Gina and I have been friends for a very long time. As I continue to share the back story of FOLK I would be remiss to not introduce her. Gina and I met when I was a freshman in college. We were both part of the same campus ministry. As I was developing my photography skills Gina, a Lexington native, would take me and some of our friends out exploring the horse farms, parks, and nature around Lexington. We would journey out to Shaker Village every spring and Boyd's Orchard every fall. All while taking photos just for the sake to taking photos. This was before Instagram. We were basically doing it just to have new Facebook profile pictures. At the time we had no idea this weekend hobby would lead to the creation of FOLK, but over time the idea of creating the brand formed over lunches and hikes and days spent at Keeneland. Since those days with cheap point and shoot cameras Gina has become one of my closest friends, whenever we're both in Lexington we make a point to meet up to take fresh photos and to talk about my life in Beaver Dam and her's in Oxford, Mississippi. This series was shot in May at various spots in Lexington, Midway, and Versailles, Kentucky.
The daily, and somewhat random, musings of the FOLK editorial team. From the journeys, to the vlogs, to the behind-the-scenes-into-the-office moments of the team that brings FOLK to life.
Growing up in the country you were sure to find little white churches everywhere. I can rattle off at least ten that are within a ten minute drive of the farm. When my family first moved to western Kentucky we even started one on the farm. It is still there, but back in the 1940’s my family moved to our current church in town. The church sits up on a hill in the tiny town of 300. It’s tall copper steeple can be see all over town. It’s bell echoes around the value. It’s history is long and ummm…sordid. So many of my views on community, home, and ultimately faith are all deeply rooted within the walls and characters of that church. While religion doesn’t really have a place or a role within my business, my beliefs about being a Christ like person are a cornerstone to the brand. I feel like I need to make an aside to all of this, simply to clarify something that may not be super obvious. I was raised in the country. I was raised in Kentucky. I was raised Baptist. I will let you take a moment to pull together all of your Kim Davis stereotypes. I was raised by a very liberal family and was raised in a church that had so many problems that judging someone for the way they were brought into this world was way outranked by judging them for their ignorant transgressions. I digress. While I was young the church was rather small, we averaged between 30-50 people a week. When I was ten our church was at 100, but after a split we were left with 30 members. This led to me being in the same Sunday School class for ten years. By that age I had already learned the order of the books of the Bible, I knew the Lord’s Prayer, I could rattle off the Ten Commandments, and I’d seen The Prince of Egypt enough to make me question most every scene in the movie. The second floor of the church was covered in blood red carpet, high ceilings, leaded glass doors, and windows that were covered in old white sheers. Every inch of the upstairs was absolutely timeless. It was a constant, it was a color of carpet that will forever haunt me.
I was the only kid in my church. My Sunday School teacher and tried to work our way through Lifeway’s books over and over, but after a couple of years we realized they just recycled the same stuff over and over. Slowly we abandoned the materials in favor of the two teachers using it as a gossip hour. Yes. I know. You’re thinking—oh how very Baptist of you. I learned more in those years of gossip than I will ever learn in a lifetime of attending church. We could tear a person to shreds with ease, we could hold the transgressions of their great grandmother against them, we could make an hour fly by. I am half convinced I owe all of my salty-semi-sweet-semi-bitter dry wit to the women of my church. During those years I lived for the gossip. In the years after I lived for the way the ladies of my church were continually helping each other out. They were caring for the community. They were growing the community. They were never afraid to help someone out. The gossip was simply a coded language for discussing the help we as a church or they as individuals could give those in the community. Those discussions led to food baskets, and community outreach. They were never shy about helping their own children and their own families. In those years I truly learned what grace was and how to extend grace to those around you. I learned how to be humble, yet thankful for all you’ve been given, and willing to share with those that have less.
I also learned how to properly set up a funeral potluck, how to serve VBS refreshments, how to hide Easter eggs, and how to be endlessly thankful that I grew up in a church that never discussed politics and lived by the teachings of Jesus rather than the ways of the Old Testament.
In the years since growing up in my church my faith has evolved a lot, but that really isn’t the point of this essay. When I went to college I joined one of the campus ministry groups. Their mission was, and still is, to be build positive community. The ideas of helping others, being non judgmental, and creating a community that was about growing together as a part of humanity were at their core.
This is the point where I could easily get on a soapbox and preach about separation of church and state and blah blah blah, but that isn’t my place. For me it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not. To me it matters that we are all supportive of each other’s quest for enlightenment and that we are all working together towards a better, brighter, and more loving society.
As the story continues I suppose it is important to tell the stories of baking and fried chicken and cakes and gardens. I learned to cook early, but it wasn’t from teaching myself. When you grow up on the farm you aren’t around that many kids. I was raised in the kitchens of my aunt and my grandfather. The two shared a big garden behind his house. There was an orchard, an overgrown grape arbor, and rows of seeds in jars on shelves, but for me the most memorable part of it all was the rows of corn with beans growing up in them. Morning glories would weave in and out as the season wore on the the weeds would take over and they’d move on to the late garden, a massive mess of turnips and greens in the front half of the garden. My favorite moments in that garden were when my aunt would be picking beans and filling old enamel buckets. The beans would soon fill the large aluminum pants that she’d sit in the swing and snap. They often times say society is so messed up today because enough people don’t sit around snapping and stringing beans with their families. I would have to agree with whoever they are.
When we weren’t in the garden we were in the kitchen. My family was known for their cooking. I grew up hearing people in town talk about the meals my great grandmother would make for the men that worked on the farm. I grew up going to church dinners and funeral dinners and ice cream socials with my aunt and her cakes or her pies. From red velvet cakes, to pea picking, to italian cream cakes, my aunt would make them all. I would stand on the plastic tan stool beside her at the counter. She would let me add ingredients or mix, or attempt to ice the cakes. My favorite was when we’d make chocolate chip cookies and she’d let me eat the dough. Phebie was right…the recipe on the bag of the chocolate chip bag really is the best.
I have a thing, its likely a weird obsession…but when someone in my family dies, I want their dining table. I want to collect the places were I was the most happy. For me sitting around my aunt’s clawfoot dining table was my happiest. When I was little she married a preacher with a whole slew of a family. I was never shy to invite myself to dinner. Around the table I learned that the idea of community and the bonds that community create are far stronger and far more important than those that families create. That was an idea I wanted to make the corner stone of this business. I have always wanted it to be about community building. Whether that is an appreciation of your roots, your hometown, your current location, or those communities that are create and fostered online like the one we’ve built today. My closest friends today are all ones that I have met through this business. We come together and explore tiny towns, and big cities. We share stories and meals around tables in diners and cafes across the globe. We share successes and failures over coffee in shops that are far more trendy than we’ve ever dreamt of being.
I can assure you—there is a point to these rambling stories of my youth. I wanted to create the brand to be a way to carry on those traditions and the warmth I experienced growing up on the farm and in my tiny town of 300. When we first launched this business in the summer of 2011 I had a manifesto of everything we represented. The focus of that was slowing life down to appreciate the little things in life. It was taking time to drink sweet tea on wide front porches under the shade of grand old oaks. It was about sharing stories of the past and creating memories of the future. It was about airing out that old quilt of your great grandmothers and putting it to use. At the time I didn’t know global adventures would be part of the picture, but today we live in a globalized world. I may spend my week days sitting in a living room in Beaver Dam and may spend the weekend surrounded by friends in Washington DC, or Maine, or Iceland. The ideas and the truths are universal…and I am privileged to get to be the voice behind it all. It’s somewhere between Martha Stewart and Ansel Adams.
Back to the story…growing up in a small town and surrounded by family I learned a slower pace of life. I learned how to do tasks and skills that the majority of my friends never even knew about. At the time I knew there was something magical about this place I grew up, but it was the 90’s and everything was slower, easier, brighter, and a little more magical. The farm still had rotary phones, and gravel roads, and barns that my great grandfather had build. We had family that would come at Christmas, and church members that would come to the farm, and they all shared stories of this place, this family, and the meals they shared and the interconnected lives they led. To me it felt like I had uncles that were still alive, even though they’d been buried in the family cemetery long ago. Back then I dreamed of owning the farm and helping the community—but I didn’t quite know how. When I was five I started growing pumpkins. I 100% believe that was the beginning of what led me to being here with FOLK today. Over the years my pumpkin patch grew and grew. I would like to say I did it alone, but, hah, I’m terrible at hoe-ing. For me the fun was picking them, arranging them, and decorating with them. Each year I would search the seed catalogs for new and interesting heirloom varieties. I’d mail in my check and wait for the seeds to arrive. I still remember every detail of the patches, the seasons, the sun blazing down, and the joy of of watching them turn from green to yellow to orange as the summer faded into fall.
I remember the old wooden hoes we used, left over from the days of growing tobacco on the farm. Originally there was a long one with a wide blade that was considerably taller than me. There was a shorter one that had been broken off and fit just right. I remember the patches that we’d rotate each year between watermelons and pumpkins. I remember the weeds that would grow higher than my head and create forests to run through and forests to search through. I remember driving the truck through the patches collecting them each fall. I remember the people that would help it all come together in the fall. My aunt would help surround the tree in front of the old farm house with corn stalks cut from the big field that cut between our yard and her’s. I remember my mom helping me count the money I’d make. I remember my dad and my grandfather who would drive the tractor in the spring, help me plant the seeds, would spend far more time tending to the plants than me, and would help carry out the ones too big for me to carry. I remember a lot of the people that would come buy pumpkins every fall. They would fill their cars, leave their money in the fish bowl, and head back to town. Each fall I hear stories of how they miss my pumpkin patch—perhaps one day I will bring it back.
It grew from a simple grouping of pumpkins around the big maple trees in the front yard. A little black table sat beside them holding the fish bowl. It grew each year bigger and bigger until I had a massive tent in front of the barn that I’d decorate each fall with family antiques and primitives perfect for the season. In my mind I’m having trouble turning all the memories into words, in my mind I can picture every site, and in my mind you can too. You can picture the creek that ran through the farm, you can picture the white farmhouse and the tall maples, and you can picture my family there on the farm. You can see the gleam in my eyes as I think about the year I introduced my community to blue pumpkins. In my mind you are standing there with me—and in my mind all of my family that has died is standing there with me too.
At the time I didn’t realize people would come from surrounding states to buy my pumpkins. I was just enjoying the little things, and enjoying the idea that I got to carry on a bit of the farm.
I have a theory about life…
The key to a good life is surrounding yourself with good people, good food, and good experiences. Perhaps I’ve watched Oprah one too many times, but I truly believe our ultimate legacy in this world is surrounded by the energy we put into this world. I believe at the end of the day we are all in this life together. We are only on this planet for a moment, and while we are here we share it with countless people. Many of these people we will never meet, but every decision they make, and every decision you make will touch each of us. It is our decision if that touch is positive or negative. It is my goal to live a life of positive energy and good aesthetics.
I’ve sure learned a lot in the last five years, each and ever lesson has been a hard one, but lessons that I feel are necessary to fully understanding our place and our voice in this world. I believe if we never experience problems and struggles we will never truly appreciate the good times, the good experiences, and the good people. It takes wading through the muck, crying until you don’t know how to stop, and getting way in over your head to learn much of anything. Experience, failure, triumph, and blind courage are the true tools to developing a whole life and the keys to understanding the value of positive energy. I’ve found that opening oneself to life and to fear is basically the only way to overcome those fears and weaknesses. After six years of hard fought lessons and journeys my biggest challenge is opening up and regaining my own voice—but here we are, its too late to turn back, the positive energy is building and the best time to start a new journey is now.
Each day this week I will be sharing sharing a bit about me, my desire to create this business, our journey, and our goals for the future. As you may have noticed a bit has changed around here since we started in 2011. What simply started as a magazine has grown into a diverse brand that soon will cross many mediums and platforms, but first our website will grow.
I reckon the best place to start is by introducing myself.
I am Ben Ashby. I am a Kentucky kid that grew up on a very old farm outside of a tiny town of 300 people in western Kentucky. My family came to the United States back in the 1600’s and we’ve only moved once since then. I’m an only child of an only child, and was around people that died long ago. I was basically destined to group up an old soul. I grew up on the farm and in the local little white church. Back then I didn’t particularly realize I was being raised differently than others. I simply thought everyone was raised in the gardens, and the fields, and in the kitchens, and barns. I learned the various varieties of sweet corn well before I ever learned to tie my shoes. Growing up there on the farm I was surrounded by history and I learned to have a deep respect for knowing your roots, knowing your community, and being an active part of that community. Whether it was knowing how to serve pie at the American Legion’s annual horse show, how to properly put out the potluck for a funeral dinner, or how to clean a fish I was there and I was eager to learn. I never realized that all the lesson’s I learned would ever come in handy, but I’m sure glad they did, and I’m sure glad I get to share them with you.
Every time I go to LA I say I'm going to go go the Hollywood Farmers Market, yet I'd never actually found the time to go. Last week that finally changed. Being from Kentucky I wasn't super sure what variety they would have at a market at the end of March...I was pleasantly surprised the market was filled with all of my favorites and countless things I could never find in Kentucky. The citrus brought down from a farm near Fresno was especially fascinating to me. I may have gotten a little over eager shooting photos of the various varieties they had.
I strongly recommend sampling all of the fruit! The ones labeled ugly but sweet were by far the best tangerines I've ever had.
Roundtop or Texas Antiques Week is officially here. Whether you're making your first trip, a seasoned veteran, or just discovering the acres of vintage and antique goodness in the heart of Texas we have a few tips for you. We asked a few Roundtop veterans their must follow rules and tips for making the most of your time and money.
In no particular order:
1) Don't plan to see the entire seven miles. Grab a Show Daily magazine and map out which fields you want to shop. It may take a few trips to see everything! -- Shannon Vance, owner Stash Style. (Check out Stash's vintage filled booth at Zapp Hall)
2) For the real deals skip the big name fields and head for the lesser known shows. Get extra good deals by buying in bulk. -- Samuel Melton, owner Lonesome Pine Mercantile.
3) Before you go, realize you'll never see it all. Research three or four of the markets and pick your favorites based on the vibe you're going for. -- Jen O'Connor, owner Earth Angels Studios
4) Start from the middle in Warrenton. Work your way out. Pick a specific area to focus on each day. -- Kim Leggett, author City Farmhouse Style
5) Bring lots of cash, a big canvas bag, and a hat. -- Jo Packham, editor Where Women Create
6) If you're hunting for luxury finds head to Marburger. Celebrate your finds with pie at Royers. -- Jo
7) Don't barter. Ask the dealer for their best deal, if you don't buy it go back on the last day to see if it's still there. -- Jo
8) Educate yourself on how to spot an authentic antique from a reproduction. -- Laurie Messeroll, painter
9) For true deals skip the highly styled shows and hit the ones around Warrenton and dig. -- Lindsey Shiflett Smith, editor Makers Workshop
10) Take friends with you and just enjoy it. Strive to create a style that is your own using pieces that really speak to you.
I blame this countdown on Paige. I blame her for taking me to all the perfect marble covered coffee shops of New York. I blame her for covering her phone in marble and making it look so good. This countdown is for you.
1) WHITE MARBLE PILLOW COVER: I want a room full of these. Marble floors. Marble walls. Marble pillows. Thank you.
2) SWELL STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE: It just looks refreshing.
3) BOUND PERSONAL JOURNAL: Lord God this is so much lighter than carrying around a marble tablet....but way cuter.
4) MARBLE + ROSE EARBUDS: Let me repeat...marble and rose gold... in one product.
5) MARBLE BEDDING: Okay, but this is a bit over the top. I'm not sure I can stand behind this one.
6) MARBLE PHONE CASE: I have been wanting one of these for months. I don't know why I haven't gotten one yet.
7) MARBLE KEY BOARD STICKERS: You 100% do not need these...but they look so damn good. Go ahead and get you some.
8) MARBLE MORTAR AND PESTLE: I am not here to question what you're going to use this for...but I can assure you that you will never look trendier.
9) MARBLE CONTACT PAPER: I remember being so excited when my 2nd grade teacher covered our desks in this contact paper. We were so beyond cool.
10) MARBLE TABLECLOTH: This one is so simple and so perfect.