The Austrian Euroguidance Conference in October 2013 in Vienna focused on face-to-face counselling in combination with the question of the expected impact which is becoming increasingly important due to the current crisis on the European labour market. Nadezhda Savova joined and presented the methods and programs of the International Council for Cultural Centers and its program Bread Houses Network some innovative approaches of bread making and story-telling as counseling tools. The particular method presented is called “3S: Sifting-Shaping-Sharing”.
The Euroguidance network is a network of centres linking together the careers guidance systems in Europe. Euroguidance promotes mobility, helping guidance counsellors and individuals to better understand the opportunities available to European citizens throughout Europe. The HRDC is the coordinating body in Bulgaria of the European Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) and is working on projects in the field of education, training and labor market