By Mick Sopko
But our spiritual way is not so idealistic. In some sense we should be idealistic; at least we should be interested in making bread which tastes and looks good! Actual practice is repeating over and over again until you find out how to become bread. There is no secret in our way. Just to practice zazen and put ourselves into the oven is our way. — Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “Repetition”
The Green Gulch Bread Bakery was founded by Mick Sopko where he served as manager for over 16 years, from November 2007 to December 2023. The bakery was located in a 500-square-foot space built behind the GGF kitchen, with funds provided by a generous anonymous donor.
SFZC’s earliest business, the Tassajara Bakery in San Francisco, also operated for 16 years, from 1976 – 1992, when it was sold to Just Desserts Bakery. Mick worked at Tassajara Bakery from 1981 until it was sold, and for an additional year under the new owners.
With a two-person crew, the Green Gulch Bread Bakery’s production has provided bread for GGF residents, guest and visitor sales, several local wholesale accounts, the seasonal Mill Valley Farmers’ Market, and a neighborhood weekly subscription service.
Annual production has been about 17,000 loaves, or about 350 per week. During its production life, the Bakery has produced over ¼ million loaves and generated almost a million dollars in gross income.
The Bakery has also taught over 50 workshops of up to 20 people each. The workshop was called “Fundamentals of Bread Baking” and participants learned the basics of dough fermentation, forming and baking, and were able to take home a freshly baked loaf.
The Bakery started taking on apprentices in 2012, first for six months at a time, and then for a full year’s commitment. There were a few people, for various reasons, who weren’t able to stay for the full time, but most did. Of the dozen or so students, at least three wound up working at bakeries or even owning their own (such as Jo and Rosie at Rise Up! in Applegate Valley, OR.)
The bakers’ working day started at 4 am or 5 am and ran until noon, Wednesday through Sunday. The bakers weren’t always able to attend early morning meditation, but often joined evening zazen and participated in one-day and seven-day sittings.
When the Green Gulch Farm Sunday Public Program was at full peak before Covid, upwards of 100 – 200 people commonly attended. At the tea gathering after the talk, the Bakery joined the GGF flower and vegetable stands, selling up to 50 loaves to the day’s visitors, as well as providing 25 loaves for the kitchen’s public lunch!
The Bakery worked closely with the GGF kitchen for their bread needs. Bread was almost always provided for lunch—normally 4 – 15 loaves, depending on guests and current staffing, using an average of 100 loaves a week. Periodically pizza was made for dinner—usually 32 pies, in three bakes between 5:30 and 6:15 pm. Eventually, a routine of every other week was established. No one complained!
During the 3 years of Covid, the Bakery’s production went down, but was still strong for the grocery stores we supplied. In fact, during the early lockdown days, our Muir Beach neighborhood deliveries went from an average of 15 or so per week, to 40 and even 50 or 60 as new stay-at-home customers signed up.
Mick Spoko retired at the end of August, 2023 and his assistant, Sam Groter, took over a modified production schedule. Sam is in the bakery 2 days a week, which covers the needs of the community, as well as a couple of easily serviced neighborhood accounts.
“Sukey and I are on the way to Enso Village, after 30 years in this beautiful valley. To the many people responsible for making the Bakery happen—especially Sam, Fu Schroeder, Linda Cutts, Emila Heller, and Arlene Lueck—thank you for all your help!” —Mick Sopko, November 2023