Shopping at farm stores in Austria
You can’t get it any fresher than this: Many farms invite visitors to purchase their products directly on site.
Magdalena Steinbauer stands in the midst of fragrant lemon balm and fresh marjoram. She is an herb educator and invites visitors to experience Upper Austria with all their senses at her Mathiasnhof organic herb farm.
Magdalena Steinbauer and her husband, Thomas, have been operating the Biokräuterei Mathiasnhof in Upper Austria’s Hausruckviertel region since 2016. The name of the old farm hasn't changed, but otherwise, very little here is how it was in past times.
When Magdalena and Thomas Steinbauer took over the former pig farm in Ottnang, they converted it into an organic herb farm: “We decided to specialise in the cultivation of therapeutic, wild, and aromatic herbs, as my parents’ farm had been out of operation for several years. My grandfather raised pigs here, but we didn’t want to do that.”
Magdalena and Thomas actually became interested in herbs by accident. Thomas is a landscape gardener; Magdalena is an occupational therapist and herb educator.
The desire to investigate the world of herbs more closely arose because she liked walking with her parents through the farm pastures full of wild plants, but no one could tell her what it was that was growing in these pastures. “I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t even know what was growing around me.” Today, Magdalena Steinbauer passes on her knowledge of herbs to schoolchildren and adults.
According to her parents, Magdalena’s great-grandmother was a herb witch. Old herb books were found in her attic. “It is really a pity that this knowledge has been lost. These books were discarded before I became interested in herbs.”
So Thomas and Magdalena, the young herb witch of the family, learned a great deal on their own and did a lot of tinkering with the technology of herb production. They built the drying facility themselves. Heat for the drying of the herbs is produced by the farm’s own chipping plant, and the wood comes from their own forest. There is also a large photovoltaic system on the roof of the farmhouse.
On the second level of the old pig barn, holiday apartments are being built by the new owners. “We need a second pillar in our business if we both want to work here at the farm. Thomas is still employed half-time and the rest of the time he works on renovating at the farm,” says the young mother of three.
As soon as the apartments are finished, holiday-makers can come to the organic herb farm. Here, there is much more than fields of herbs to see and smell; the farm also has chickens, two sheep, and a rabbit to pet.
But not only will the old pig barn be repurposed by autumn 2022—the family has already turned the former henhouse into a small farm store.
This was their first building project when they took over the farm in 2016. Today, however, there are new plans: “Our farm store is open only on Friday afternoon, but many people want to come during the week as well or on the weekend. So we are thinking about selling on a self-serve basis.”
Out in the fields, Magdalena Steinbauer sees to the various blossoms and culinary herbs. Her husband, Thomas, is responsible for the cultivation of the leaf herbs and special crops such as ancient grains and oil-yielding plants. In summer they are both out in the fields tending the 2.5 hectares of herbs and 10 hectares of other crops. Magdalena also offers tours for interested holiday guests. In winter the Steinbauer family processes the fresh herbs to make syrup, tea blends, salt variations, and spice mixes.
“We place great importance on the careful and gentle processing of the herbs, which is why all the work is done right here at the farm.” For this purpose, a small drying room was installed in 2017, followed in 2018 by a rack-drying facility for about fifteen cubic metres per drying procedure.
The necessary energy is supplied by the solar plant. The herbs are gently dried at temperatures of around 38 degrees Celsius. But the environmentally conscious treatment of the herbs does not stop with the drying process:
“We only use packaging that is environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not so easy because there are hygienic regulations that present quite a challenge for us. But now we have come to grips with it: Glass and paper are our favourites. We use recycled paper for our labels, cutting each label to size by hand. All of our products are hand-labelled. With our glass jars, we use milk as an adhesive instead of chemical glues,” explains Magdalena Steinbauer.
The ancient grains and oil-yielding fruits from the Mathiasnhof are turned into pasta and home-pressed oils. “Our brother-in-law presses the oil at his organic farm, and the pasta is produced by a small manufacturer in the Mühlviertel region. Rice, porridge, and muesli made from our emmer wheat, an ancient grain, is the absolute hit right now.”
Some 40 to 50 different herbs flourish over about 2.5 hectares in the middle of Upper Austria—from anise hyssop to lemon balm. Magdalena and Thomas started out with 3,500 square metres.
The edible blossoms bring a bit more colour into the lives and onto the plates of their customers. “They are enormously popular right now because attractive food plating in one’s own kitchen is gaining importance.”