Face Time: Suzanne Dunham, farmer and gluten-free baker

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The years following Suzanne Dunham’s retirement from the communications and marketing field after 30 years have been anything but slow.

Dunham, who works full time and operates a dedicated gluten-free bakery at her farm in Greenwood, also co-manages the Greenwood Farmers’ Market with her husband, Brian.

When she’s not working, much of her time is dedicated to volunteerism: drafting a newsletter and handling publicity for the First Universalist Church of West Paris, sitting on the board of the same church, and leading presentations and workshops on how to live gluten-free.

For Dunham, spare time is an unfamiliar concept.

“They say one gets busier after retirement, and I think that’s true,” she said.

Name: Suzanne Jane Dunham

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Town: Greenwood (my birthplace is Worcester, Massachusetts)

Age: 67, though I’ll be 68 on Dec. 25

Can you explain how you and your husband came to own and operate your own farm and sugarhouse in Greenwood? My husband, Brian, was born here. The farm was in his family a century ago and his father, Herbert Dunham, bought it when he returned from the Korean War. When Brian was a young boy, he did maple sugaring with pails and boiling in pans. After his little sugar shack burned down, and with farm chores taking priority, he didn’t tap maples again until 2010. We were married in 2000. We knew we wanted to do some form of farming, as we both love the outdoors, but we didn’t want to keep farm animals. We built our home on the (same property as the farm) in 2001. We did all of it ourselves, from harvesting the trees, sawing the board and building the actual house.

Brian built the sugarhouse in 2010 and since that time we’ve added a commercial kitchen to it. We’re planning to add onto it in the spring to accommodate the increase in baked goods and maple products. We knew we needed more space after we participated in Maine Maple Sunday

How did you come to co-manage the Greenwood Farmers’ Market? We originally set up as vendors at what was called the “winter market” a year ago. When vendors and customers recommended that we should stay open beyond winter, Brian and I stepped up, as Greenwood is our hometown. We saw it as an opportunity to bring people to Greenwood and to increase the use of the town hall. We also had experience as vendors at other farmers markets, so we knew pretty much what to expect.

The Greenwood Farmers’ Market is one of the few markets in the region that operate year-round and during all four seasons. What prompted you and your husband to take the market in this direction?Customer demand was the main reason, but also to make it less confusing on the Fridays we were open. We had started by being open every other week to coincide with the Boondocks Buying Club, which brings more people to the market to pick up their pre-ordered goods. They usually also buy from our market vendors. We weren’t sure if there would be a demand to be open every week, but we tried it and it worked. We have a good flow of regular customers and new customers.

You mentioned that you have a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen at the sugarhouse. Can you talk a little bit about your background with gluten? Are you allergic to gluten or do you avoid it for dietary reasons? I am gluten intolerant or what is identified as gluten sensitive. I was diagnosed in the mid-1980s. It was difficult to find gluten-free food back then. I remember going to a grocery store and thinking there is nothing here I can eat! That thought stayed with me as I moved through my new gluten-free diet. I also really like to cook. As time went on and I shared my gluten intolerance story, I discovered that many people felt as I initially did: lost. Also, many people do not know how to cook gluten-free.

In 2005, I created “Living Gluten Free,” a presentation on what it is and how to work with it. The presentation often includes a cooking workshop and, sometimes, just the cooking session. In the beginning, I would have to bring all my utensils, bowls and other items to avoid cross-contamination. I traveled to Bangor, Damariscotta, Portland and other places. People needed help in learning how to cope with going gluten-free. Now, I almost always give the sessions here at Dunham Farm. I do not do the presentations as often because of the gluten-free bakery that I run, but I still do workshops on occasion.

What has the reaction in the area been to your gluten-free cooking?Since starting the bakery in 2010, the business has grown tremendously. Even with many more gluten-free options in stores and restaurants, there is still a great demand for fresh baked goods. While it can be tiring to bake and deliver the same day, the feedback I receive when I do deliveries is rewarding. I recall that one Wednesday, when I delivered to the Good Food Store in Bethel, there were a group of people standing around like they were waiting for something. I was surprised to find that they were waiting for me. They were from Boston and visiting in the area. A woman in the group, who lived gluten-free, hugged me, said, “Thank you,” and said that I was doing an important service. I was floored!

Do you feel that there’s been an evolution in how people react to gluten-free living, or do you feel like it’s misunderstood? I think there has been a dramatic evolution in how people react to living and eating a gluten-free lifestyle. However, it is also still misunderstood. Many more people are being diagnosed. Physicians more frequently test for it, whereas in the past, it was often the patient who raised the possibility. Even now, many people try elimination diets on their own to see if gluten may be the cause of their symptoms, whether it’s digestive issues or secondary autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. There has also been the factor of people going gluten-free because it’s trendy. Then, there are some who say gluten sensitivity is not real at all.

Doing things for the farm, the sugarhouse and the Greenwood Farmers’ Market must take up a lot of your time. What do you do for fun when you’re not involved with them? You have that right! I love to camp and I love the ocean, so at least once a year, I go camping for a week at the ocean. I like to sew, hike and I like photography. I am interested in herbs and received a certificate in herbology from Sage Mountain Herbal Center in 1999. And, even though it might sound like work, I love doing things like producing a newsletter or flier. It’s a creative outlet to me and part of what I did when I worked “out there.” I was a project manager in marketing communications for a Fortune 50 company for 10 years, and then had my own marketing communications business for 10 years before moving to Maine in 1999.

When I first graduated from high school, I had no idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I loved photography and took several courses in it, but didn’t think there was a career in it. At the time, I worked for the controller of a hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. She was responsible for producing the Massachusetts Financial Managers Association newsletter, but delegated it to me. I loved it, and that was when I knew what I wanted to do: marketing communications. It is a nice mix of creativity and strategy. I attended college at Emerson in Boston, where I majored in advertising and publicity.

Suzanne Dunham

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  • brad james

    Nice to see someone who isn’t all about their bottom line…..