In 2022 Rebecca Barnett bought the Old Bakery in Main Street Maldon. Until then, she’d been a frequent visitor to the town and loved its charm. Coming from generations of bakers, and having worked in them when young, she was excited by the chance to buy the Bakery and adopt pre-industrial bread-making techniques using good quality, organic flour.
One of the most endearing things about the Bakery for her was the old Dutch oven which she intended to bring back to life after it had lain idle and unused by the previous owners.
Her first task was to call in a chimney sweep to check the condition of the more than 170-year-old oven. He was amazed to discover how well it created a thermal mass that held the heating and cooked the bread efficiently. It was so beautifully made it was a testament to the engineering of the time, Rebecca says.
Her ideas for renovating and running the bakery are all based on sustainability practices garnered from her family’s philosophy of recycling, not wasting and respecting nature. And her ideas and plans are unfolding quickly.
Mark Tansy the owner of the building has supported her in her efforts to bring the building back to its former beauty, supplying her with such things as light fittings and architraves.
A standout addition to the premises is her beautiful counter which is actually an old, long dough bin on wheels. Have a look next time you are there!
Many of the fittings and shelving have been refurbished with recycled timber, mostly from The Salvage yard in Castlemaine and she has searched out good strong second-hand fittings where she could refurbish or repair what was there to make them more efficient.
When Rebecca pared back the walls to check the insulation, she discovered the only thing serving to keep the cold out and the heat in were old flour sacks! They now adorn the walls as decoration while modern bats now insulate the premises well.
We sat outside in the Bakery Garden under the shade of an old pomegranate tree where she told me about everything she has done so far and what her dreams are for the future sustainability of the business.
As we talked about the oven she explained that she is very aware it creates emissions as it burns the wood. So as a first strategy to combat this, she’s chosen to use Sugar Gum, which gives the best heat efficiency, better even than Red Gum.
A second strategy to offset their emissions has seen her establish a partnership with Maldon Primary School to encourage the children to raise seeds and propagate seedlings that are specific to Maldon, to then regenerate places that have been denuded by mining. She hopes the practice will become part of science classes or a cross-curriculum them
Other sustainability practices Rebecca has introduced are;
- Removing the old refrigerator, no longer fit for purpose, in the cool room, and replacing it with a new highly efficient unit.
- Disposing of the coffee grounds ethically in the bakery garden
- Giving a 50-cent discount on Keep Cups.
- Serving cups that are compostable with lids that are recyclable.
- Stopping drafts by plugging the air gaps and leaks in the shop.
Her hope is to make as many connections to the local community as possible. With that in mind, to mitigate wastage she donates excess bread to the neighbourhood centre for community lunches. She stocks and celebrates local produce, such as Goodness Flour from Harcourt (which she also uses in the cooking), Warral Honey from Maldon and teas from Dja-Wonmuruk (an indigenous tea company in Bendigo, whose product might soon be on her shelves).
In the near future, to cut emissions even further, Rebecca intends to have solar panels installed. Her dream is to make the garden an even more beautiful and restful place, with well-chosen plants and water-saving wicking beds built to grow veggies such as pumpkin (a staple in traditional bakery gardens with their seeds used in the cooking). She’s already planted herbs, mint, parsley and thyme and intends to add more to use as garnishes in the cooking.
She has applied for a permit to use in-store crockery to serve tea and coffee in the garden. Another permit she is waiting on is for French doors leading from the bakery to the garden as well as wheelchair access into the garden.
In all of her work with the Maldon Bakery, Rebecca aligns with the Dja Dja Wurrung people, who refer to this old gold mining area as “upsidedown country”, scarred as it is by the deforestation, blasting, digging and sluicing that happened during the Gold Rush and beyond, country which now needs healing to restore its balance.