If you walk down the main street of Stirling or Aldgate, in the Mount Lofty Ranges (the ĎAdelaide Hillsí), on a weekend in late autumn or early winter, chances are your nostrils will begin to twitch with the sweet aroma of chestnuts cooking. If you follow your nose, you will find Quentin Jones from Nirvana Organic Farm, selling certified roast chestnuts from his home made portable cooker. Quentin is a familiar sight for locals, this being his seventh season of street vending and attending fairs, fetes, school bonfires and other special events.
The chestnuts Quentin cooks are grown nearby at Nirvana Farm. They are the Ďsmallsí which would otherwise be difficult to sell on the fresh market. Quentin and partner Deb Cantrill are well known for their innovation in value adding and for having stitched together a comfortable lifestyle and sustainable livelihood from 4.4 hectares of certified organic land. They also sell jams, pickles, cordials, honey and a range of other products using mainly home-grown ingredients.
Quentin happily told Acres that the fresh nuts he may be able to sell for $2 - $4 per kilo at the farm shop fetch $15 - $16 per kilo when roasted in a wok on the Mk II burner which he built himself (it has better wind deflection than the first one), and that five hours work at the recent Autumn Leaves festival brought in $400.
He also told Acres that other traders are pleased to see him on the footpath contributing his pleasant odours to the atmosphere - he says that if the tourists donít buy his nuts they are more likely to spend money in the town once the saliva glands are stimulated!
A hawkers licence is required by the local council. Quentin says they were mainly concerned that the burner was safe, having no sharp corners to catch unsuspecting passers by, that he has a fire extinguisher on hand and that he has public liability insurance. He also gives chestnuts away to many passers by, but reckons this encourages many people to buy the roast product and lifts interest in chestnuts with the typical Aussie, who would not otherwise know what a chestnut is or how they may be used.
A 200 GM paper cone sells for $3. The cone is made from brown paper printed with pictures of chestnuts. It carries the name and address of Nirvana Farm, the kilojoule value of the nuts, nutritional information and the certification details. The cone is photocopied from a master and when rolled up makes a cheap, environmentally friendly container.
Quentin says the chestnuts are a good advertisement for organics - they taste better than those sold by the only competition in Adelaide, which are pre-boiled and quickly reheated on the burners. His nuts are cooked only on the gas flame and come fresh and hot. A little vegetable oil gives them a glossy surface and adds to the smoky smells which entice customers. Quentin believes that other chestnut sellers are starting interstate, especially in Victoria, but does not know of anyone operating before he started out seven years ago.
Bigger nuts are sold from the farm store or exported to Singapore by a local retailer. The very small nuts are dried and turned into flour on the farm or sold to restaurateurs, who appreciate their keeping quality and the consistency which the dry product allows in a menu. Quentin uses the dried product in stews, soups stockpots and stuffing.
He is happy to stand in the street talking to locals and tourists, promoting the name of Nirvana products and turning dollars from nuts which are slow to sell on the fresh market.
The nutritional information on the paper cone states that 100 GM of chestnuts contain:
51.7 GM water
7.0 GM sugars
29.6 GM starch
6.8 GM dietary fibre
2.7 GM fat
0.20 GM Thiamin
0.22 GM Riboflavin
0.33 GM B6
and 720 kj of energy.