Bloom Magazine Interview

Thank you to Emma Lodge for the article that was included in the Bloom Inspiring Wellness Magazine.

Article from the magazine in full

Leeandra is the owner and founder of Love-Lee Cooking – a local business on the Atherton Tablelands specialising in catering, food manufacturing and a cafe.

Sparked by her son’s autism diagnosis, Leeandra discovered through research and experimentation, a link between diet and behaviour. “As a Home Economics teacher for 20 years I realised I didn’t know very much about nutrition and had no idea that many widely consumed foods in society are actually not good for us.”

Through  a journey of exchanging packaged food to whole food, fast food to slow food, frozen greens to  organic leafy greens, Leeandra soon found that her son’s daily traumatic meltdowns reduced dramatically to once every three months or even less. “I realised the importance of food as medicine, and using real whole foods to nourish the body, rather than poison it”

It was then that her passion for sourcing local produce and building resilient communities began. Moving to the Tablelands she found an abundance of organic local food, which prompted her to support the network of local community farmers, growers and producers.

As Leeandra began experimenting baking nutritious gluten free, dairy free, egg free snacks and yummy treats, the neighbours caught a whiff and started asking for some too. Empowered by the interest and demand, Leeandra soon realised there was a need in the market for wholefood snacks for people with specific dietary requirements. Taking orders for customers, Love-Lee Cooking soon started trading at the local markets, before branching into catering  and cooking workshops. Eventually the demand grew so much that a commercial premises was sought, which is now the home of Love – Lee Wholefoods Cafe, Leeandra’s latest venture.

Emma: Congratulations on your new cafe!

Leeandra: Thank you! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. There’s such a need for real food, especially when you have special dietary requirements like we do.

Emma: So tell me what you offer.

Leeandra: Well our focus is on nourishing food cooked the traditional way. We don’t open a jar but create everything from scratch utilising seasonal, local and organic ingredients. We cater for vegan first, and then offer meat as an additional option to salads and hot food. Our coffee is organic and local, and we use Mungalli milk as well as making our own in house nut milks and Kombucha.

Emma: Creating from scratch always been the philosophy of your business hasn’t it?

Leeandra: Yes always, using real food and whole foods. So what we wanted to do was create a business model that can be emulated. Our aim is to be socially and environmentally responsible, as well as sustainable. We employ long term unemployed people giving them the opportunities to learn and grow. The girls I took on have really blossomed, and their world has opened up as to why it’s important to buy local, and why we do the things we do. We are part of the responsible cafes program so we use paper cups and takeaway containers that are sugar cane pulp based so they’re not recyclable but compostable which is a huge difference. All of our food is sourced from local farmers, producers and suppliers. We also utilise local services, so it’s all about building relationships and supporting the local community.

Emma: Yes building relationships are certainly important.

Leeandra: As an example I have a lady who grows parsley and every week she comes in and receives a free coffee in exchange for her parsley. This is an example of building a resilient community. I’m getting my needs met with a product that is grown locally, its biodynamic and I use of lot of it. She’s getting her needs met with a good coffee.

Emma: I love the energy exchange concept.

Leeandra: And that’s what it’s about. I advertise in our local community magazine and we exchange advertising for food and coffee and a place that staff from the magazine can hold meetings. We sponsored the local show which was of tremendous benefit. I even convinced the committee to add ferments to the competition section, which was our sneaky way of getting people to know about ferments [laughs].

Emma: [Laughs] that’s a clever way of planting the seed!

Leeandra: Yes well we’re all part of a revolution, and being a part of a revolution isn’t banging on peoples doors, it’s about making gradual changes in our community. It’s the ripple effect where you dip your toe in the water which creates a ripple and then that ripple gets bigger and bigger until…

Emma: There’s a tidal wave! [Laughs] So you’ve always been a passionate advocate for supporting local, has that always been the way?

Leeandra: The passion ignited when I saw the small country town I lived in slowly die. We were five hours from Townsville, and we didn’t support our local businesses. People would save their money and go to Townsville to do their big shop instead of using the local supermarket, even petrol, people would wait until they got to Townsville and fill up there. This caused the infrastructure in our community to die.  Banks closed, there was no choice in cafes, there was one fish and chip shop but it was never open, and why would it be when there was no one purchasing. I saw the council and the railway reducing the workforce and laying people off. There was no government money in town anymore, so all it had to survive on was its own infrastructure because there wasn’t that flow on effect. Being a teacher if you had to fundraise for footy jerseys, who could you go to? The local businesses gave as much as they could but didn’t have any money to give because no one was spending. It’s actually shooting yourself in the foot. No one was talking about it and yet everyone wanted money from those small businesses, so it really caused our community to flounder. I saw this from a different light when I became a small business owner.

Emma: Wow now I really understand the importance of supporting local and why we need to spend money within our community.

Leeandra: Yes and getting involved with LETS our Local Energy Trading System.  The more I learnt about building resilient communities it just made sense. It’s not just about spending money it’s about spending energy, so whether you volunteer at the local scout club or whether you’re in the SES, it’s about investing in your community. Everyone has something to offer and it’s just finding what that value is, whether its growing parsley, babysitting, cleaning or bookkeeping, you don’t have to be a lawyer to have value. I know some pretty dam fine nonnas who make absolutely great lasagne, and that would have currency in other people’s lives. So currency doesn’t necessarily have to have a dollar value.

Emma: I love that, it’s so liberating!

Leeandra: I don’t think we’re at the stage that we can be fully submerged in a system where we can support alternative currency because we still need to pay rates, fuel and electricity etc with the sovereign dollar, so until that changes there has to be a monetary value in our economy. But places like Greece where it fell apart, they made it work. My daughter always says when the zombie apocalypse comes I’m coming up to your place because…

Emma: You’ll be still operating as usual! [Laughs]

Leeandra: Well yes because we don’t just use money, we grow our chooks, we grow our ducks, we grow our own food, and what we don’t have we know people who do. I’m not a survivalist or anything like that, but I do think we need to be prepared, because whatever happens in the future, relationships are what will hold you in steed. It’s about investing in your community. We’re very lucky to have such great neighbours, and we’ve created that and worked hard towards it because they are our community. We live in very insular worlds these days and a lot of people don’t know who their neighbours are…

Emma: Oh completely and what I notice is that even though we’re so connected socially, through news and media, we’re also so disconnected in the real world from each other and our connection to the planet. Depression is on the increase and really the most basic human need is social interaction. Could this be where we’re going wrong and what we need to start acknowledging?

Leeandra: Absolutely. We’re defined by our relationships with others. You’re right depression is a really big factor in our communities and isolation.

Emma: So something as simple as visiting your local markets and having that real social connection could really change your whole day.

Leeandra: Visiting the markets is so multi faceted.  You meet the sellers you meet the locals. You’re getting vitamin D which is something ironically Australians don’t have enough of, that in itself is a big cause of depression and anxiety. You might have a conversation with the person next to you who’s buying a sweet potato. In talking about purchasing this sweet potato from a local farmer, you’re actually reinforcing the notion of building a resilient community, not just with yourself but with people who are listening to you.  So it’s like fellowship, you need to walk the talk. That’s what this cafe does, we talk about it constantly.  People might question why we use timber cutlery or why we don’t use straws, this starts conversation and gets people questioning and thinking.  It is these conversations that spark thought and change.

Emma: So if someone wants to contribute in their neighbourhood and build a resilient community what’s the first step?

Leeandra: Know your neighbour. Having a relationship and open communication with your neighbour is so important. You may not be best mates straight up, you’ve got to earn that and understand their needs too. Food is a great common denominator, so baking a cake usually works [laughs]. Then build relationships with your local servo, local newsagency, buy your milk from the local shop and start conversations with people. If we forge relationships that are long standing and beneficial, if we treat people with respect and treat people with value then what goes around comes around. We can all do our part, no matter how small it is, and most importantly teach your children.

Emma: Thanks Leeandra. I’ll order a takeaway local organic coffee on Mungalli milk in one of your fantastic compostable cups please!