Food News

The Women's Bakery Empowers Women in East Africa One Slice of Bread at a Time

Bread will be on the table Sunday at an event for The Women's Bakery.
Bread will be on the table Sunday at an event for The Women's Bakery. Hasten Communications
The Women’s Bakery (TWB), a Denver-based nonprofit that aims to create access to gainful employment for women in East Africa through bread making, and chef Kelly Whitaker's Dry Storage are teaming up for a bake sale pop-up from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 7, at 3601 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. Following the sale, which will showcase a bread recipe often used by TWB's employees, the nonprofit's founder, Markey Culver, and Whitaker will speak about the social enterprise. All event proceeds will go directly to TWB.

The event is intended to highlight the collaboration between TWB and Dry Storage, an artisan mill that seeks to connect consumers to their grains and all the farmers, bakers, brewers, chefs and distillers who nurture the product on its journey from soil to plate. The hope is to get TWB “connected with key players in the grain industry here in Colorado, essentially creating a new link,” says Leigh Barnholt, who runs marketing, events and community outreach for Id Est Hospitality, Whitaker's restaurant group, which includes the Wolf's Tailor, Bruto and Basta.

TWB’s involvement with women in East Africa started years ago, when Culver was stationed in Bushoga, Rwanda, as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2010 to 2012. She’d gone there with the intention of improving people’s lives, and accidentally stumbled upon bread as a medium for change.

In Rwanda, many people eat just one meal a day, Culver explained in a 2017 TED Talk, and while living there, she limited her meal intake in solidarity. After about a year, however, she realized the extent of her hunger and sought supplemental food. She began making salads with local produce and then found a five-ingredient bread recipe in a Peace Corps manual and directions for cooking it in a dutch oven over an open fire.
click to enlarge The Women's Bakery is a social enterprise meant to create access to gainful employment for women in East Africa through bread making. - HASTEN COMMUNICATIONS
The Women's Bakery is a social enterprise meant to create access to gainful employment for women in East Africa through bread making.
Hasten Communications
Once she succeeded in baking a loaf, a number of women were eager to learn how to make the bread themselves and share the product with their children. Within two months, some also started selling slices of bread at the local market.


Culver started TWB in 2014 as a means of expanding on the potential she and the women in Bushoga had discovered together.

Today, TWB has three locations in Rwanda: Kigali, Gicumbi and Ruyenzi. In total, fifty women and eight men are employed by the organization. They follow a more developed recipe than the one Culver first discovered, but they still try to keep the ingredients simple.

“We’ve worked with food science specialists to help us develop these recipes,” explains Uma Trivede, TWB development and communications associate. Loaves often include milk and eggs and sometimes use bananas, carrots, beets or peanut flour. The goal is for each loaf to contain seven grams of protein; ingredients vary depending on availability. “We are big on making sure that our bread is nutritious,” Trivede continues. TWB never tried to mimic a traditional bakery, and it doesn’t serve croissants or other delicacies found in U.S. shops.

In addition to the nutritional benefits of bread, TWB is focused on the ripple effect that educational and economic opportunities can have on the women employees and their families and communities. “For many of the women at TWB, their income increases six-to-eight fold upon employment,” the organization writes on its website.


At the flagship Kigali bakery, for example, some of the employees have “grown from just having a checking account to also having a savings account,” Trivede says. Instead of just purchasing land, they’re constructing buildings. Instead of solely covering children’s school expenses, they’re investing in livestock.

Additionally, TWB provides classes on topics such as financial literacy and professional development. The organization provides shift meals, has on-site child care and offers a combination of public and private health insurance.
click to enlarge “For many of the women at TWB, their income increases six-to-eight fold upon employment,” TWB writes on its website. - HASTEN COMMUNICATIONS
“For many of the women at TWB, their income increases six-to-eight fold upon employment,” TWB writes on its website.
Hasten Communications
Next on the agenda is a new bakery and cafe in Buttaro, in the northern region of Rwanda, in collaboration with the University of Global Health Equity (an initiative of Partners in Health). It “will serve as cafe space for students, staff and faculty at the university,” explains Trivede. “It will also expand our reach with serving communities in the region through the One Bread Project, our school feeding program,” which serves approximately 3,100 schoolchildren daily.

The November 7 event at Dry Storage will cover the achievements of TWB and its plans for the future, including partnerships with Id Est Hospitality and Dry Storage. While much effort is spent “hyper-focusing on our local community, the goal eventually is a global impact,” Barnhold says. TWB believes the connection will help the organization learn more about how the bakery industry is sourcing raw materials. Even before supply-chain shortages became exacerbated due to the pandemic, it was difficult to source bulk flour in Rwanda because there is only one large supplier.

TWB hopes “to be more in touch and exposed to the baking industry and the community of millers that we have in Colorado,” Trivede says. “We see that food insecurity and the women’s roles in the workplace is something that is shared internationally.”

The organization is interested in eventually learning more about milling its own flour. But for now, it's continuing to build self-sufficiency, one slice of bread at a time.

To learn more about The Women's Bakery, visit thewomensbakery.com.
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Claire Duncombe is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers the environment, agriculture, food, music, the arts and other subjects.
Contact: Claire Duncombe