Why this couple ran away from the circus to become farmers
WHEN two world-class circus performers fell in love, running away to become organic avocado farmers in the Byron Bay hinterland was too entertaining to ignore.
Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist Christy Shelper and acrobat DJ Garner admittedly knew little about farming when they bought a 40 acre avocado farm in Goonengerry in February 2017 - which they aptly named Big Swing Organics.
"We had no clue what we were doing," Christy said.
"We went from an eighth of an acre in Northcote with a little raised veggie patch to 40 acres and 400 avocado trees."
"We didn't pick the farm, it kind of picked us," DJ added
"I hadn't ever even seen an avo tree before we bought it.
"As a 40-year-old when you are performing with other acrobats in their 20s, it starts showing... 40 is really young for a farmer so inadvertently I think it was a way to chase our youth."
Until then the couple had lived high-flying lives touring the world over as circus performers and eventually for the "Olympics of circus" - Cirque du Soleil.
It all began when the couple met in 2007 while both working on a show called Lasoirre in Melbourne.
"DJ had met most of my family though circus life before actually meeting me," Christy said.
"In that show we were playing love interests, it's cliché but it became real life.
"I had been overseas preforming for about 10 years before we met, but then I was invited to go back to go to Quidam with Cirque du Soleil, so I asked if I could bring my boyfriend along."
"Meeting her was definitely a highlight of my career and I actually joined Cirque du Soleil just to stay with Christy," DJ added.
Coming from a circus background, Christy joined the Flying Fruit Fly circus in Albury-Wodonga at aged 7 with three of her other siblings.
Starting on tight wire she was selected to become a contortionist before finding her niche a trapeze artist.
"Contortion was kind of boring," she said.
"I would be lying there doing balances looking up at the air at all the people doing all the fun stuff... I was able to translate my flexibility into aerial stuff."
Christy's career with Circus du SoLeil was a long and fruitful one, with tours of Europe, Brazil and then North America with DJ in tow.
"It was amazing you will never get anything else like it," she said.
"You have the very best of everything there - the best technical, costumers, make up design - and you get to experience all of that while just focusing on your craft.
"I got to do amazing things like performing at the MCG which holds 100,000 people."
While Christy always knew she wanted the join the circus, DJ said it hadn't been a goal of his.
Hailing from Adelaide and coming from a sporting background he started out at an elite gymnast and judo player. Then after high school he landed a scholarship to go to the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) - in Melbourne.
'I started doing circus and it was an absolute buzz," he said.
"When I left circus school I didn't have a job and went straight into street theatre and I created what's called a circle show. I did a very different thing and there's still nobody else doing what I did."
Another highlight of DJ's career was touring his show The Candy Butchers with a group of friends through the US and Asia.
"Coming from that background he is incredibly multi-talented - he is jack of all trades and a master of all of them," Christy said.
"In Melbourne he had a really successful career as a street performer, that's how we lived."
After having children the couple began tossing up how to nurture their kids' natural aptitude and love of the circus, so instead of moving to Albury they landed on the orchard in Goonengerry to be closer to Spaghetti Circus in Mullumbimby.
"We both teach at Spaghetti Circus and DJ is directing a show which opens soon," Christy said.
While they've struggled to crack the local avocado market the couple put the success of their certified organic farm down to the generosity of their four mentors.
"They've been so generous to share their knowledge and that's helped us on our path to regenerative farming, which is what's going to save the world,' Christy said.
"Joel Orchard from Young Farmers Connect was one of our mentors and if it weren't for him I don't know what we'd be doing right now - he connects us with so many people - he's amazing we can't speak highly enough of him or our other mentors," Christy said.
"The world needs more young farmers but beyond that, Australia as a population could do better to understand where food comes from," DJ added.
"Circus performers transitioning into becoming farmers are well situated - and the show must go on."