The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2003-06-06/162538/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, June 6, 2003, Columns

Farm Fresh Soaps in Calvert wants to clean up the world one bar of soap at a time. The little factory and store in this historic village may not cure all of the world's ills, but it is making it a better-smelling place to live.

Chrissy Daley has been making herbal soaps for almost 10 years. In that time she has learned how to concoct divine-smelling soap cakes using cocoa butter, basil, eucalyptus, and even lemon and lime.

Largely self-taught, Daley says that the essence of her craft is knowing what oils do what. By combining different herbs and oils, she creates soaps that are both healthy and functional. Her favorite bar is called "Baby Yourself" and is a mix of rosemary and lavender oils with comfrey root powder. "It's both cleansing and healing," she says, "and great for teenagers with acne."

Besides the shop in Calvert, Daley travels around the state to garden and herb festivals such as the Lavender Festival coming to Becker Vineyards outside of Stonewall on June 21 and 22. The wholesale business also keeps her busy supplying customers such as Whole Foods in Austin and San Antonio and the Horseshoe Barn in Sacramento, Calif. Her biggest seller is what she calls "The Kitchen Bar" and what the folks in California call "The Doc Bar." She came up with the recipe for this fragrant, cleansing bar out of necessity.

"My husband is a farrier and we needed something that would get the skanky smell off his hands at the end of the day," Daley says. Made with coffee grounds and clove oil, the bar is used not only by people who are around horses, but also by chefs who work with seafood, garlic, and onion smells. Daley makes more than 9,000 pounds of 20 different types of fresh, handmade soaps that do everything from soothe tattered nerves to relieve the itch of poison ivy.

The soap business started as a hobby while Daley was working as a fraud investigator for the Texas Department of Human Services. After she was laid off from the state job, someone suggested that she make soap professionally. Soon after she started the business she was called back to work with the state. "God gave me the strength for two and a half years to work at the state and make soap," Daley says. In April 2000 she began devoting all her time to making soap.

In big vats in the room behind the shop, Daley mixes the herbal blends. Then the thick slurry is poured into wood molds that are about 2 feet by 1 foot to cool and harden. The individual bars are about the same size as commercial bars except thicker.

Besides the soap, she has added a few gift items, an espresso machine, and sandwiches to her list of wares. "A lot of people pull in because they see the coffee sign or they smell the soaps when they walk along the sidewalk," she says.

Walking the sidewalks in Calvert is like strolling through a time capsule. Many of the storefronts that once housed hardware stores, theatres, and banks are now empty or filled with antique dealers. Between 1870 and 1900, the Victorian-era town was the fourth-largest settlement in Texas. The fertile Brazos River bottomland produced King Cotton at a prodigious rate. The largest cotton gin in the world churned out bales of cotton until floods, fire, yellow fever, and changes in agriculture began the town's slow decline.

The hardy souls of this area northwest of Bryan make the best of their scenic surroundings and Victorian mansions. The town offers several bed-and-breakfast accommodations. As far as dining goes, Daley says: "We have everything from fine dining to casual meals." At one end of Main Street, Somewhere in Time offers gourmet cooking on weekends, and at the other end of the business district, the Wooden Spoon has "the best catfish and onion rings in the county."

Farm Fresh Soaps is at 512 S. Main (TX 6) and opens Monday-Thursday, 10am-5pm; Friday and Saturday, 10am-8pm; and Sunday, noon-5pm. For information, call 979/364-8897 or visit the shop's Web site at www.farmfreshsoaps.com.

626th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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