Tough times on tomato farm leads to great cafe
ONE and a half years ago, Ballandean woman Lee-Ann Simpson opened the doors of Le'Bel, a cafe located next to the Ballandean Hall.
The Simpsons run a tomato farm on Bents Rd that was going through some tough years and Mrs Simpson was looking for a way to earn money outside Simpson Produce.
"We got into trouble with the farm and I started selling second-hand vintage furniture and that just to help out," she said.
"Then we got offered this place for the cafe. We started making relish but you couldn't marry the two because Le'Bel didn't stand for anything so we changed the name to The Farm Gate Cafe, probably about four months ago.
"We are concentrating more on local produce and products so everything we sell now is produced locally."
The Farm Gate Cafe offers seasonal produce as well as locally made products along with breakfast and lunch - and Friday night is pizza night.
"I don't think people realise how much we produce locally here on the Granite Belt," Mrs Simpson said.
"We have a wide range of products that we do produce.
"Cypress Ridge has a garlic farm and they make all these by-products and garlic and things like that. They are small, family-owned operation that is not a big commercial operator which sends to the Brisbane markets.
Mrs Simpson said the Granite Belt was well known for its grapes but, especially in Ballandean, there were a lot of tomato growers.
"We pretty much service Brisbane markets for most of their tomatoes for most of the summer," she said.
"It comes out of the Granite Belt here so that's huge."
Everyone walking through The Farm Gate Cafe doors gets a bit of educational input.
"If anybody is interested, we tell them what we do and how we go about it, we tell them the good and the bad," she said.
Local produce and home- made products sell well at the Ballandean cafe.
"We have been selling our relish now for over a year which is really popular," Mrs Simpson said.
"We sold out this year, so that was good.
"When we have tomatoes, they sell very well because people like hearing that we actually grow them - we've already had people ring up asking when we're going to have tomatoes in."
This year, the Simpsons are looking at making a lot more home-made products to keep up with the demand.
"Ballandean Estate taught us how to make the relish. And we want to make a lot more of that this year.
"Suttons has been helping us, teaching us how to make tomato sauce so we'll do a lot more of that this year as well."
Mrs Simpson said through The Farm Gate Cafe she wished to make Granite Belt produce more accessible for residents and visitors.
"There is a big tourist market here and if you go off the road, there is just so much out there," she said.
"But it's not accessible for tourists, you can't actually go to our farm and buy tomatoes.
"You need to somehow have some sort of gateway to have that happen and for us, this (The Farm Gate Cafe) works."