FROM THE SOURCE
RESTAURATEUR AND FOOD PRODUCER, PALISA ANDERSON HAS FOUND A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS GROWING HER OWN INGREDIENTS AT BOON LUCK FARM IN THE BYRON BAY HINTERLAND.
Restaurateur and food producer Palisa Anderson is enjoying the challenge of growing her own ingredients at her family’s farm in the Byron Bay hinterland.
PALISA ANDERSON HAS gone from enthusiastic gardener — someone who plants out whatever patch of soil they can sink their hands into, wherever they happen to be living — to fully fledged market gardener with 46 hectares in the Byron Bay hinterland. Palisa’s desire to grow food seriously first took hold six years ago when she replaced her camellias and roses with fruit trees and ripped up the lawn to install a chicken run in the garden of the Sydney duplex she shares with husband Matt, their children Soraya, nine, and Arthur, eight. The project started out innocently enough as a garden that would feed her family (an unintended consequence was fattening up the local wildlife; possums were regular visitors to the garden). As the garden blossomed, so did Palisa’s desire to grow food for a wider audience — her customers. Palisa, 36, and Matt, 48, had recently returned to Australia from living in Japan to join the family restaurant business started by Palisa’s mother Amy Chanta, who opened her first restaurant Chat Thai in Sydney in 1989. Today there are nine eateries in the group, including the popular Boon Café, and an Asian grocer, Jarern Chai. “Amy is an amazing business woman,” says Matt. “We’ve learned a lot from her, and we’ve also bought things to the business that we recognised were needed.” As a former lawyer, Matt has found a natural fit in financial planning, strategy and other back office tasks, while Palisa — alongside her mother — is across everything from menus to marketing. Finding the volume of fruits and vegetables required by all nine businesses is one thing, but finding specialist Asian ingredients grown without the use of chemicals is another, as Palisa and Amy discovered when they travelled to the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland to meet farmers who would potentially grow food on their behalf. “It made sense to find someone to grow food for us but so many farmers used chemicals and that’s not what we wanted,” Palisa says. “At home and at the restaurant, we cook what we want to eat and we’re always looking for better quality. Farming is a hard business. It requires intensive labour for little return and increasingly, there are fewer growers, so you can understand why they’d use chemicals to meet demand. Who’s going to spend time weeding?” Weeding is exactly what Palisa, Matt and the children do now that they’re farmers. They bought Boon Luck Farm at Tyagarah in 2016 and grow a constant supply of specialist Thai ingredients, such as holy basil, apple eggplant and betel leaves, for the restaurants. “Very few people grow Asian ingredients at this scale and no-one I know does it organically,” says Palisa. For Amy and Palisa there’s also the cultural imperative to grow the ingredients that make a Thai dish identifiably Thai. The farm is verdant, prolific, alive. Every square centimetre of earth has been called on to produce. “The soil is so good, it feels like cheating,” says Palisa. Herbs and other greens are grown in 100-metre long polytunnels. Fruit trees, vines and bushes thrive in a netted orchard; an investment designed to keep cockatoos and bats at bay. “We are very lucky to live this dual life,” Palisa says. “When we’re in Byron, which is often, our time is spent doing >
manual labour. Pulling weeds and tending to this land gives you a different sense of who you are in the world and what it is that makes us human. Everyone wants a connection with nature whether we know it or not.” “You don’t do it for the money,” she continues. “I picked 10 kilograms of chilli today and it took me six hours. I ask myself if we’re doing this for the right reasons and I always answer yes. It’s important to grow plants that are out of favour because they don’t conform to our tastes or the system. We can’t let the supermarkets win.” Boon Luck Farm is more than a food production hub for the restaurants, it’s now also the family’s part-time home. Making the farm’s single storey 1980s brick house a home was accomplished with the help of interior designer Genine Noakes. Renovations took four months — they polished the concrete floors, installed new windows and doors, made changes to some walls to improve the flow, and added a third bathroom. Some of the furniture and decorative pieces came up from Sydney — the good kitchen pots and knives, books, beds and sofas — and the rest was found at auction or purpose-built. Very little was bought new. “We wanted a home that was comfortable, that had places for people to sprawl and communal spaces where we could gather,” says Palisa. “It was a push and pull between what we wanted and our resources and I think we got it right.” Palisa loves the farm for the simple fact that it allows her family to eat what they grow, work and cook together. Life here is lived in the slow lane. “When I fly to Sydney I take Byron with me,” says Palisa. “When we look to the future we definitely see our lives as agrarian.” Follow @boonluckfarm on Instagram.