Trees are the skyscrapers of rural Virginia. Their stout trunks and lush leaves line the roads of the Shenandoah Valley, making for a scenic look through the light drizzle licking the windshield. The history ingrained in the walnuts and pines is just as evident on the corner of Spring Creek Road, where an old mill, which transformed wheat into flour in the 1800s, sits. And now, it’s where flour is transformed into bread, a place everyone is welcome and all meals are served family style. It’s home to the baker and her farmer.
“Make yourselves at home,” welcomes Amy, as she walks into her commercial kitchen, or “playground,” as her husband, Patrick, has dubbed it. Zinc countertops, butcher block work spaces and subway tile walls frame the same room that used to be a general store — one Patrick frequented growing up.
“Our neighbor remembers me saying, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to own this place!’” Patrick laughs, as he begins the tour across the original wood floors, past their quaint living quarters and upstairs to a studio apartment the couple rents on Airbnb. Each wall, counter and shelf are intentionally adorned with art and collectables Amy has found treasuring through antique shops.
Beyond carefully selected home goods, Amy’s appreciation for pretty things with a story sifts all the way to her love for baking — more widely, making things with her hands.
“When you learn to make something, you learn to care about the resources it takes and where it comes from,” she says while holding a glass jar with a strip of masking tape on the outside and a dough mixture and pellets of condensation on the inside.
“The key to sourdough is understanding it’s alive. Starter is a mixture of flour, water, microbes and time,” she explains, her eyes lighting up with undoubtable passion. “Depending on temperature, you can speed up or slow down the growth of the starter. I mark the jar with tape, so you can see how much it’s grown. When it’s doubled, it’s ready to use.”
Her explanation is effortless, which makes it no surprise she hosts workshops teaching others the why behind sourdough. From sharing her kitchen space for community dinners to teaming up with a local blacksmith to dabbling in cheese making, her interests share a larger breadth than bread. She’s even part of a local organization of bakers, farmers and millers to foster a culture of grain appreciation in Virginia and surrounding areas. But being an entrepreneur in the food space isn’t new to Amy — it’s in her DNA.
“My grandmother raised 14 children and baked hundreds of pies,” she says. “She started making noodles, and it grew into a successful company (Mrs. Miller’s Homemade Noodles) that my aunt, Esther, now runs.”
Her grandmother’s company wasn’t her only exposure to homemade, handcrafted meals. Growing up in Florida, Amy’s mother, Edna Hostetler, worked as a cook at a nearby horse ranch. When her mother needed help, Amy would step in and prepare lunch for the ranchers.
That knack for serving meals to others remains today — setting the table every day for lunch and dinner for herself, Patrick and whoever else might stop by.
Her eyes lit up again, but this time she wasn’t talking about the science behind the starter, she caught a glimpse of her farmer.
Patrick walked past her, sat down at the table and took a sip of his coffee. A self-proclaimed creature of habit, he enjoys his first cup in the same place every day, and actually assesses a space by whether or not it’s a good spot to enjoy his morning cup of joe. The natural light soaking through the linen-draped windows paired with a view into the kitchen proves to be a suitable spot for cup number two.
Patrick is a dairy farmer on Showalter Farms, just half a mile down the road from his and Amy’s home. The Showalters milk 120 cows with robots — the only robotic farm in the dairy-saturated county — and the help of their 11-year-old neighbors, Laramie and Traven.
“I’m a fourth-generation farmer, the second generation on this farm,” Patrick says. “Not that there is anything wrong with the way we used to dairy or others dairy, but we’re always open to new advances and just want to be better stewards of the land.”
“Patrick is always thinking, very involved — an innovator,” Amy says. “He has a phrase, ‘The world is larger than Rockingham County.’”
And larger it is. While Amy has called Bridgewater home for more than seven years, she has experienced other counties, countries and cultures. Traveling across the world on mission trips enhanced Amy's love of food. Not just the flavor, but the spiritual aspect as well.
“We love Thai food because it’s full of herbs and spices,” Amy says. “But, those ingredients are for more than flavor in the Thai culture — they’re medicinal.”
The idea of nourishing food helped define Amy’s philosophy.
“I spent time as a pastry chef in Wyoming, and you heard all the time, ‘Oh, I want that, but I shouldn’t.’ I became conscious about how much flour and sugar I was using and landed on the idea that you should eat it without guilt, or don’t eat it,” she says candidly.
Her absence of guilt in correlation with food remains constant today — even after her doctor recommended she give up gluten.
“I just felt like, this can’t be right,” she says. “I know everything that goes into what I’m making and it’s real, honest food. I started learning about the science behind it to answer the questions I had.”
And thus, her affection for sourdough began.
“With the starter, you’re allowing those microbes — bacteria — to feed on the sugars and gluten in the flour," she explains. "So essentially, it’s pre-digested ahead of time.”
That fermentation process, along with letting the dough rise in the fridge for 36 hours, helps reduce the percentage of gluten and sugars in the bread. Beyond sourdough, Amy ferments the dough for all her pastries and breads — from croissants to cinnamon rolls.
Her mantra on food resonates with Patrick, “Life’s too short to eat sandwiches on the go,” he says.
Their love of gathering for a meal is evident today, too. Amy’s not just kneading dough; she also has a roast in the oven, pimento macaroni and cheese in the works and fresh corn ready to be shucked. Two fresh loaves of sourdough make their way onto the table as well.