Sarah and Steve at a volunteer induction

A fresh start: volunteer inductions at Alfalfa House

Steve Sobolewski is a data analyst by day, and a writer and food fanatic by night. We’re lucky to now have him as a regular contributor to our blog where he’ll chronicle for us his journey into the world of sustainable food. In his first blog post, Steve talks about his experience on a recent volunteer induction at Alfalfa House.

In the above image, Steve is pictured on his volunteer induction with Sarah.

On a sunny but brisk Saturday morning I walk into Newtown’s food co-op, Alfalfa House, and announce with my best new-boy-at-school smile that I’m here for the volunteer induction.

“Hooray!” responds the excited woman behind the counter. I’ll later be introduced to her as Yue. If you go into the store you’ll recognize her as the cheerful lady looking busy, although that description would suit a lot of the people working here. My first impression on entering is how friendly everybody is. Sarah, who runs the induction sessions welcomes us with a beaming smile, and invites us to look around while she finishes up. She has a warm and friendly manner, it’s clear to see why she does all the inductions. I wander between the loaded shelves, surprising myself by learning how many different types of rice exist. And I had no idea that quinoa was so numerous in varieties.  

Another volunteer steps through the door. “Yay! Another tall one!” Yue calls. (Apparently they’ve had a shortage of volunteers able to reach some of the higher shelves.)  

Sarah invites us to walk through the office, into the storeroom and out into the garden. We take a seat in a small corner of the garden that has a table and some chairs set out in the sunshine. The garden is controlled chaos. A stack of boxes in one corner, bins along one wall, a large metal awning camped out in the middle of what could have been or will be a vegetable patch. It is busy, but there is an order to everything. Stacks of boxes, containers of compost, laundry hangers, wormeries. Everything has its purpose. Sarah explains to us what Alfalfa House is all about and gives us a bit of history.

Sarah tells us that a while ago  Alfalfa House came close to closing. A lot of time was spent looking at what Alfalfa House was doing, could it continue and if so how? Its members overwhelmingly agreed that it was a necessary part of the community. 

It surprises me to hear that its doors almost closed. Right now the shop feels alive, people are constantly coming and going. While we are being shown around the store room, a mother with her children comes through the back door to deliver some beeswax cloths. Maurice, the manager (and one of the many driving forces behind Alfalfa House’s success), stops by to collect a trolley of things to take to a local waste reduction festival. Alfalfa buzzes with the effort of the people inside it. It feels like a community. Sarah explains to us that Alfalfa House relies on its volunteers to keep going and it was only through increasing that reliance and utilizing them more, that it stayed open.

We are shown around the rest of the shop and have a lot of information given to us. Health and safety tips, where things are, what things are, what might happen, emergency exits are here, here and here. I’m feeling energized in a way I hadn’t expected, ready to get involved and so I sign up for a shift. Saturday morning, a time usually devoted to not getting up. I had originally come to the induction because my wife asked me if I’d like to write a blog for a place she had been devoting a lot of time to. Now I was ready to devote a few hours of my own, in addition to writing about it.

Since then I have worked my first volunteer shift at Alfalfa House and I loved every minute of it. The sense of committing and contributing to something that in the small scale benefits the neighborhood and the community, supports ethical producers and does its part to keep the world going is worth it.

Before I continue with my blog posts I should make a few admissions. I am not a vegan, or a vegetarian. I don’t know a huge amount about what the requirements are for something to be considered organic. I don’t know what vegetables are in season, I can make an educated guess on what foods are gluten free and only within the last few years have I found out what tofu is actually made of. I am someone who loves food. I’m also someone who has, over the last few years, started to learn about my impact on the world and the environment and what I can do to minimize it. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert but I’m learning. I volunteer on Saturday mornings so if you come to an induction I’ll probably meet you. Everyone is welcome!

Bulk orders receive extra 5% discount

Bulk orders now available

Alfalfa House members can reap the benefits of an extra discount if they choose to place bulk orders!

Members of Alfalfa House can order food in bulk (in the minimum weight or quantity the co-op buys the product in) and receive an extra 5% discount on top of any other discount to which they are entitled. If it’s not a regular co-op product, we may still be able to get it in. Chat to our Stock Coordinators or one of the Shop Coordinators (on the till) to find out more.

How to place an order

When placing an order you’ll need to provide

  1. Your name
  2. Membership number
  3. Contact phone number
  4. the name and quantity of the product

These details are then entered in the Bulk Orders book and your order placed next time the co-op orders from the supplier stocking your requested product. How long it takes will depend on how often the co-op orders from that supplier. If it is likely to take longer than 2-3 weeks for your bulk order to be received, we will contact you to let you know when we next expect to place an order with the supplier.

Bulk order suppliers

Here’s a list of suppliers and roughly how often Alfalfa House places orders:

  • Austral Herbs (herbs and spices) – once every 4-6 weeks. Order placed Tuesday, delivered a week or so later.
  • Demeter (flours) – fortnightly. Order placed Wednesday morning in week A, delivered Thursday in week B (ie, ordered one week, delivered the next).
  • Eco-farms (various produce) – weekly. Order placed Wednesday, delivered Friday.
  • Green Clover (various produce) – weekly. Order placed Tuesday morning, delivered Thursday.
  • Honest to Goodness (nuts and dried fruit) – weekly. Order placed Tuesday morning, delivered Thursday afternoon.
  • Hunter Valley Organics (various produce) – every two or three weeks. Ordered Tuesday morning, typically delivered on Thursday

The plastic free challenge

We challenge you to refuse single-use plastic for a whole month. Go on – give it a go! You won’t be alone as thousands of other people from over 70 countries are also giving a plastic free lifestyle a go. The planet will thank you…and so will we.

The Age Of Plastic

Since its invention in the early 1900s, plastic has become such an integral part of the way we live that we hardly realise it’s there – in our phones, cars, clothes, books, kitchen appliances… the list goes on. Its durability and potential to be moulded into any shape imaginable has truly made it the material of our time.

In many cases we are unable to avoid buying it even if we try. However, there is one blindingly obvious way in which we can avoid buying it, and that is to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.

Why should we avoid using Plastic?

It is estimated that more than 297 million tonnes of plastic was consumed worldwide in 2015 – that’s more than the weight of all people on earth combined!

If we break that down we find that 500 billion single-use plastic bags are made each year (that’s roughly 150 bags for every person on the planet), and more than 100 million plastic bottles are used worldwide every single day. Considering that a plastic bottle can take anywhere between 450 and 1000 years to decompose, this presents a monumental problem.

As you read this blog there are 269,000 tonnes of plastic floating on the surface of our oceans killing our beautiful birds and marine life, and almost the same amount in undetectable microfibres suffocating our sea floors. More locally you can see the garbage floating in our rivers and harbours, and the litter on our streets. Not to mention the offgassing we breathe in or eat through our plastic covered food.

So what can we do when plastic is everywhere?

As consumers we are the most powerful force in making change a reality. There are many ways in which we can reduce our plastic consumption and help fight plastic pollution that are simple, easy and often more affordable.

Here are a few easy tips for saying no to plastic:

  • say no to drinking straws and disposable cutlery. It’s amazing how often we accept these thing without noticing, then just throw them in the bin!
  • if you see plastic on the street, pick it up and put it in the nearest bin – you will look much cooler than the person who dropped it there.
  • Say no to single-use plastic bags as often as you can. If each Australian family used 1 plastic bag less each week that would be 253 million bags less each year!
  • avoid buying pre-bottled water by changing your mental list when you leave the house to: “Keys, wallet, phone, water bottle…”

Take a selfie!

Why not have a little fun while you’re at it by joining us at Alfalfa House in taking a Plastic Free Challenge Water Bottle Selfie!

Simply take a fun photo of you with your reusable water bottle and post it to facebook or instagram with a caption saying: “I’m taking @thePlasticFreeChallenge [be sure it’s a link], how about you?”

Keep your eye out for your friends here at Alfalfa House, we will have our silly selfies proudly up there too!

More information

You can find out more about the Plastic Free Challenge at

For more information about issues surrounding plastic consumption and pollution, try these links:

Free worm juice for our members!

Alfalfa house has six worm farms that are looked after by our team of volunteers. We compost our all our food waste to produce rich usable worm juice and castings. Liquid gold for your garden!

Free worm juice

We’d like you to know that there’s oodles of worm juice available free of charge to members at Alfalfa House – find it in the glass bottles & jars out in the garden by the back gate.

What is worm juice?

Worm juice (or worm wee) is the liquid run off produced by the worms digesting and transforming organic matter fed to them. Worm juice is rich in good nitrogen fixing bacteria, liquid minerals and trace elements for immediate plant uptake.  A wonderful tonic and rich fertiliser for herbs, veggies, plants, and soil.

How to use Worm Juice

Dilute to the color of weak tea & then water your garden beds and pot plants. Apply it to the soil and leaves.

Why is the worm juice sometime different colours?

If it’s rained then the worm juice will be diluted via the rain, hence the different shades of brown.

What do we feed our worms?

  • Organic vegetable & fruit scraps.
  • Some coffee grounds mixed in with the food scraps.
  • Tea leaves (without the tea bag).
  • Small cut-up vegetable and fruit scraps.  Cutting them up allows the food to break down more easily, and the worms then feed on the broken down food.
  • A little bit of moistened shredded paper, cardboard, and/or straw.

What don’t we feed our worms?

  • We don’t give worms any forms of grains, dairy, oils, and animal products. These foods also attract cockroaches & rodents.
  • Worms also don’t do well with onions, garlic, chili  & other spices, pineapple & citrus.
  • Eggs shells are a little harsh for them unless they are crushed into a powder.
  • Leave your tea bags out of the worm farms. The tea leaves are good but the bags are mostly made with plastic.

Tips for a healthy worm farm

  • Follow the guidelines for what to feed & not feed them.
  • Keep your worm farm moist. When collecting worm juice you can pour it over the worm farm first & then collect it when it drains through.
  • Keep your worm farm on a slight forward tilt so the worm juice always runs to the bucket. Best to keep the tap always open to avoid worms drowning in juice.
  • Keep your worm farm is a shady spot.
  • Worm farms should smell sweet and earthy. If it smells off then more carbon is needed. Add damp shredded paper, cardboard, and/or straw.

Bugs in the worm farm!

Bugs are part of the worm farms’ ecosystem.

  • Cockroaches indicate there is unwanted matter in your worm farm. They will be attracted by grains, meats, & dairy. Removing these foods and keeping your worm farm environment healthy & smelling earthy will help. Inner city living unfortunately means cockroaches are not too far away.
  • Ants indicate your worm farm is too dry or has sweet food. Keep sugar and honey etc out of your worm farm.
  • Slaters, mites, black soldier flies and such, are all beneficial.

What are worm castings?

Worm castings are the worms’ poops. They are also called vermicast. We harvest them about every 6 months and add them to Alfalfa’s garden beds. Balanced castings smell neutral or sweet and earthy. They can be diluted in water for a stronger worm juice. You can also mix with compost to grow seedlings. Or add a little bit directly to your soil to add microbes and other nutrients. Adding castings to the soil also aerates and improves its overall structure.

More information

If you’d like to start your own worm farm, or read more about them, here are some great links:

Grab a fresh veggie box

Veggie boxes are temporarily on hold. Apologies for any inconvenience whilst we review this service.
All of your favourite seasonal fruit and veggies are still available in store if you’d like to bring a box along and load up.

Another perk of being a member of Alfalfa House, besides being a part owner, is that you can pre-order a fresh veggie box. The boxes are packed with the highest quality of organic and farmer direct seasonal fruit and vegetables that we can get our hands on.

Fresh Food Boxes are set at the affordable price of $25 for members. In the box you will find a leafy green, handful of seasonal fruit along with an array of everyday staples such as onions, potatoes and carrots. To add some excitement to your week, we often throw in a farmer direct surprise – usually from our wonderful NSW farmer, Colin.

Buying a Food box is a convenient and affordable way to ensure that you have fresh organic produce at your fingertips. If you cook most meals at home and have multiple mouths to feed and you can order a double boxes. You also have the option to add on a fresh sourdough from the Bread and Butter Project.  Please be aware though that we cannot make substitutions, or take out specific vegetables or fruit.

Order your veggie box!

Boxes are available on Wednesday or Sunday and can be picked up anytime during the co-op opening hours. All orders for Wednesday boxes need to be in by Monday midnight. To order the fruit and veggie boxes for Sunday orders must reach us by midnight on Thursday.

To order a fresh food box, visit our online shop.