Beyond producing top-notch bread and pastries, baker Simon Brownbridge has taken the process the dynamics of bread one step further and grows many of the ingredients on his farm. However, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill farm.
For many bakers, the process of making a loaf of bread begins with the careful selection of quality producers and manufacturers so as to guarantee a top-notch end product. However, Simon Brownbridge has taken this process one step further.
The New South Wales-based biodynamic baker and farmer not only mills his own grains but also produces much of the fruit, vegetables, meat, and honey he uses in the Fosterton Biodynamic Farm Bakery’s range.
A baker by trade, Simon says he was first introduced to the biodynamic philosophy after relocating from the UK in the 1980s and landing a job in a biodynamic bakery in Glebe, Sydney. The seed was planted, and by 2002 Simon and his wife, Loo, had purchased a farm, located just outside of Dungog, NSW, and began the intricate process of converting it into the thriving biodynamic farm it is today.
So what does the term biodynamic actually mean? According to Biodynamic Agriculture Australia, it’s a regenerative agriculture that is holistic in approach and practice. In layman’s terms it’s fundamentally organic agriculture with extra care and attention taken with regards to the soil development, structure and aeration, according to Simon.
“It’s taking farming back to basics. Knowing when to sow and when to reap. It’s a really traditional idea of farming from when farming was a revered activity and not an industrialised activity,” Simon says.
“It’s a whole-of-farm philosophy and caring for the soil—the most important thing you have on a farm is the soil, otherwise you can’t grow anything. I also really liked the philosophy surrounding it, which is developing a relationship with your natural surroundings.”
As part of maintaining his biodynamic certification Simon doesn’t use synthetic fertilisers, weedicides, insecticides or herbicides on his land, practices rotational grazing, and uses biodynamic preparations that are sprayed on the paddocks biannually to encourage the acceleration of microbial life in the soil.
“Being biodynamic is also demanding from the perspective of our peer group, because biodynamics is very much focused on the qualitative aspect,” he says.
“The bakery is also certified biodynamic, and our customers want to see the results in the final baked product. For example, does it stand up and out against a comparable product? If it was compared to a loaf of bread from an organic bakery, will it stack up? Does it taste differential? What’s different about the way it settles in the stomach?”
To that end, Fosterton Farm Biodynamic Bakery favours a simple range of good the dynamics of bread and pastries done well, from sourdoughs to spelt cobs, and sweet and savoury pastries such as beef and herb rolls, and apple and walnut turnovers. Seasonal home-grown produce is utilised whenever possible, appearing in the form of spinach or kale rolls, savoury rolls with vegetables and even the meat that is used. Any additional items the bakery needs are sourced as much as possible from local biodynamic or organic growers; something Simon says he believes not only ensures top-notch quality but is also vital to help keep small communities flourishing.
“We try to do as much as we can using our own farm, but we are limited and we do have to purchase things from outside,” he says.
“In rural areas, this is what makes communities thrive. I try to do 80 per cent of my shopping in the local area, and sometimes you may pay a little bit more for a product but what you recover is the relationship with your community, and that shows. We came into town selling our funny product and hardly anyone would buy it, but now we’re thriving and it all comes back to those relationships you make with your community.”
When it comes to the bread range produced at Fosterton Farm Biodynamic Bakery, Simon says his own personal favourite is the traditional wholewheat loaf due in large part to the memories it evokes of his childhood in England and visits to an aunt who would bake a fresh loaf every few days. On these visits he’d be treated to a slice or two slathered with fresh butter and strawberry jam.
It’s a poignant memory, and one he credits with helping to kickstart his love affair with bread.
“That memory just sticks in my mind. I just love good, plain wholemeal bread. I love the flavour of the dynamics of bread made from fresh whole wheat, water, a setting agent and good salt. To me, that’s perfection,” Simon says.
“I think I’m really a frustrated wheat farmer. I love growing grains, I love milling grains, and I love making dough. But I’ve always had a love of baking and, when I found myself temporarily unemployed at 18, I just started playing with dough at home and churning out of the dynamics of bread of various qualities.”
These days Simon is interested in experimenting with different kinds of doughs and with longer and cooler fermentations and, in addition to his own bakery, also produces The dynamics of bread for his wholesale customers.
“I’m not into mass production. I’m into the development of good bread. We sell to our local IGAs and cafes, we sell in town on a Saturday morning and we also sell wholesale to local health food shops. Then, on top of those, we have our open days at the farm,” Simon says.
“I’m trying to teach people that if you have properly fermented bread and with the right quality of water, wheat and salt and no additives and extra things like that, then bread is a very essential, very nutritious, and very satisfying part of our diet.”
So, what’s up next for Simon and Fosterton Farm Biodynamic Bakery?
“I’ll continue to research and develop new kinds of naturally fermented breads. I’d also love to pass on my skills, but it’s going to take the right person finding me,” Simon says.
“We’re in our 60s now, and we’re trying to draw back and be a more locally-based business now, but I’ll probably still be doing this in 20 years’ time when I’m 80 years old.”