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Plastic Free July

By | Nutrition | No Comments
(Mostly) Waxed Boxes…very reusable!

Here we are in Plastic Free July again.

In previous years at Birdsong, we have had giveaway reusable mesh produce bags for certain sized orders and looked at ways we can reduce our single use plastic packaging.

This year, it would be great to make the effort to get everyone returning waxed boxes and glass jars that can be reused for future orders. Some customers are amazing at this…every order, without fail, they bring back their boxes, crates and jars. But for others it’s not a habit yet 🙂

Our one plastic use at Birdsong that we can’t do much about, is packaging loose-leaf greens. They’re moist, so paper just disintegrates. And while mesh produce bags are ok, the bags are worth almost as much as the greens in value, so it’s difficult to use them without raising our prices substantially. Many of our customers order for delivery, so everything has to be pre-packed before transporting into town, ruling out the option of customers bringing their own produce bags..having said that, if you are keen enough to shop on-site at Birdsong and BYO packaging, we can accommodate that.

If you are on our email list, you’ll have noticed I always thank people for bringing back their waxed boxes and large glass jars. The waxed boxes (especially the size pictured above) are very much reusable. So please don’t throw them away! If you are a delivery customer, you can leave boxes at your front door for me to collect when I next deliver to you, and if you’re a pickup customer, you can bring the boxes back with you on your next pickup. I know it can take a while to get in the habit. When supermarkets first discontinued single use plastic bags, it took me a while (and several trips back to the car!) to get used to bringing them in with me. But now it’s automatic, the habit has been formed.

Large capacity (1kg+) glass jars can be sterilised and reused also

Another way we reduce plastic packaging, is by packing our organic nuts/seeds/dried fruit etc in glass preserving jars, as pictured above. These too, can be sent back for cleaning and reusing. I love glass, because besides having a long life, it doesn’t alter the flavour of whatever is packed in it. And a row of glass packed foods look quaint on the pantry shelf 🙂

If you are bringing jars in that didn’t originally come from a Birdsong order, just keep in mind they need to be large and able to hold about a kilo of nuts. Jam jars and other smaller jars just don’t have the required capacity. The largest moccona coffee jars are great for 1kg dried fruit.

Back when we were starting to convert to glass containers in our own pantry…

This Plastic Free July, let’s see if we can all form some helpful habits to reducing plastic waste in our lives.

For loads of inspiration and products to make the change to reusable packaging in your home, check out Green Dandelion, at 1 Station St, Toowoomba (inside the new Emerge Cafe) http://www.greendandelion.com.au

The Birdsong/Grassrootschef Tour

By | Nutrition | No Comments

Our first “paddock to plate” type tour was just over a week ago, with Asher and Jess from https://www.grassrootschef.com.au

Rick spent the first hour, sharing his valuable knowledge on gardening, with soil nutrition as the foundation. We wandered through the market garden, and as we did, Asher picked fresh produce to prepare for the group, right there in the paddock.

A fire pit was set up, and fresh corn was barbecued; a kale and red cabbage slaw prepared, pumpkin slabs roasted, a beetroot hummus whizzed up and some beautiful chickpea flour flat breads cooked. Asher shared some cooking techniques and showed us all how we can eat local, clean and delicious.

We had perfect weather (it was just before the frosts started!) and enjoyed meeting others who were keen to learn more about growing and eating fresh organic cuisine. As pictured, we all picnicked on blankets, right there next to the paddock that the meal was gathered from!

There’s definitely the possibility we’ll hold another similar event, so keep posted at https://www.grassrootschef.com.au

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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