Former wheat farmers run gluten-free bakery
By MATTHEW WEAVER
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Don Vannoy used to grow wheat. Now he bakes and sells bread that doesn't have any in it.
Vannoy and his wife, Joyce, own Michlitch, a spice and meat seasoning company. As part of the business, they've operated a gluten-free bakery since 2009.
When they started, "there just wasn't any good gluten-free bread out on the market at all," Don Vannoy said.
Don, 65, is self-diagnosed as having celiac disease, in which a reaction to eating gluten -- a protein found in wheat, barley or rye -- can damage the lining of the small intestine.
"I could get a diagnosis, but I would have to go back on gluten and be sick," he said. "I'm not about to do that."
The Vannoys use rice, sorghum, potato starch, teff, flax and arrowroot in their baked goods.
The cost of using the special ingredients is greater, they found.
"Wheat flour is not very expensive," Joyce Vannoy said. "All of these things have to be shipped or it's grown in other areas of the U.S., so the ingredients are expensive."
The Vannoys develop their own recipes, including a gluten-free sourdough using a blend of potato starch and rice flours with yeasts.
"To me, it tastes like sourdough, but I can't compare," Don Vannoy said. "I have to go by memory."
The Vannoys make roughly 30 loaves every few days while running the the spice operation. They sell their baked goods to a local grocery store.
Their main focus is bread, bagels, rolls and hamburger buns.
Vannoy grew up on a farm and raised wheat on 600 acres for about 17 years in the Cavendish, Idaho, area. He received his bachelor's degree and did graduate work while a research associate at the University of Idaho in the 1970s.
Don Vannoy suspected he was gluten-intolerant even while growing wheat. He said the difference in his health was evident within a week after he stopped eating gluten.
"It's a pretty good diagnosis when you stop eating something and feel way better," Joyce Vannoy said.
The Vannoys say they are still strong supporters of agriculture and still have many friends and neighbors in the farming community and have farmers who are customers.
The Vannoys are considering a possible partnership in a gluten-free storefront in Spokane, although they intend to keep baking on the Michlitch site.