Seth Dolinsky | Sonoma Farm Scene
— Locally grown and produced foods have been an integral component of human society from the beginning. Fast forward to 2021 in the Sonoma Valley and we find some of the finest producers around feeding a hungry and grateful community. A trip to our Friday Farmers Market demonstrates this abundance. While perusing the offerings, one can’t help but be drawn to the bright green tent of Mike Zakowski, the Sonoma town Baker (or “The Bejkr” in culinary speak). Mike’s booth, on the west side of the market, is framed by a counter full of baked goods and backed by a wood-fired oven making fresh pretzels on the spot.
Mike began baking in the mid-’90s in Chicago. He came to Sonoma to work with Craig Ponsford, founding baker of the famous Artisan Bakery, formerly located on West Napa Street. Ponsford had recently won a prestigious baking competition in Paris when Mike came to train at the bakery and manage daily operations. Mike himself medaled in the Coup du Mond in Paris, and lucky for us, came back to Sonoma to refine his craft.
Currently, Mike is baking exclusively for Sonoma’s Friday Farmers Market. I caught up with him to discuss his thoughts and contributions to our local food economy.
Mike, as our town baker, you play a valuable role. Providing the community with their daily bread is a tradition thousands of years old. What are your thoughts on this?
“I feel very fortunate to be where I am in my baking career, especially in supplying whole grain breads that are freshly milled, naturally leavened and organic to the local people here in Sonoma Valley.”
You have been a leader in prioritizing local ingredients in your breads and baked goods. Why is this important?
“Local is important as it allows me to get creative with what we have here in our valley seasonally, such as the fresh tomato basil bread I make in the summer, or the kabocha squash bread in the fall and winter. Plus, I don’t have to travel to gather ingredients!”
I recall some local grain trials with Oak Hill Farm. What has been your takeaway from attempts at growing grains locally?
“I have been trying to get farmers locally to grow grains, but land is too expensive to lease for a nine-month crop with not much return per pound. I get my Black Sea Shore Rye, Sonoran, Rouge de Bordeaux, and some other heirloom grains from the Ukiah area.”
You work with central milling in Petaluma, and mill much of your own grains. What are the benefits of local milling?
“I am always working on new products so my customers have new seasonal breads and treats available mostly unadvertised, you have to come to the market and see and ask what’s new. Currently, I have been working on some stone-milled Emmer Sables and am developing a new bread with roasted carrots, caramelized onions, cumin and coriander.”
Any other thoughts or comments on local agriculture here in the Valley?
“Again, for me, if I could source everything locally that would be awesome and have less of a carbon footprint but not all are available so I do the best I can but it’s always 100% oGaniK! (Bejkr-speak for Organic)”
Mike’s award-winning, fresh-baked and “oGanik” breads are available every Friday at the Depot Park market, 9:00am – 12:30pm.
Seth Dolinsky is manager of the Sonoma Valley Agricultural Cooperative, a program of the Sonoma Springs Community Hall aimed at supporting local farms and food producers using organic methods and ingredients. He is the owner of New Land Systems, a regenerative land management company.