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Delivery Run this Friday 24th May, 12:30pm-2pm for orders $40+ in Toowoomba

By | Farm Gate Stall | No Comments

We hope to get a new system going with deliveries…I might even get it up today. The new procedure will be that you select “Delivery Run” as an item with your order (hope that makes sense!).

So you may for example order a $50 mixed box, and then you’d also need to select “Delivery Run” from the produce page to add to your order.

This will allow us to set the number of orders that we will deliver so that when that number of orders has been reached for delivery, that’s it, the slots are filled. Orders have been very large lately, so I can really only fit 10 of them in our van.

I’m about to try and create that “delivery run” listing now. If it’s there when you order for delivery, please select it. I say that because we often have website issues and sometimes things don’t work! If it’s not there when you order for delivery, then just request delivery with your order in the comments box.

For Those Who are Looking for Farm Work (Why we’re not hiring)

By | Market Garden | No Comments

Requests for work on our farm are becoming quite regular! Sometimes it’s backpackers turning up on our doorstep asking if there’s work available, but more often it’s people calling to introduce themselves and see if there’s any work going here. Many times it’s from people who are genuinely interested in working on an organic farm, and it’s great to see the interest out there and that people are being proactive looking for employment….

But, I don’t think it’s clear from our website (how most job seeking people find us) that we are a very small, family run market garden. The market garden is actually only about 1 acre in size and not generating enough work (or income) to support employees. Rick sometimes even works full time engineering hours on top of the farming, because the market garden is not often a full time job…and because he gets a lot of help from the children and I 🙂

Rick takes care of crop planning, garden bed prep, mineral applications and sowing. The children do a lot of weeding and some harvesting, and I take care of all the sales/orders, packing, a lot of the correspondence and most of the harvesting. And the great thing about this, is that we know what’s going on, right from seed to sales and can provide a higher level of customer service because of that. I remember reading in a market gardening book how beneficial it is, for example, for the farmer to be the one selling his produce at a market, and not just an employee. When people are shopping at a farmers market, it’s generally because they care about where their food came from, how it was grown, etc. And they often want information about the more unusual varieties, how they might use/cook certain produce and the like. The farmer and his family know these things, but a seasonal or temporary worker probably doesn’t.

So, the fact that there’s not enough work here for an employee is the main reason we don’t hire, and the other is that although the market garden provides enough income to keep us going, it’s not enough to warrant paying an employee. We laughed last year at tax time when we discovered our taxable income is technically below the Australian poverty line! We certainly never feel poor, and the massive tax deductions involved with the first few years of setting up a business had a lot to do with the tiny taxable income, but you get the point…it’s not worth hiring anyone when we’re this small!

If you are reading this and you are looking for work in the Toowoomba area on an organic farm, you could try Birchgrove Farm. They specialise in the best chicken eggs you can get in our district (even growing organic produce to feed to the chickens!) and they also sell various beautiful organic greens at the Sunday PCYC markets. I know they were setting up worker accommodation on site, so obviously they hire from time to time. I hope those of you looking for work can find it, but I just wanted to mention on our website here, that we’re not hiring (might save some of you the trip out here to ask!)

Making the Most of your Seasonal Mixed Box

By | Farm Gate Stall | One Comment

$50 mixed boxes are becoming a popular choice at Birdsong, and from the farmer’s point of view, it’s a wonderful choice, because it allows us to sell what’s in season and in abundance…and to get people trying produce they might not be accustomed to purchasing. You also learn to eat seasonally.

For those of you who’ve tried our mixed boxes before, you’ll know you end up with quite a bit of food, particularly greens in winter, to create with. So how do you deal with it all with as little spoilage and waste as possible?

I know some of you already give some of your produce away when the box contains more than you can use, which is a great way to save spoilage.

When you bring your box home and start packing the goods away, one of the first things to consider is “what is going to need to be eaten within the next few days to avoid spoilage?” The answer to this can depend on your storage methods. For example, I don’t actually keep much produce in our fridge, we’re blessed to have the cold room and I take a walk out there before preparing meals and select from the storage tubs out there. So something like loose leaf greens…any greens really, last especially well when they’re kept in the cold room in our plastic storage tubs. But if I take a mesh bag of mesclun and put it in the produce drawer of my fridge, it’s only going to last about 2 days. Same with just about anything green and leafy. BUT, if I put a bunch of kale in a large beeswax wrap, or a glass storage container in that same drawer of the fridge, it will last much longer, as if it was in the cold room.

Some produce is going to have a very lengthy shelf life, like your root vegetables, so there’s no hurry to use them.

Sometimes you’ll get produce that can be preserved for later. Tomatoes can be canned, corn can be blanched and frozen, lemongrass can be frozen, cabbage can be fermented into kraut etc

Now, how do you incorporate more of this produce into your meals so nothing goes to waste…and it’s not just about waste, it’s also about maximising your vegetable intake!

Between salads, stocks, soups, one pot meals and preserving, you should have no problem creating with all your mixed box produce.

Salads: Often I start with a recipe as a base, but change it to suit what’s in season and what’s in the pantry. Maybe there’s a lovely dressing recipe you want to try and then you mix and match with your veg (and can toss in some roasted nuts, seeds…even fruit).

Stocks: Many of you make your own stock. We’re big fans of chicken stock made on organic chicken frames and home grown produce. Using vegetables in your stock along with the bones creates a synergistic effect where the nutrients from the veg and bones combine to give you a virtual liquid multi-mineral supplement. And you can use SO many different veg. Have a bunch of kale you won’t otherwise use? Put it in your stock pot. It will turn the broth a little green, but that’s not a problem.

Soups: Like with salads, I’ll often start with a base recipe and then vary it to suit what produce is available. Or, start with the broth and then start slicing and adding produce that I have surplus of. This is a great way to use surplus leafy greens, chilli and herbs. NOTE: Add herbs at the end of the cooking when making soup so they retain their flavour and nutrient density.

Soup can be frozen, and in this way you can be both preserving your produce and giving yourself a ready-made meal to have on hand when you’re strapped for time.

One pot meals: Maybe that name isn’t the best description of what I mean…but any meal where you are combining the bulk of the sustenance in one dish like- Stews, bolognase, pies, stir-fry, quiche etc.

Our family now expect that I’ll probably sneak chard into the bolognase, or shredded cabbage into the ‘zucchini’ quiche…or a bit of everything into the ‘meat’ pie. Actually, we hadn’t made meat pies in a long time, and then a month or so ago I made one using about 500g organic beef mince and a LOT of veg, drowned in homemade gravy (which is broth based and nutritious)…they LOVED it! There was leftover veg in gravy that couldn’t fit in the pie crust (made too much!) and the children sat at the bench with spoons devouring every last mouthful. I think that pie contained carrot, chard, onion, sweet potato and potato.

It’s usually a good idea to shred or finely chop vegetables that you are wanting to bulk up a one pot meal with.

Preserving: Ah, I love preserving/canning. It was so satisfying at the end of last summer to see a pantry shelf full of tomato preserves like paste, sauce, passata, crushed tomatoes, relish etc Now here we are at the 8th month of the year and this week will be the first time this year that I’ll have to buy tomato preserves again! But it’s not just tomatoes that can be preserved.

Right now it’s cabbage season and our $50 box buyers have probably had a few womboks come their way. Besides wombok salad, did you know you can preserve your wombok by making kimchi with it? One of our customers gave us some kimchi they made on wombok…it was absolutely delicious. Such a fresh flavour.

Sauerkraut is wonderful for using up surplus cabbage, and there’s plenty of classes and online tutorials around now. You can also incorporate other veg, like cauliflower, broccoli, herbs, carrot and more into kraut.

Beetroot can be made into beautiful relish, or kraut or a fermented beverage known as kvass.

Dehydrating can also play a part. Last summer we had loads of damaged capsicums, so I saved the good parts and dehydrated them, then grind them to powder and had homemade organic paprika 🙂 

Pumpkin and Cashew Dip

By | Recipes | No Comments

Pumpkins! They thrived this year, and we had hundreds of them.

We’ve had pumpkin in salads, roasts, desserts…and this week since we also have loads of violet cauliflower, which is gorgeous eaten raw with a decent dip, I’ve just made a pumpkin and cashew dip.

Here’s the recipe:

About half a kilo of pumpkin and sweet potato, roasted. You can use pumpkin alone, but we just happened to have them both leftover after a roast. If you are purposefully roasting the pumpkin to make the dip you’ll need to peel, seed and dice the pumpkin, then roast at 180C for about half an hour.

1/2 Cup Cashews…or another nut if you prefer

2 Tbsp Seasoning. I used YIAH Cinco Pepper Enchilada seasoning (which is completely herbs and spices). Otherwise Moroccan Seasoning is a good option.

3/4 Cup greek yoghurt. Try coconut yoghurt if you’re going dairy free

Method: Using a blender or food processor, mix all ingredients until smooth.

Simple, isn’t it?

 

Market Gardening- What About Food Waste?

By | Market Garden | One Comment

Many of you have seen it on the ABC’s War On Waste series. Or you’ve seen it with your own eyes and through your own research….modern agriculture practices, combined with stringent supermarket criteria, produce a LOT of food waste.

Woolworths made a step in the right direction, with their The Odd Bunch vegetable/fruit selections. We used to buy them before we went organic, and were pleased to see that at least some of the stranger or undersized looking produce items were making it to the shelf!

But what about in the market garden setting? What food waste do we produce, and what do we do with waste?

For starters, we create very little food waste. You can never predict exactly how many lettuce will sell, or how many people will want cauliflower next week, but you can get a rough idea and plant accordingly. Rick puts a decent effort into crop planning (his engineer traits come out in this- you should see the spread sheets!) and as a result our production is fairly well suited to customer demand.

Sometimes there will be a glut. Right now it’s cos lettuce, most likely because it’s winter and people aren’t really eating cold salads and aren’t used to using cos lettuce in any other way. What do we do with the surplus?

Generally one of three things:

-Feed the sheep. The sheep LOVE lettuce, cabbage…even pumpkin as we discovered this week. And as we’ve not had decent rain for months, our paddock is quite depleted of pasture. The surplus lettuce are saving us from buying lucerne for the sheep.

  • Feed the chickens and ducks. Man can not live by bread alone, just as the fowl can’t live bye grain alone. They adore greens, and are daily the recipients of extra or damaged produce. Thanks to all these greens, our eggs have beautiful rich orange yolks, and the fowl are in good health.
  • Return the crop to the soil. I used to struggle with this as it seems like waste, when you’ve been brought up not to waste food! But there’s nothing wasteful about enriching your soil. Sometimes we even grow a green manure crop, purely to mow back into the soil and boost the soil structure and nutrient levels. Presently we have a half a row of overgrown bok choi and mesclun mix. Rick actually likes it when this occurs, because we started out with heavy black clay soil. It was like trying to dig into a big block of modelling clay. Organic matter was desperately needed to remedy this soil, and 18 months later, here we are with completely different soil structure. It makes sense that if you are constantly removing produce from the soil, that you should also be often giving back to the soil.

Rick is also a big fan of doing any trimming of veg (beet greens, brassica leaves etc) at the harvest site, so all those greens go right back to the soil.

The only time food ‘waste’ leaves our property is when I offer it for sale as pet greens, or on odd occasions might sell seconds cabbage for sauerkraut.

A completely different story to mass agriculture isn’t it? And as for undersize or unusually shaped produce, we’re finding that we have less and less of that as our soil improves, but what we do have can still be used. If I have a few cabbages that are undersized, I can ask a customer if they mind having 2 smaller cabbages rather than one big one. Or I can add a few extra beets to the bunch if they’re little. It’s a small enough business that we can talk directly to the customers about their produce and work together to reduce the chance of food waste.

Beeswax Wraps and Cold Process Soap Making Workshop

By | Farm Gate Stall | No Comments

May at Simple Living Toowoomba…

This month SLT are offering two classes in one, DIY beeswax wraps with Suanne from Green Dandelion, and cold process soap making with me.

If you haven’t heard about beeswax wraps, they’re an eco friendly alternative to glad wrap. Much better looking than glad wrap too! Suanne will even have kits available for sale on the day with the wax/resin mix so you can go home and make your own. Suanne is regularly at local farmer’s markets and the like selling not only her beautiful wraps, but also other ‘green’ solutions for you home.

And soap making, like I’ve said before, is so much easier than you think and can be made with ingredients from the supermarket. No need to order pricey unusual ingredients (unless you want to go down that path). Homemade soap is also very allergy friendly. I have yet to meet a person, no matter how bad the eczema, who reacts to basic homemade soap. I’ll have some soap available for sale on the day.

This class will take place on Saturday 26th May, 9:45am-Midday at 13-15 Blake St, Wilsonton, 4350. It’s going to be capped at about 30-35 participants.

Cost is $5 per adult (need cash as there’s no electronic payment facilities), which is amazing value. Soapmaking will be up first and we’ll start at 10am sharp, so please be on time! Suanne will then start her wraps demonstration at around 11am.

To RSVP, email Michele at simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com

Seasonal Mixed Box – A Value Comparison

By | Farm Gate Stall | One Comment

We get both- customers who want specific produce each order, and customers who just want a box of whatever is fresh and seasonal.

One customer, upon taking home her first $50 mixed box, decided to list and weigh every item in her box and find out how the value compared to buying the same items organically at the supermarket. I was really excited by this, it’s one of those things I probably wouldn’t get around to doing at the moment, but am very interested to see the results of.

So I’ve just received the list this customer wrote, and will share it with you so you too can see how our seasonal mixed boxes compare with supermarket buying.

NOTE: Contents of seasonal mixed boxes change frequently, depending on what’s in season and how much of each item we have available.

This customer was not asked to do this, she just happens to be very thrifty and wanted to know for herself what kind of value she was getting.

It’s also worth noting when you buy a seasonal box, I ALWAYS put more than the dollar value you paid in there, ie if you buy a $50 box, I’ll put at least another $5-$10 worth of our produce in there.

Both Coles and Woolworths online were used for her comparisons, as neither supermarket stocked everything in her box from Birdsong. The comparisons are made with Organic produce (except for the eggplant and cucumber, which she could not find organically from supermarkets at the time).

 

Ok, here it is:

Item                                                Supermarket Price     Total

1050g Dutch Cream Potatoes    $4/kg                           $4.20

995g Sweet Potato                        $10/kg                        $9.95

630g Salad Onion                         $7/kg                          $4.45

670g Butternut Pumpkin            $4/kg                          $2.68

1560g Tomatoes                            $17.50/kg                  $27.30

856g Corn, Small Cobs                $14/kg                        $11.97

425g Squash                                  $9/kg                          $3.82

777g Capsicum                              $9/kg                          $6.99

420g Purple Beans                      $18/kg                         $7.56

1305g Zucchini                             $9/kg                           $11.75

954g Eggplant                              $8/kg (non organic) $7.63

1140g Lebanese Cucumber        $5/kg (non organic)  $5.95

700g Beetroot                               $9/kg                           $6.30

808g Carrots                                 $6/kg                           $4.85

30g Herbs                                                                            $3

12.3kg Produce (Equivalent $4.06/kg)      TOTAL: $118.11

 

Wow, I hadn’t realised the price difference would be so huge!

Organic Dried Fruit/Nuts/Seeds/Flours

By | Farm Gate Stall | 4 Comments

As many of you know, we supplement out produce range with some organic dried fruit, nuts, seeds, oils and sometimes flours.

Some of these items, like coconut sugar and pepitas have been selling out fast lately! We’re looking at ordering in more organic pantry items like these soon and we’re open to suggestions. What would you like to see in our web store?

It’s been a while since we’ve had dried fruit, so I’m considering giving organic figs a go. The wholesaler we deal with has a huge variety and if there’s something you’d like to be able to buy through us (and we keep the prices as reasonable as we can), then leave a comment or contact us and let us know your suggestions.

Earth Day 2018 and a big thank you to those who are helping us reduce plastic waste!

By | Market Garden | No Comments

It’s interesting timing. I was just thinking this past week that in the approximately 18 months we’ve been operating, we haven’t had to order more plastic bags and containers. At the start Rick bought a couple of boxes of tomato punnets and various sized bags for packing produce. You’d think after all those orders we’ve processed, we’d have needed more plastic.

BUT, we happen to have a wonderful clientele that are more than happy to have their veg orders packed into cardboard boxes, which can be recycled. It’s only small items like beans, cherry tomatoes and the organic dry goods we sell that we’ve been using plastic packaging for. And I hope as time goes on we’ll find sustainable and practical solutions for those items…so we can eradicate the plastic altogether.

April 22nd is Earth Day, and I want to thank you all for helping Birdsong Market Garden reduce plastic waste by accepting your orders in cardboard boxes 🙂 It must be thousands of plastic bags that are not in local landfill, because you’ve been so cooperative with sustainable packing options.

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Birdsong Farm Tour, Saturday April 28th

By | Market Garden | No Comments

Finally, we’ve got a farm tour happening!

We can thank Simple Living Toowoomba for getting us organised with that.

When: Saturday 28th April, 10am-Midday

Where: 118 Boundary St, Cranley

Cost: $5 per adult. Children are welcome, just keep an eye on them. I hope to have the lawn tamed before the day, but at the moment it’s long and we do get the occasional eastern brown snake! Cost includes light refreshments after the tour.

What: A walk around the market garden with Farmer Rick, and a chance to see how we go about Nutrition farming and ask lots of questions 🙂

RSVP: Please email Michele at simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com to book in for the tour.

NOTE: If it rains, the tour will be cancelled, as our garden becomes a sticky black-clay mess! Also, you might like to wear enclosed shoes (unless you like to earth-out).

And yes, you can purchase produce on the day if you like.

Thai Cashew Chicken

By | Recipes | No Comments

Happy Saturday! It’s our day off, and today was one of those lovely days where we had nothing planned. So there’s been time to potter around in the kitchen.

Chilies abound at the moment, so I’ve been trying a few Thai recipes, and thought I’d share this one with you…

Thai Cashew Chicken…with coconut rice

Coconut Rice: 2 C basmati rice

4C liquid (I use 1 can of organic coconut cream and make the rest of the liquid up with chicken broth)

Chicken: 500g chicken (we used organic chicken thighs), chopped to your preferred size

2-3 Tbsp plain flour

1/3 cup macadamia oil (if you don’t have macadamia, use another oil with a mild flavour)

Vegetables: 1 Tbsp garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 small tropea red onion, sliced length ways into wedges

5-6 Thai chilies, finely chopped

1 C raw cashews

1 C capsicums, julienned

1 C carrots, julienned

2 shallots, finely sliced

Sauce: 2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp oyster sauce

1/2 tsp ground pepper

Dash of salt

Dash of honey

1 C chicken broth/stock

2 Tbsp cornflour

Method:

Get your rice going first. I put the rice and liquid in the saucepan and cook, absorption method, with the lid on. Just keep an eye on the rice to make sure the heat is shut off when the liquid gets low.

Mix your sauce ingredients in a jar and set aside.

Pour you oil into a wok or large frypan and heat. While that is heating, toss your chopped chicken in the flour to coat.

Fry the raw cashews until they start to brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Now add your floured chicken and the chili to the hot oil in the pan and fry until golden and delicious. Remove the chicken from the oil and set aside.

To that same oil, add all your veg except the shallots and fry until the onion is translucent.

Add your sauce and while that cooks through, get your cornflour and mix with a little water and add this to the pan to thicken the sauce.

Your chicken and cashews can now get back in the pan. Stir until the sauce has coated everything and then add your shallots for just a minute or two of cooking before you serve.

I liked the heat level of this combo. It was mild enough that flavours other than heat could be enjoyed, but hot enough to have a kick to it 🙂 If you love heat and don’t have children to accommodate, you might like to add more chili.

Confessions of a Farmer’s Wife

By | Nutrition | 2 Comments

He looks like I’ve been feeling…pooped! Here’s an inside look at life at Birdsong lately…hahaha.

We had a lovely 5 days away at the coast, and not the overcrowded QLD coast, but a kind of remote little coastal village in NSW. It was bliss. We swam, read books and generally recovered from the fast pace life that the market garden creates. The children think it’s wonderful, partly because of the beach, and partly because it’s the only time I’ll ever let them eat cocoa pops!

But then we had to come back to reality. I got hit with hayfever (maybe the change of seasons brought on new pollen in the air…I don’t know). Then started having very disturbed sleep, and less than a week after the holiday was not coping. Rick’s got a lot of engineering work on at the moment so I end up with more farm work. Like, all of the harvesting, packing and sales. On top of homeschooling 5 of our 6 children (but thank God I have Rick’s mum helping me with that this year), making all our meals from scratch and managing all the other needs and distractions that come up. It was really too much.

Then we had other issues, like the lawn is starting to look a bit Amazonian, but the lawn mower, ride on mower and then the 2 wheel tractor all stopped working! The 2 wheel tractor was the saddest part. I was mowing with it (since the other equipment had broke down) and accidentally mowed over a bicycle tire that had been completely submerged in grass. That didn’t go down well, and broke the clutch. I felt terrible, because this was the first time I’d ever used the 2 wheel tractor…and because I’d repeatedly told the children not to leave their rubbish around the yard!). The 2 wheel tractor is an unusual piece of equipment from Europe, so parts are costly. Rick was already pretty disillusioned and considering giving up the farm just before that happened. He started pulling the tractor apart to find what went wrong and was very blessed to have our neighbour stop by and help him. It’s almost fixed now, phew.

Then came Friday. Friday is a huge day. I get up at dawn (that’s normal) and then get out in the market garden to harvest whatever else is needed for the delivery orders. Most of the packing is done Thursday arvo, so it’s not so stressful on the Friday morning. I have a very mature 9 year old who gets her 5 and 3 year old brothers fed and ready for the big day out while I work outside. Our 12 year old came out to help harvest. Most stock is ready to go in the cold room, but things like herbs are harvested to order. And leafy greens can’t be packed until the last minute.

Eventually all the boxes are ready (and I hope I haven’t missed anthing!). This week it was 8 boxes of veg, overflowing the boot of the van onto children’s laps! Then we start delivering. We try to get out of the house at 8am and need to be finished delivering by 9:15am for my eldest to have her piano lesson. While she’s there, the rest of us go grab some groceries, then collect her from piano and head straight to homeschool gymnastics. I really didn’t feel like being there this week, but once a fortnight the under 5’s have a class…and that was this week. My 3 year old was so excited that he’d get to use the gym equipment too that I didn’t have the heart to skip it on him. Then it’s lunch in the park with a stack of other homeschool families.

Next things start to slow down a bit and I drop the children off to my sisters for the afternoon so I can do any town errands by myself!

Busy. And I can totally understand why there aren’t more small farms and market gardens. It’s hard work, but doesn’t make enough money to hire help.

By the way, this was written more in a effort to help people understand some of what’s involved in small scale farming, not to have a whinge. Overall we have a great life, and I’m so thankful for the produce (and the opportunity to farm), as I doubt I’d have the energy to maintain this schedule without it!

Jane Milburn Slow Clothing Workshop, Saturday March 3rd

By | Market Garden | 3 Comments

Many of you have seen the War on Waste series, by the ABC. If you have, you would have seen the horrendous volume of clothing Australia wastes and disposes of each year.

Jane Milburn is a Brisbane woman who is actively doing something about this issue and Australia’s attitude towards disposable fashion.

Jane is coming to Toowoomba Saturday March 3rd, 10am-Midday at 13-15 Blake St, Wilsonton. Cost is $10, payable on the day, to come and be educated and inspired as to how we can change our fashion footprint, learn to seek out sustainable clothing from natural fibers, upcycle used clothes and do simple mending to keep garments lasting longer.

BOOKINGS ESSENTIAL! email simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com to reserve your spot

for more info about Jane and her mission, check out http://textilebeat.com/