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Monday, November 2, 2009

in Praise of a local collective bakery, Arizmendi, in Emeryville

Emeryville is an odd little town, along the east side of San Francisco bay, between Oakland and Berkeley. It is known for huge shops such as Ikea and other mega corporations, the kind of businesses notorious for putting out local shops and not known for their worker ethics. So one would be a bit surprised to see a small, collective cooperative bakery in Emeryville! Arizmendi in Emerville is the fourth of the sister bakery cooperatives, started in the late 1960's with the cheeseboard collective in Berkeley. Several years ago, Arizmendi Oakland opened on lake shore avenue and then one opened on 9th avenue in San Francisco and a few years ago, on San Pablo avenue, opened the latest one.

About 20 workers all own and run this incredible bakery, putting out some of the finest breads in an area already known for its exceptional bread bakeries. Yes, it is in the air! Wild yeast that is and San Francisco sourdough is renowned in the world as the local wild years here makes very tasty bread in the same manner that Belgian wild yeast produces the worlds finest beer. All one has to know is how to harvest the yeast from the air and 40 years ago, the cheeseboard collective began their sourdough starter. 4 decades later, this starter is still evolving and in the hands of some very creative and talented bakers in the various Arizmendi bakery cooperatives.

The baquettes are truly the finest in the east bay and the city and country breads are also spectacular. In the morning, one can find at least 2 or 3 varieties of foccacia, always one being vegan. Incredible rolls of various kinds rotate on a daily basis with the potato and Cherry chocolate being truly over the top choices. For those who indulge in extract of lactating cow that has been curdled, they also make a variety of cheese breads and pizzas. My main complaint is the complete lack of vegan pizza choices, ever. What is up with that?

A most friendly environment to stop by. For one, the workers are not disgruntled, underpaid nor exploited. All you see are people working very hard yet looking like they are having the time of their life. Each worker owns the bakery and the pride is quite apparent. They are in control of their employment and they know they are putting out high quality baked goods, produced from the highest quality, locally sourced, organic ingredients. And they are in control of every aspect of the business; each worker rotates through all the different aspects of running and maintaining a world class bakery.

I personally know several of these great folks, having taught music to some and been on stage with others. Their commitment to their craft and their study and development of their baking knowledge is beyond professional.

Arizmendi is named after Father José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga (his name is thankfully often shortened to Arizmendi), the founder of the Mondragon Cooperative Movement.

Sustainable and exceptionally high quality baked goods and sustainable employment, these are the reasons that my business, when i need bread, looks to Arizmendi-Emeryville. Arizmendi provides a model for other businesses to follow; worker-owned collectives producing the highest quality work in their trade. Yes this is truly anarchy in action and it tastes and looks oh so good.

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