Our next 'Girls in their Garden' series muse is the co-founder of Church Farm General Store, naturopath, surfer and mum of four, Amanda Callan.
Amanda's garden is on the land of the Arakwal Bumberlin people in Billinudgel, within Bundjalung of Byron Bay, Australia. Amanda and her partner ditched city life, brought an old church, planted roots and grew a garden at the same time as a successful business. What once started out as a passion project in the couples back shed, Church Farm General Store now has over a hundred stockists nationally (including providing the soap bars for The Source Bulkfoods) and their own online store. Famous for their sauces and soaps (see their current collab with Nagnata here), they have an unfaltering ethos of using 100% locally sourced, natural ingredients. The business has grown beyond being able to farm what they need on their property, but Amanda still makes the time to plant at home - using the medicinal plants and weeds for her naturopathy work, and always having herbs and salad greens handy for the family.
I met Amanda through friends in Byron, shortly after she had given birth to her twin boys- all bubbly personality, honest statements and an infectious smile. I'm so excited to have her as my next series muse, as her story is fulled with heart, spontaneity, fun and inspirational decision making based on pure instinct. I hope you enjoy.
Describe yourself as someone who loves you would…
Amanda is tall and is always surrounded by little boys, but seems okay. Ha.
Describe your garden in three words.
Miraculously. Still. Thriving.
‘Everyone should have themselves regularly overwhelmed by nature’- George Harrison
Today it’s the Mulberry tree.
The story of how you found the church and land is such a good example of ‘when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be’. Can you describe how this happened for you and Andrew?
Looking back it does feel like divine intervention or some spooky manifestation. We were driving with my parents in no particular direction, after dreaming and talking about how great it would be to find an old hall or an old church to buy. We drove to the end of the main street in Billinudgel and said "Oh imagine if this little one was for sale"- and as we looked closer it had a For Sale sign on the front with a mobile phone number. We called straight away.
I think a lot of people (like myself) have the pipe dream to one day buy land and grow their own food. Can you explain how yourself and Andrew learnt what to do once you got your slice of paradise?
Andrew for as long as I’ve known him has been into organic gardening. I think our first (or maybe second) date was at an organic nursery, he was probably trying to impress me with his knowledge of native plants and mad gardening skills- it obviously worked. I only ever grew herbs and plants on various windowsills and did a few council community garden courses when I was living in the city. When we moved to the northern rivers, we were taking work wherever we could get it, and we had lots of spare time to garden (rent and houses were cheap back then). Andrew was doing a day of farm-helping with a local legend named Ian who has now passed, but he actually started two of the farmers markets in the area. He was quite the mentor.
You being a trained naturopath, and Andrew being passionate about gardening and building sounds like the perfect team. You suggest the medicinal herbs and plants to grow, and he can build the foundations and action it! Do you think this teamwork was crucial for your gardening success?
Andrew will often say, “Hey I’m ordering some more seeds- what herbs did you want to grow again?!’ so that works out great for me. I’m often quite excited about the weeds that are growing around the edges of the garden beds, and different ways to use them, which doesn’t make him so excited. He would probably prefer if I just went into the cow paddock next door and shovelled some manure or something a bit more useful.
Your early decision making was so spontaneous, and the stories are filled with so much heart. Signing the contract for the church and having Banjo in the same week, and bottling your famous sauces on your kitchen bench. Even though the business is now well established, are there still opportunities to have fun with it?
Looking back there have been so many fun/funny moments- making soap in a hot shed while pregnant, cutting out each label with scissors and an A4 sheet of paper, making sauce in the community hall and dropping the whole lot onto the ground, trying weird and not so wonderful soaps like seaweed soap that smelt like some hectic old shoe. Now the fun parts are a little different- like oooh I wonder how that courier company smashed that parcel, or ah the packaging company have run out of curry jars and we have a gazillion orders, what should we do now. It’s always a rollercoaster, there are ups and downs, we definitely both still really enjoy it.
I love the idea of your house warming party, where you asked your friends to bring a tree or native plant instead of a present. Those trees are now bearing fruit and provide a beautiful sentimental value to your garden. If you could name one main inspiration you get from your garden, what would it be? The tree-raising party was such a good one. An inspiration- we have had very little time to really love and nourish the garden, but it still keeps on giving. Sounds a bit like parenthood.
The power of community with gardening is something I love being reminded of. I can still sometimes get caught up in thinking one garden has to grow it all. Would you say the power of your local community has eased the pressure on having to tick every box? Yes this has been so true in our area. We also live next door to a childcare centre, and our chickens get to eat the kids’ leftover lunches. Each day the teachers will walk a few kids over to feed our chickens, and our boys are always passing lemons and passionfruit to the kids through the fence. It’s a pretty good deal.
I love to be a planner, but I do believe more than half of gardening is experimenting (because more than half of plans change anyway when nature is in the driving seat). Can you explain an experiment you’ve done that's worked out quite well?
Yes totally, and sometimes plans change too. We used to have a lot more garden bed space than we do now. We are busier with work and kids so we’ve actually taken out a few beds, planted fruit trees and laid grass down instead. Less maintenance, more hang space, more fruit for the kids. The hexagon beds are our main area now- they are up high and safe from any flood waters and there’s no need to bend over.
“If it can’t go on a Sao, people won’t buy it”. Please share the story of how this saying got started!
Haha Arnott’s Saos. At a point in time we were leasing a block of larger land and growing produce to sell at the farmers markets. One season we grew heaps of wingbeans, tatsoi and mizuna I think it was. Anyways, we fed most of it to the chickens because it didn’t sell well at all- so then we joked and said it’s because you can’t put it on a Sao- and no one knows what to make with it. Just our bad, kind of sledging sense of humour showing.
It’s so inspiring that one of your initiatives is to only use local ingredients in your soaps and sauces. What makes you passionate about this?
We like supporting local Australian farmers, even farming on a small scale we realise how fricken hard it is. It has been challenging to find suppliers that have enough of what we need as our business has grown, but so far we have been able to do it. With some ingredients it would be way cheaper to import from overseas, but we care more about how we feel about our business- and we feel better supporting our local people.
With the kids at home due to current restrictions, what's been one beautiful thing (amongst the challenges) that’s come from it for you?
I would say not having the morning and afternoon rush of school drop offs and pick ups, and lazy breakfasts and dinners together outside.
Read how our previous muse, Mimi Elashiry, makes apartment growing work - even if you are away for months at a time!