Lately, I got hooked into sourdough bread baking and joined the Facebook group, Perfect Sourdough.
What a revelation to find a variety of bakers, from the enthusiasts, weekend bakers to the professionals and the in-betweens.
I chanced upon Anne Gowens’ post about her thriving sourdough business and I got curious.
How did she manage to establish it? I interviewed her.
Her answers revealed a love and passion for sourdough that went beyond the extra income.
Anne operates her sourdough baking business from her home in Starke, a city in the northern central part of Florida.
Who would have thought that this self-proclaimed super woman, who can bake up to 32 loaves a day on her feet for hours, could barely lift her hands to chop potatoes nor could remain standing by the stove three years ago because of fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain, and multiple chemical sensitivities?
Not only that.
She was on several medications and was on a CPAP.
But now, she takes only one pill to control her blood pressure, sleeps like a rock, wakes up rested in the morning even without her CPAP, and manages all her symptoms by eating “natural and real foods”.
“It started in 2001, after the birth of my second daughter,” Anne recalls. “My muscles twitched, and the spasm caused a lot of pain in my face and throat. It was so bad. At times, I couldn’t literally talk or smile. It was so painful. We suspect I had it many years, but this was the point in time that I got scared, went to a doctor, and got actual diagnoses—rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. The other diagnoses came later as the years passed by.”
At that time, she was a stay-at-home mom. A few years later, she worked as an ESE para-professional in elementary education.
“Despite the symptoms, I managed to work full time, go to college full time, and be Super Mom and wife (you know the one who baked all the cookies, read all the stories, did all the art projects - yada yada.). Then I got really sick.”
Her symptoms progressively worsened. She suffered for 18 years.
“Being an active person, I took it hard. I was miserable and just couldn't shake it. The doctors adjusted my meds and we tried lots of things, but nothing seemed to work.”
She had muscle issues, fatigue, nausea, memory loss, imbalance, daily debilitating migraines, uncontrollable irritable bowel syndrome as well as lots of general pain.
“I reluctantly resigned from the job I loved, stepped away from my college classes, and put my life on hold. It broke my heart, but I wanted to put ALL my energy into my own children, my home responsibility, to recharge and get well.”
For four years, she was taking more than twelve prescription pills including gabapentin three times a day, Nuvigil, muscle relaxants (three pills during the day and one at night that “knocked” her out), high doses of pain relievers naproxen and ibuprofen, antacids, and anti-depressants.
“I changed antidepressants often. I was never a depressed person even with fibromyalgia, but when I got so sick and unable to function, I got frustrated, mad, angry, and sad.”
The anti-depressants eventually caused extreme anxiety, so her doctor switched her to another medicine.
“I took handfuls of supplements/vits daily and did B12 injections until the scar tissue became huge apple-sized knots. It was painful to eat. I cried at every meal and eventually I ate in the privacy of my room because I didn’t want my kids to see me cry. There were other prescriptions for pain, but I always refused to take anything heavier than naproxen or ibuprofen.”
These meds caused suicidal thoughts, she would soon find out.
“I would never do such a thing to my family but there were times that I would pray daily that I don’t ‘wake up’ and would get mad with God because I did. I'm so thankful for unanswered prayers!”
She also experienced the “brain fog” associated with fibromyalgia.
“It took me hours to go to the store to buy four items. I would make detailed lists on my phone and would have to pull over while driving to remind myself where I was going. It was seriously scary. Sometimes I was so sick I just didn’t trust myself to drive. Once, an excruciating pain between my shoulders and arms drove me to the ER. They thought it was a torn rotator cuff. They discovered it was a severe spasm of the back muscle that pulled my shoulder out of alignment. For two years, I felt numb on my right arm and hand. Apparently, muscle spasm pinched the nerve. What people don't understand is we hurt all over so badly sometimes we can’t tell where the pain is coming from. Now I know that whenever this starts to hurt or if my arm goes numb, then it’s because of this muscle in my back. I do stretching exercises and massages to remove the knots.”
Yet she continued to grow sick. “With that came a lot of stress and depression because I was an over achiever,” she admitted. “I always had to be smarter, stronger, faster or more talented. So even with my limitations, I pushed myself.”
With her worsening symptoms, she grew angry with herself and with GOD.
“I felt He was punishing me. Why give me a family, job I loved, church ministry, college and then just snatch it all away?”
Two of the doctors even told her she had no chance at recovery. She’d most likely be wheelchair-bound in two years’ time.
Yet through it all, she tried to smile through her pain and depression. Eventually, her life became more isolated from the rest of the family.
THE DECISION POINT
“My doctor put me on many diets to lose weight. Nothing seemed to work. I was starving all the time and had horrible migraines. I researched and discovered these diets were devoid of nutrients, wreaking havoc to my gut health because of the artificial sweeteners and additives.”
One day, she was home alone. She took out all the foods from the cabinet and laid it on the kitchen table.
“I googled each item’s ingredient, then googled the ingredients in that ingredient. I cried because every package contained at least something, if not multiple things, that caused inflammation. What would we eat? Then I realized it was not real food we were eating. How confused our bodies must have been. No wonder I was continually sick. I was also making my family sick. My mother is diabetic. My daughters were both overweight and prediabetic, and so is my husband.”
She got determined and researched about “Gut Health.” She decided to make her first fermented food, sauerkraut in February of 2016.
“I got serious about gut health. After the first sauerkraut, I was hooked and never looked back.”
At that time, she was so weak, she’d spend hours to make a jar of sauerkraut.
“But when I started eating REAL traditional fermented food, I was amazed at the difference. I got stronger and the pain lessened. I didn't just change my diet, I changed the way our whole family ate.”
She was still taking her prescription medicines back then. One event would change that. It was the day she drove her daughters to school.
“The honking horns jolted me. I didn’t know how I ended up in the middle of a very busy intersection on the other side of town. Thank God people were paying attention. I pulled over then panicked when I realized my kids were gone. I called their school to verify that I had dropped them off. I had no memory of it happening. That was the day I decided to wean myself from the medicines. My husband agreed, but on the condition that if I don’t improve, I will have to stop driving.”
She was scared but she had a plan.
“I had a serious talk with God and slowly I let go of the things I was holding on to, especially the anger. I allowed Him to lead me in my quest for health. I let the guilt of being sick go. I let my dreams of teaching go. I let go of the guilt of not being the perfect Christian, wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend go. I let go of all my plans and just took one moment at a time - not a day but a moment. I learned to celebrate little accomplishments like showering, brushing my teeth, doing the laundry without help, and baking a loaf of bread. Within two weeks, my life, health, depression, and a lot of the fog lifted.”
Two months after eating fermented foods and assuming the healthy lifestyle, she was able to come off all her medicines.
“The food was what gave me the most relief from my symptoms and helped me to come off all the medications except for the low dose pill for blood pressure. I’m still trying hard to get off that one.”
THE SOURDOUGH JOURNEY BEGAN
“We sacrificed a lot of income due to my illness. My husband had to take a less paying job, so he could be home to help me around the house. We didn’t have much money to spend on healthy eating, so I worked hard on making it myself.”
That's when she baked her own bread using commercial yeast at first.
“Then I started researching about sourdough bread, looked at the scientific evidence, the history. I became determined to learn baking it. I honestly didn’t think I could eat bread—sourdough or not. It was so painful for me to eat anything before my “Gut Health” realization. I did it for my mom, husband, and girls.”
She, however benefited from baking it.
“I found that making the loaves was healing in so many ways. I can actually eat it. I did my dough by hand and still do. I watched it, cared for it, studied it, and focused on it. I found I enjoyed the process so much. It was therapeutic and a key part of MY personal healing journey. It made me stronger not only physically but spiritually and mentally.”
When she became good at sourdough baking and learned how to maintain her starter, she ordered a 400-year-old culture from Germany, not because she believed it was a better starter but because it came from the area where her great great grandmother came from.
“My mom always told me how her Great Grandmother cooked everything with Sourdough. We bakers name our starters. It’s a living thing. I named mine, Gutes Brot because it’s “Good Bread.” So we call it Gutie at home. Friends and family started wanting a piece of Gutie. But when they learned the tedious process of baking REAL sourdough they wanted to buy it.”
Anne uses the basic flour, salt, and water recipe but adds fresh milled grains and organic ground flax for additional nutrition.
“I long ferment and use organic herbs, many that I grow myself. I’m always experimenting with flavors and stick with the ones I like. I'm never precise with my hydration. I add water depending on the feel of the dough because I do everything by hand. I never weigh my starter but just add flour and water, then mix to a thick pancake consistency. As long as my starter is strong, I don't fuss with it too much. Two hundred years ago, I don't think our ancestors weighed their starters to feed it, so I try to go by my instincts. I know some bakers are very precise and that is awesome for them but I've never been that kind of cook. I think it has a lot to do with how I grew up watching my mother and grandmothers cook and bake. I'm a "dump and stir" kind of cook not just with my breads but all foods.”
Soon she received messages from family and friends asking her to sell her breads. At that time she was trading her bread for seeds, plants and other organic goods with fellow fermenters from a permaculture group.
“I decided to look into what I would need to do to sell my bread. I found I could operate under my states ‘cottage law.’ After deciding on the right packaging and meeting a few other requirements, I sold my first bread in 2017. It was slow at first but now I can barely keep up.”
She encountered some setbacks but found ways to deal with it.
“In my county, many people were not familiar with sourdough. So I created a Facebook page for my “Gutes Brot” and posted articles about my sourdough experience and that of others who have gluten sensitivities, who enjoy my breads.”
When she visited her parents who lived in Cedar Key, an hour and a half away, she brought the breads and took orders from the area.
“I come from a long line of commercial fishermen and aquaculture workers—best childhood ever! This little town is home to many “Snow Birds” which means they know what real sourdough is. When they knew what I was bringing down on my trips, business started picking up. They also started sharing the bread with their Southern friends. Before I knew it my FB page had more followers and I was getting more orders from my local area.”
Demand was high that she bought a little car to deliver the breads. She put a decal at the back window to advertise her products.
“I keep flyers in my glove compartment which I hand out to people in the parking lots when they inquire. I used to feel awkward standing around or inside business and doctors’ offices holding loaves of bread but now, I wear a funny shirt showcasing my product.”
“People ask me ‘What’s a Gutes Brot?’ or laugh at what my shirt says. I realized I’m not just selling bread but ME. It’s the teacher in me, who wants to share this healthier bread with my “students.” I have come out of my shell and reinvented my image. Working at school, I always dressed in a professional and conservative way. Now I go to work in jeans and a silly shirt, got a super short hair cut, because hello, I bake all day!The silver streak on my hair was from my daughter’s dare. I love it. These things I would have never done while working in elementary education.”
“I want to be happy and live life to the fullest for as long as I can. Sourdough makes me that happy, and sharing it makes me happier. I want to have fun, educate others about REAL foods, Gut Health, and REAL Bread. I enjoy meeting other like-minded people, making new friends. The little money I make along the way is ‘gravy!’ We use it for home improvements and to maintain a healthier lifestyle which includes organic gardening, backyard industry like grazing chicken and soon fish farming.”
Anne confesses the symptoms of fibromyalgia and her other sicknesses are not completely gone. Her new lifestyle managed it, not cured it.
“When I'm under the weather and I have to postpone an order, my customers are very understanding. I believe in being straightforward and honest. I used to be ashamed of my limitations but it's part of me and that's okay. At first, I didn’t want to share this struggle with my but many of my “Gutes Brot” followers are also followers of my “Living Healthy with Fibromyalgia, Faith, Family and a Budget.”
In her sourdough journey, Anne credits her husband as a major source of inspiration.
“My husband is amazing and I am very fortunate that he is so supportive of all my crazy things! The fermenting, sourdough baking, everything. That's not whom he married but he encourages me and supports everything I do. He, along with my family and friends, has nudged me out of my comfort zone and supported all my little adventures.”
The beautiful breads she sees on the FB page of Perfect Sourdough also inspire and challenge her to make better breads. “I've received great encouragement as well as valuable advice regarding not only baking my breads but business matters. Teresa Greenway is an inspiration in what she has created through her breads, teaching and sharing of her own life experiences. I’m also inspired by a beautiful lady in Adelaide, SA, Austria named Remedy Johnson who teaches and shares her love for cultured foods. I hope one day I can do the same.”
When asked what advice can she give the readers who want to pursue their passion and purpose, she said, “In the famous words of Michael Jordan's (Nike) ‘Just Do It!’ Start small and build. Look at the big picture. It’s not written in concrete. It’s in sand. You can smooth it over and rewrite it if you need to. Have fun. Have the passion for something because it makes you happy, and always, always take care of YOU (physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally). If you’re a mess your business will also be a mess.”
Where does she see herself five years from now?
“I'm not sure. Wherever God wants me. I've learned that my plans are not always what’s possible. I pray that five years from now, I'm still well and still sharing my Gutes Brot. I'd like to be able to bring fresh bread and maybe produce, honey, kavass, krout, and eggs to my customers. That may mean different licensing and inspections and I may need a separate building to operate beyond the cottage law.”
“I’ll see where this goes and take it day by day. If it leads to that, it's awesome. And if not, I’m sure it’ll be just as sweet. I love to share my passion for healthy living, real foods, and friendship with others. I'm currently working on cookbooks and will soon blog about my healing through “Gut Health.”
“I'd like to teach others how to make sourdough and other cultured foods. I have a lot of personal plans for my little homestead with my permaculture adventures and aquaculture/aquaponics adventures. (That's another long story.) None of this stuff was even on my radar 6 years ago. I couldn't keep a cactus alive and only baked frozen yeast rolls from the grocery store freezer for Thanksgiving. I guess that's what happens when you realize the food you are feeding your family is not real food but will likely make them as sick as you one day. It’s sad but true.”
“I also found there were a lot of people living just like me right here in my own community. We now talk, pray for each other and check on each other on those rainy days when we all know it’s a tough pain day. Sometimes I feel like God gave me Fibro as a way to serve and to help others. It just took me awhile to figure it out. I learned a lot about me along the way.”
“My goal was always to go back into teaching and I may still with more healing, but right now I feel God has me on another path and is using me to teach in many other ways. God must have put it in my heart to share the things I learned about living with chronic illness and things that were helping me. I was and still am a private person but I share a lot. If it can help just one person to have hope and feel understood, I’ll do it.”
Want to read more about Anne and follow her journey?
Visit Anne on her facebook page Living Healthy with Fibromyalgia, Faith, Family and a Budget. where she shares her love for cultured food and healthy eating and the “Gutes Brot” page at
You can also follow her YouTube channel.
I accompanied my 13-year old daughter to volunteer in the Refugee Outreach Program of St. Patrick’s Church. What a surprise to find the parish center teeming with people of different colors.
During orientation, we learned of their vibrant ministry for refugees from countries, such as Burundi, Congo, Burma, Rwanda, Eritrea, Kenya, and Tanzania.
One Saturday, I chanced upon Kristin Lavitola lounging in her booth at the Irving Farmer’s Market.
The weekend event, hosted by Four Seasons Markets, provides a venue for local farmers, producers, artisans, and crafts(wo)men to showcase their goods at the parking lot of the Irving Arts Center along MacArthur Blvd.
Displayed on Kristin’s table were her ceramic artworks in different sizes and vivid colors.