Matthew Barbee

Rockmill Brewery
Lancaster, Ohio


These days you’ll find Matthew Barbee serving tasty — and traditionally-crafted — Belgian-style brews in a quaint, rural setting, but it wasn’t always that way.

Winemaking runs in Barbee’s family. Naturally, he studied wine, but eventually realized a career in wine wasn’t for him. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, Barbee returned to the 19th-century horse farm his mother owned outside Lancaster, Ohio with every intention of building a brewery. The Hocking River, rife with blackhand sandstone, runs through the property, and it just so happens that the minerality of the river’s water is almost identical to the water in Belgium.

Nervous to move home to his Ohio roots, he credits nearby Columbus, Ohio’s burgeoning food and drink scene with giving him the confidence to open his business in 2010. Today, Rockmill Brewery offers a quaint and quiet getaway in a rural setting, becoming a popular setting for weddings, private parties, live music, and photo shoots.

“A lot of people make comments that this reminds them of a wine-country experience. I love that we can provide that here in rural Ohio.”

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A recently-converted historic barn is now home to a cozy, multi-level tasting room welcoming guests with aromas of ash and cherry woods burning in the fireplace. Around back, former stables now house a 30-barrel-a-week brewing operation employings techniques from days of old to churn out its lineup of Belgian-style farmhouse beers. All of Rockmill’s seven Belgian-style beers, which include witbier, dubbel, and tripel, are created so they can be paired with a variety of cheeses, chocolates, meats, and even cigars.

Rockmill Brewery doesn’t serve food, but guests are encouraged to bring their own. The brewery’s website even points patrons to shops where they can pick up foods that go well with the beers. Picnics have become part of the experience on the Rockmill Brewery property, and Barbee sometimes brings in guest chefs to prepare dishes that cater to Rockmill’s lineup.     

In 2016, Barbee expanded the company’s reach with the opening of Rockmill Tavern, a small brewpub in Columbus’ Worley building. Interestingly, the Worley building once served as the horse stables for L. Hoster Brewing Co. — connecting it with the rural vibe of the horse farm.

Rockmill continues to maintain its solid reputation among craft brewers, most recently racking up the “Best of Show” award at the 2018 King of Ohio beer competition.


Mary Celeste Beall

Blackberry Farm
Walland, Tennessee


Photo: Eric Ryan Anderson

Photo: Eric Ryan Anderson

Tucked into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains is a 68-room East Tennessee lodge some consider the best place to stay in America. Named for the blackberry bushes dotting its property, Blackberry Farm includes a collection of rustic yet warm cottages and farmhouses that sit on 9,200 acres of misty mountain magic.

Known for its impeccable service, Blackberry Farm has something for everyone: fitness buffs will love the daily exercise classes and miles of hiking trails, foodies can expect world-class meals and firsthand lessons, spa lovers will want to spend all day at the Wellouse. No matter where your passions lie, Blackberry Farm will inspire you to try a little bit of everything.

And yet even with all that to consider, the farm is probably most famously known as a culinary powerhouse -- complete with an on-site creamery, bakery, and charcuterie, 180,000-bottle wine cellar, and collection of 600 different bourbons, ryes, scotches, and whiskies.

And the woman behind it all? Mary Celeste Beall. Ms. Beall took sole leadership of the farm when her husband, Sam, died unexpectedly in a snow skiing accident in 2016 at age 39. It was Sam who took the reins from his parents in 2003 and ultimately harnessed the farm's potential. Now, Mary Celeste is carrying on Sam's legacy, stepping into her husband’s role as the proprietor and president of Blackberry Farm. She gracefully juggles the day-to-day challenges of being a mom of five and managing a resort that hosts a couple hundred guests around the clock, not to mention weddings, outdoor concerts, and culinary programs. She has also overseen the completion of a major expansion: a 5,200-acre sprawling guest and residential addition called Blackberry Mountain, scheduled to debut early this year.

Ms. Beall shares her husband’s passion for cooking and entertaining; her love of nature; and now continues to grow the empire as an international destination. Like their father, most of the kids have become avid cooks.

“We founded the Farm on an appreciation of great food, wine, and community. Blackberry Mountain is a really exciting opportunity to further weave that into an experience of adventure and a powerful connection with the natural world.”

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Photo: Shawn Poynter

Photo: Shawn Poynter

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Why we (and so many others) love Blackberry Farm

The farm provides more than 500 local jobs.

Additionally, it has created the idea of a luxury vacation built around agriculture, all built on a foundation of simple Tennessee country life as reinterpreted for guests willing to pay a premium to taste its pleasures without any of its hardships.

Their world-renowned Foothills Cuisine is all about local ingredients and old Southern methods.

Every dish is somehow connected to the farm, using seasonal fruits and vegetables such as sugar snap peas, hen of the woods mushrooms, heirloom string beans, and, yes, blackberries. Critics love its cheeses, jam, and beer.

Chefs around the country long for an invitation to cook in the Barn, the farm’s showcase restaurant built in a 200-year-old barn that Mr. Beall had dismantled and moved from Pennsylvania.

Think of Blackberry less as a hotel, more as a home-away-from-home.

"We all laugh about him, we cry about him, and we are keeping his spirit alive — and that's just the closest thing I'll get," says Mary Celeste. "Sam's goal — and my goal — has always been, "How can we carry Blackberry on for generations?" And it's really just our job not to mess it up."

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Paige Ehnle

No Roots Boots
Metamora, Illinois


Let’s just say this is not your typical boot store. This one rides on the wheels of a ‘72 Airstream and is owned by a 24-year-old farm girl.

Meet Paige Ehnle. Originally from Edelstein, Ill., Ehnle noticed several mobile boutiques and shops opening in her area, which sparked an idea to combine her passion for travel, meeting people, and high quality western and fashion boots into a boot store on wheels. Soon after, No Roots Boots was born.

Seeking to create a business that is authentic to her, she (with the help of family) converted the 31-foot trailer into a mobile shop with shelves and those shelves filled with boots. She now spending summers traveling the Midwest going to markets, fairs, festivals, concerts, and other events where boot lovers might mingle.

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She is a one woman show, finding her inspiration on the road.

There is nothing that inspires me more than driving through Rural America. There is something amazing about driving through towns that are just blips on a map and realizing that someone has built their entire life there. I love seeing this rural revival we have happening as well. People are investing their money to shop small and small town downtowns are growing because of it.

When she does have time off from the road, she puts her roots down in a small town. She opened a brick and mortar shop in Geneseo, Ill. in the off-season. Her focus these days is on building an authentic brand.

As someone who thrives on making people happy, Ehnle’s worked hard to build an authentic brand. That means placing her value on people over profit, and building incredible relationships with other business owners, vendors, and customers. It’s also about offering quality, handcrafted boots.

She knows this business is more about selling boots. It’s helping someone find the perfect boot to match their personal style and instill confidence.

“Each customer is unique; their story, their life, their purpose, and their style is no different. I want my brand to reflect that, to offer boots that are as unique as the women buying them.”

Oh, and we don’t mind those Illinois fields used as the backdrop for her photo shoots, either.

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Micah Fink

Horses & Heroes
Manhattan, Montana


Micah Fink is a family man, Navy SEAL, ironman, woodsman, and hunter. Raised in upstate New York, Fink joined the military in 2003. He racked up 13 combat deployments totaling nearly three years of boots-on-the-ground time in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Navy SEAL and as a private contractor on a special operations force. After 14 years in the military, his return to a comparatively easy civilian life left him severely depressed. In his own words, returning home from combat was the greatest challenge he has ever faced.

Fink found relief from the listlessness, and the numbness, when he started horse packing. The activity is a highly specialized style of backcountry camping in which campers ride horses instead of hike and are accompanied by pack mules to carry their tents, sleeping bags, clothes, food, and cooking supplies.

The deep backcountry of Montana is where Fink finds healing, growth, and transformation. He devotes himself full-time to Heroes and Horses, the Montana-based nonprofit to help troubled veterans find their way in the civilian world. He created an innovative, three-phase reintegration program, which is offered to qualifying combat veterans (at no cost to them) suffering from PTSD.

Heroes and Horses is known for the execution of ideas that change people’s lives through action, inspiration, and the shifting of beliefs. Every summer, Heroes and Horses takes 16 carefully-screened vets through a three-phase, five-month backcountry horsemanship program in Montana and Alaska in order to help them rediscover the confidence and courage that saw them through combat deployments, but which somehow got lost on the long journey home. The program provides extreme expedition-style horse pack trips that teach self-reliance, teamwork and perseverance. Experienced instructors, many who are combat veterans themselves, lead teams of veterans and their pack animals into the wilderness on epic, life-changing journey of discovery. To ensure applicants know they’re expected to show up ready to work, Fink adopted the hashtag #notavacation.

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Fink launched Heroes and Horses after realizing, despite the thousands of PTSD-related nonprofits, and the billions spent every year, the statistics on veteran suicide and addiction was growing rapidly. In response to these staggering statistics, he created a veteran nonprofit with programming unlike anything else available. He even adopted 15 wild mustangs for the program, and in the process realized how much the mustangs had in common with the veterans he was trying to help: They were tough and brave and capable of thriving in harsh environments. Fink’s guiding philosophy, with horses and men, is that pressure and time are the essential ingredients of transformation, the same as they are in the universe at large.

Fink continues to inspire groups of people, from all different walks of life, through his unique approach to motivational speaking, and is frequently hired by sports teams and large corporations to ignite innovate thinking within their team members.  


Dean Jacobs

Dean’s Cake House
Andalusia, Alabama


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Every cake is homemade — baked and iced individually — at Dean’s Cake House located in Andalusia, Ala., which is exactly what you’d expect from a venue famously known for the best cakes in the south. And conveniently, also known for making for a great pit stop on the way to the beach.

Owner Dean Jacobs is your quintessential southern grandmother. As a young mother, Dean took a job working at the local grocery store at a time when employees were given stock in the company. For years she worked the cash register until a spot opened in the deli. She realized other grocers were selling fresh cakes, so she started baking and selling her cakes at the grocery store. Word spread quickly and Dean’s cakes flew off the shelf - so she sold decades worth of grocery store stock, gathered some friends, and opened her own bakery at age 60. Thus, Dean’s Cake House was born.

Jacobs’ budding company started in a little building south of town where word about her delicious products quickly out-paced square footage. While most were after her chocolate cake, customer support served as a catalyst to expanded the menu to include caramel, coconut, lemon, and more.

She moved to a bigger building, expanded her product line to include cookies, pies, and more, and the people kept coming.

Now Jacobs ships hundreds of cakes a day to grocery stores throughout the southeast. Around the holidays demand is so high that it’s impossible for her staff of 18 to keep up.

It’s important to note you won’t find any assembly line machines or shortcuts here. Dean calls her staff “the girls,” and most are over age 60. They divide labor — one greases pans, one pours batter, one slips them into the ovens, and so forth — and they hustle.

“It’s the only thing we’ve got going for us. People know a real person makes every cake. You can taste it.”

She says she never expected any of this and still struggles to understand it. She has rarely left Covington County and admits, “I haven’t even seen all of the county yet.”


Ryan McPherson

Glidden Point Oyster Farms
Edgecomb, Maine


Photo: Derek Davis, Portland Press Herald

Photo: Derek Davis, Portland Press Herald

One of the most important aspects of rural America is while the people are largely comprised of similar traits — hard working, passionate, dedicated — the geography and agricultural and food opportunities are differ vastly across the country. For example, Glidden Point Oysters, located in picturesque Maine, is founded on the mission of providing, you guessed it, excellent oysters.

“Our farm was established in 1987 by the work of a dedicated marine biologist who believed the only way to grow an oyster was to grow a great one. It took many years of trial and error, but by obtaining some of the most ideal growing areas on the Damariscotta River it appears she discovered the simple formula: place + practice = a premium oyster.”

For thirty years Glidden Point Oysters have made their way to wholesalers, chefs, and individuals; locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally -- earning a reputation for producing some of the finest oysters on the market.

While all businesses aspire to grow exponentially, it’s apparent Glidden Point’s mission is largely to credit for this business’ success: It is our mission to provide you with the best experience, from placing your order to enjoying our product.

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What’s special about Glidden Point Oysters?

From the behind-the-scenes glimpses through Instagram to farm tours (land and water) the Glidden Point team showcases a lifestyle that although many enjoy, not many are familiar.

The world of oyster farming and fishing is one that “you have to want to be in,” owner Ryan McPherson said. He has been drawn to that world since his early days, when his father would take him fishing, and he kept trying to find a way back to water. He gravitated to oyster farming because it was a unique product he could brand, unlike the lobster industry, which is dependent on volume.

McPherson, originally from Marshfield, Massachusetts, wasn’t new to aquaculture. He had fished out of Nantucket and other ports, raised mussels on Martha's Vineyard, and worked at oyster farms in Massachusetts. When he learned that founder Barb Scully was interested in slowing down, he seized the opportunity to make Glidden Point Oysters his own.

“The opportunity to do something up here was pretty special,” McPherson said.

McPherson has added a retail shop to the company’s offerings, and plans for a patio and dining space are in the works.


Joni Nash

Executive Director, Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce
Pawhuska, Oklahoma


Her Southern charm is one of the first things you’ll notice, but only seconds later you’ll learn Joni Nash’s rural roots run deep.

Born and raised on a farm in Georgia, Nash grew up showing horses and was involved in the Nation’s original youth leadership organization — 4-H, which some could rightly say set a strong foundation for her title as Miss Rodeo Georgia, which she proudly represented at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. 

After her reign, Nash spread her wings to Stillwater, Okla. using auctioneering school as an opportunity to help pay her tuition. Not one to take handouts, she made a deal with her dad: he would pay for auctioneering school giving Nash a year to pay back the loan. Within six months, the loan was paid in full and Nash was making her mark as a female auctioneer.

After earning degrees from Oklahoma State University and Southwest Christian University, Nash took on a series of roles focusing on recruitment, development, and volunteer management, and is a certified K-12 special ed teacher. Knowing she wanted a rural life, her career afforded the opportunity to do just that and still keep up with her auctioneering gigs. It also gave her a chance to entertain a few other hobbies: team roping and hunting (just ask her about the kudu wall mount now on display at her ranch).

As an International Roundup Clubs’ Cavalcade queen contest judge in 2013 and again 2014, Nash made necessary connections that led to her now position as Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. Since starting with the Chamber, Nash has witnessed the small town literally explode overnight with the opening of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile (and other subsequent businesses that followed). These days it’s not uncommon for national publications like People Magazine or the Associated Press to call for an interview - something that would have been unimaginable in years past.

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Nash makes her home at the Coy T. Ranch, affectionately named after her dad and four generations before him, outside Pawhuska. The Coy T is home to her bottle calf Ida Red, horse, Two Guns, dog, a small herd of commercial cattle, and Camp Noni — which she hosts once a year for her nieces and nephews. 

She also operates as an independent-contract auctioneer specializing in benefit and non-profit fundraisers, including work with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Easter Seals, the Mark Harmon Project, Tulsa Boys Home, the National Wild Turkey Federation, International Professional Rodeo Association, Miss Rodeo America, Inc., and the University of Oklahoma men’s and women’s athletics.

Her recent work as the Regional Coordinator for Marsy’s Law, a campaign to strengthen rights for crime victims, achieved a successful victory in Oklahoma resulting in a constitutional amendment.

What stands out about Joni?

While after only moments of meeting Nash, you’re confident in her ever-growing Rolodex and inability to meet a stranger, but what leaves the longest impression is her generous spirit and ability to lead with integrity and character that stands above the rest. It’s no wonder the locals refer to her as the “Queen of Pawhuska.”

Her life-giving presence shines through in everything she does.


Amie Sikes & Jolie Sikes

Junk Gypsies
Round Top, Texas


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Full of big dreams and unstoppable drive, sisters Amie and Jolie Sikes launched Junk Gypsy with $2,000 and an old pickup truck. After earning college degrees and attempting to find peace in corporate city jobs, both arrived at a point where they could no longer resist the restless pull to return to their rural Texas roots. Thus began their life as creatives and entrepreneurs, which both will tell you they were truly meant to be.

“We agreed we’d never seen a city looking so beautiful as it did in our rearview mirrors. We never could get used to the sight of skyscrapers on the horizon instead of towering pines. We missed the stars. Our cowgirl boots longed for the earth. Some indefinable something else was calling to our gypsy souls.”

Since then, the Junk Gypsies and their signature style — equal parts retro, romantic and classic country, with a healthy dose of sass and rhinestones — have become a Texas phenomenon, with famous fans including Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. Their unique brand and lifestyle eventually secured their own TV show, a self-titled book, and collaborations with Pottery Barn Teen and Lane Boots, to name a few.

“There were no stodgy business plans for this ride . . . just grassroots dreams and a whole lotta faith! We set out to find a great business, but instead found a great life.”

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With all their trips to Warrenton and Texas Antiques Week, it’s no surprise they fell in love with nearby Round Top. After more than a decade on the road selling their one-of-a-kind junk creations, the sisters, their parents, and their families have settled down in the tiny town of 90, where they opened an 8,000-square-foot flagship store and world headquarters in 2013. Next came the Wander Inn, an eight-bedroom getaway next to their store, and Amie’s 1900s farmhouse they found by the road and had moved onto her property. Of course all are complete with neon lighting, vintage signage, and Americana flair.

“It was already like a home away from home, but we really love it here. The land and the countryside and the hillside.” - Jolie Sikes

The new store, along with family life in a small town, has a theme that’s apparent through….FUN. A perfect example is the Junk-o-Rama Prom they host every year during Texas Antiques Week — where over-the-top prom dresses are always in, too much is just right, and you can never have enough bling. Open to everyone, it’s a glam party that has now reached legendary status.

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Why America loves the Junk Gypsy brand and lifestyle so much

A megaphone for life and adventure in rural America, Amie and Jolie have literally designed a life around small-town living.

Being a Junk Gypsy is living a life of traveling the backroads in search of junk along roadsides and in antique stores and flea markets - and then finding a way to give it new life. But no matter where the road takes them, they always come home to their rural Texas roots.

"We have our business, we have our family, and we're living in the country. Those are the things that are most important to us.” - Jolie Sikes

“Grit. It’s part of who we are. Who we were meant to be. How we were raised.”


Nevada Watt

Nevada Watt Brand
Frenchglen, Oregon


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She calls herself the “Western Eclectic Maker.” Her jewelry incorporates traditional Western design with cultural elements -- classic silver engravings like scrolls with geometric shapes like triangles, diamonds, and crosses. And she’s everything you would hope for in a Ruralist.

Nevada Watt is a maker and wife to rancher Levi. Together they live in rural Frenchglen, Ore. (pop. 12). There, Watt spends most of her time fabricating, engraving, and creating eclectic silver jewelry. And of course taking a break now and then to help her husband on the ranch. You will often find her documenting this “middle of nowhere” life on her Instagram.

Watt grew up in central California, learning the art of silversmithing from her father, Jeremiah Watt. She attended Montana State University and earned a degree in exercise science, but returned to silver after graduating.

Watt quickly developed her own style - one that has been known to receive pushback from traditionalists. And while she holds nothing against traditional designs, she says would be bored if she stuck to them. She thanks critics for their input and continues to infuse her work with her own style.

“You can move traditions forward. If you don’t, they die.”

She is also curator of the Fusion Show and Sale in Santa Ynez, Cali., a show for western craftsmen focusing on creativity within constraints.

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Why do we love Nevada?

Mature. Generous. Encouraging. All words her peers use to describe her.

Nevada carries herself with maturity in how she rises above the drama in the small world of the western industry where some say there is one too many "who is copying who" territory battles. Many have seen her designs and styles knocked off, but none can say they’ve heard her bad mouth another. She's generous in sharing her wealth of knowledge for those hungry to learn/grow in both the art of making and in the challenge of making it a successful business.

“Never be too busy to be helpful to those around you.”

She's the kind of woman making an impact in the world so no matter what corner of rural America you wander, someone says "Have you met her? You should! She's amazing!"


Brad Bellah

Rancher
Throckmorton, Texas


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Brad Bellah is a sixth generation rancher living and working on his family’s cattle ranch, the R.A. Brown Ranch, in Throckmorton, Texas, which got its start in the 1890's when his great great great great grandfather, R.H. Brown, bought land in Throckmorton County. After graduating from Texas Tech University, Brad planned to start a career in the city, but the opportunity to return to his hometown and carry on the family legacy presented itself.

Read as: his dad needed help, and he needed a job.

Brad, like most farmers and ranchers, grew up in the family business, which has holdings in both Throckmorton and neighboring Haskell counties. Today, Brad couldn’t imagine life any other way. Striving to do better, his ultimate goal is to not only maintain, but also improve and grow what his father and grandfather have built. His family business operates about 75 percent ranching, with between 5,000 and 10,000 head of beef cattle depending on availability, and 25 percent cultivation.

Raising his kids where so many generations of his family grew up and raised their own families adds an element to life that few people today get to experience, and it’s something Brad does not take for granted.

The one room schoolhouse my Pop and his nine siblings attended sat on a ranch my dad now runs. I can’t put into words how I feel when my dad and I ride past those school steps, and I can’t wait for the day when the twins are riding alongside us.
— Brad Bellah

Brad was recently featured in Farmland, a 90-minute documentary produced by an Academy-Award winning producer, about six diverse ag producers in their 20s sharing their personal stories of producing food for the nation’s consumers. With 60 as the estimated average age for a farmer in America, the film shows the successes and struggles of several young farmers and ranchers who represent the next generation of food and textile producers in the United States.

“I want to ensure future generations of my family will be able to feed future generations of America. I do my part in ensuring that by managing resources both for what’s needed today and what will be right for tomorrow.”

Brad is not only setting an example for future generations of his family, but for future generations of farm families across America.

Brianna Hall Bigbee

The Bleacher Babe
Muscle Shoals, Alabama


As a child of a southern rodeo family, Brianna Hall Bigbee held equal admiration for her home state of Alabama as she did of the the ladies and fashion of the West. When she found herself dating a professional rodeo athlete, she became accustomed to weekends in the bleachers with other “bleacher babes”—discussing fashion, makeup, and hair tips between events. Long days in the bleachers sparked the idea for a western fashion blog to serve as a catalyst for a rich community of rodeo wives - and girlfriends, and moms!

Once I figured out different hair and makeup tricks that got the job done, I couldn’t wait to dish on the new products I found with other women who shared the same struggles. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! I thought to myself, if only I could connect with more girls like myself.
— Brianna Hall Bigbee
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Through Instagram, Brianna discovered a few interesting blogs, but noticed a lack of accounts catering to her lifestyle. She took this as an opportunity to create a blog, as it could become the perfect avenue to share western fashion industry and rodeo world resources she would come across while on the road. And with that, the Bleacher Babe was born.

Brianna’s creative outlet quickly evolved into a home-based business, where her love for fashion and quest for affordable pieces turned into an overnight hit. The Bleacher Babe brand launched Brianna as a rodeo fashionista and western lifestyle influencer in large part to her ability to seize an opportunity to cultivate rich relationships and establish opportunities for collaboration. In addition to the blog, Brianna launched a buy-and-sell Facebook group - The Bleacher Babe’s Closet - where women could make money and save money selling their gently used clothing. The idea spread like wildfire and led to Shop Bleacher Babe, an online western fashion marketplace where western-inspired boutiques can sell online, similar to Etsy and Ebay.

As her platform continued to grow, she created the Bleacher Babe Squad, which is made up of women representing a wide variety of ages, sizes, locations, and backgrounds—all of whom find sisterhood in their passion for the west and sense of style and share about it on social media.

The sky is the limit as Brianna has worked alongside networks like RFDTV to produce events like the annual “The Bleacher Babe” Fashion Shows at RFDTV’s The American Rodeo, to cover Round Top Antiques Week with the Junk Gypsy Company, as well as to cover the red carpet at The Kentucky Derby. Her portfolio is busting at the seams with national brand segments, and collaborations with national publications Western Horseman, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, and Barrel Horse News.

Brianna has since married that rodeo cowboy, Cole Bigbee, and is now a new mom to their son, Payson.

Why do we love Brianna?

Never afraid to try something new, Brianna lives life to the fullest and is not one to shy away from the fear of risk or failure. She loves to use her platform to make people feel good inside and out. She believes every girl should feel confident and comfortable in her own clothes, and The Bleacher Babe exists to do just that.

Society tends to make us feel that we should look a certain way. Be your own kind of beautiful.  That’s what is sexy!
— Brianna Hall Bigbee

Part of the vision behind The Bleacher Babe is to provide jobs and be a positive light in the western community. Brianna is also a big advocate for giving back to the community and military through charity events and live auctions during fashion shows.

Style advice?

Wear your clothes, don’t let your clothes wear you. It can be overwhelming; don’t overthink it and take the fun out of the real experience stressing over outfits. Be yourself! If you’re not comfortable in it, don’t wear it! Stick to what you love and feel your best in. Spice it up with fun accessories!


“No grit, no pearl” is Brianna’s motto, and you can find her on these social media handles:

@briannabigbee
@thebleacherbabe
@shopbleacherbabe
@bleacherbabies
@bleacherbabefitness

www.briannabigbee.com






Sean Dietrich

Sean of the South
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida


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Sean Dietrich, a columnist, novelist, and radio show host, is known for his commentary on life in the American South. His daily column on his blog, "Sean of the South," is littered with stories of frequenting front porches, grocery stores, church socials, weddings and funerals, bars, baseball games, classrooms, and other venues he visits as he searches for stories about everyday people: "The unrecognized, who think they're nothing. People you'll never hear about. The unpopular, unknown, and under-appreciated."

Something we can definitely get behind.

A full-time writer and self-proclaimed “adopted son of Alabama,” his work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, Alabama Living, the Birmingham News, Thom Magazine, The Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.

After losing his father to suicide at age 12, he had to quit school by eighth grade to help support his mother and younger sister. He made a living working construction and doing other odd jobs, like delivering newspapers, catering, cooking and working as a maintenance man. He’s also been playing music for money all over the Southeast since he was 17.

Dietrich has channeled the grief, loneliness, and shame that followed him through his teenage years into his writing. "I spent the first half of my life feeling ashamed of what I went through," he said. "Now I'm proud of the immense suffering and pain." He loves to talk to middle- and high-school students to show them there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

His stories touch on hope, goodness, redemption, and kindness, relating an appreciation for the slower, sweeter pace of Southern life in the towns and farming communities his readers call home.

Why do we love Sean?

Sean’s exemplary creativity affords him the opportunity for endless outlets for storytelling, yet, time and time again his stories are often of rural, everyday people and the magic they possess to impact those around them.

 
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Nicolle Galyon

Songwriter
Nashville, Tenn. // Sterling, Kansas


For many of us, the songs Nicolle Galyon writes are directly from our memories of growing up in small town. For some, it’s leaving. For a few, it’s returning.

As a word artist, Nicolle never dreamed she would be one of Nashville’s rising songwriters when she moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University. Yet, today, with her life experiences and the experiences of those around her as her muse, her songs are repeatedly climbing the charts.

This year alone, Nicolle was nominated for Academy of Country Music Song of the Year for “Female” (co-written with Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman), topped the charts with “Tequila” and “Coming Home,” co-wrote Camila Cabello’s - "Consequences" - from her self-titled debut album, and made her Opry debut.

But, frankly, what’s most impressive is although Nicolle’s list of accolades is growing at a rapid pace, her role as a wife, mother, and friend, and digging roots into her rural hometown stay in focus. In a whirlwind of a year, her list of most important accomplishments also include her daughter’s first day of kindergarten, taking her son on a solo-trip to ride trains at Edaville Family Theme Park, building a house in her hometown of Sterling, and establishing an annual scholarship for a graduate of Sterling High School.

That’s right.

The female who is on top of the world is putting down roots in her hometown, where she and her family spend one month every summer and important family weekends, and established a scholarship to encourage the dreamers and doers to write their own stories with Sterling as their launching pad.

Sometimes life - and our passions - remove rural zip codes from our life journey. Instead of spending a life buffering, unable to choose, commandeer a life of both.

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Why do we really love Nicolle?

Nicolle is a case study of your heart belonging to two places. A life where your hometown can be your past and also your future.

Why should you follow Nicolle?
Her Instagram is a dream not solely on her seemingly ability to balance being a wife, mother, friend, and full-time songwriter, but most importantly because of her knack for saying the things we all need to read. Marriages matter. Friendships matter. Downtime matters. Living a full life matters.

Lyndsey Garber

Cowboy Life and Love Stories Photographer
Old Horse Springs, New Mexico


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Lyndsey Garber has grown her photography business from a side hustle to a portfolio with national clientele all while documenting and sharing the western lifestyle and its respective love stories. She’s the woman behind our favorite photos where we tend to get lost for a minute (or thirty) and the pins we pin, and pin, and pin on Pinterest.

Growing a businesses in a rural zip code comes with its own set of obstacles - rural internet, intentional trips to the post office, et al. - but for those who embrace their roots, it comes with even more opportunities simply because of the unique skills distinctive to rural living.

As a kid I dreamed of traveling the world and photographing working ranches. Along the way of chasing that dream, I discovered I also had a passion for capturing couples and telling their love stories…and the combination of the two set my soul on fire.
— Lyndsey Garber

When Lyndsey dipped her toes into wedding photography she did what most new business owners do: say yes to every possible opportunity. In doing so, she found herself capturing beautiful images of urban brides and grooms all while having limited in common with those on the other side of her lens.

After shooting another “city wedding,” Lyndsey asked herself, “What if I just shot cowboy couples and ranch weddings?” After all, she could navigate rural directions, despised cliche cowboy poses, and could flank a calf while slinging her Canon 6D Mii DSLR.

Lyndsey found her niche before niches were common marketing speak. She aligned her target client to her personal passions and talents and in doing so she’s catapulted her brand is the standard for ranch wedding photography.

Why do we love Lyndsey?

Lyndsey found her niche before niches were common marketing speak. She aligned her target client to her personal passions and talents and in doing so she’s catapulted her brand into the standard for ranch wedding photography.

And while her brand continues to grow, she continues to pull other aspiring creatives up with her.

 

 
Lyndsey Sullivan

The Field House
Vian, Okla.


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Traditional, yet trendy: it’s the common denominator when it comes to Vian, Okla., The Field House, and Lyndsey Sullivan.

Lyndsey, a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, is not a Vian native; however, in her tenure she’s quickly joined the ranks of the community to elevate Vian’s spirit, curb appeal, and camaraderie. Her journey to the eastern Oklahoma town of 1,466 was not direct. While pursuing a degree in journalism at Oklahoma City University, she began making trips east on I-40 with her college best friend - now sister in law - and noticed similarities from her hometown of Knoxville, Iowa. Namely, the people.

After chasing her on-air dreams as a reporter in the Windy City, Lyndsey returned to Oklahoma, where she married Casey and completed her Masters in Exercise Science at OCU, joined Connors State University as PR Director, side hustled as a freelance broadcaster, and taught broadcasting at Northeastern State University.

Small Town Revitalization

Lyndsey, a dreamer, doer, and connector, had her eyes set on making a bigger, yet local, impact.

Once a bustling trade center during the early 1900s, today Vian’s downtown is relatively quiet. However, with a close proximity to an interstate vein, a bustling lake scene, and a proud community,  the town is on the verge of an awakening.

New boutiques line the downtown area, a new doctor’s office stands proudly on the corner of Main and Blackstone, and as of this year, a new fitness center stands in a polished, historic building. 


Let’s Go

Forty six million Americans - 15 percent of the U.S. population - currently live in rural areas. The CDC reports rural citizens report less leisure-time physical activity and have higher rates of high blood pressure and obesity.

Not on Lynsey’s watch.

The Field House is a gym where traditional meets trendy when it comes to breaking a sweat. In a renovated downtown building, FH brings convenience and an upscale vibe without breaking the bank. The 3,000+ square foot facility is filled with high-end cardio, circuit and unconventional equipment in addition to classes for all skill levels and taste buds.  

While ground level real-estate is committed to everything exercise, the loft brings services from massage therapy to nail care.

Why Should You Follow Lyndsey?

Reviving community staples shows we’re not only investing in the future of communities, but that we’re also honoring our history. The Field House building is a unique example of how we can honor our roots while giving them wings.

FB: /TheFieldhouse | @TheFieldHouseOk

Stephen & Jessica Rose

THE PEACH TRUCK
NASHVILLE, TENN.


IG: The Peach Truck

IG: The Peach Truck

Stephen Rose spent his childhood in Fort Valley, GA. It was there he became accustomed to the lush peaches his neighbors, the Pearson Farm, produced. Once Stephen moved to Nashville, Tenn., he realized just how one-of-a-kind those Pearson Farm peaches really were. It then became his goal to share the sweet Pearson peaches with as many others as possible.

With the support of his wife, Jessica, Stephen teamed up with the patriarch of Pearson Farm, Al Pearson, and his son and business partner, Lawton, to bring the Pearson Farm peaches to the Music City.

Read as: the birth of The Peach Truck.

Named for the 1964 Jeep Stephen and Jessica use to sell the peaches, the Peach Truck has sold more than 4.5 million pounds of peaches and now ships worldwide, offering more than 40 varieties. Stephen and Jessica have an extremely active role behind the social media handles and have curated an active following of peach lovers and Nashville enthusiasts.

What makes The Peach Truck unique?

Stephen Rose knows what sets their peaches apart – five generations of farming the same Pearson land, and a lot of hard work. He combines the tradition and quality of Pearson Farms with modern aesthetics and marketing to create an incredible following.

Their hands-on business approach allows customers to feel connected with the Rose duo, which is an important component for today’s consumers. It’s a team effort and the content is flowing. Jessica posts recipes and videos and the team triages customer questions.

No question is off limits for The Peach Truck customers. From how to get the peaches they purchased softer to the upcoming truck locations, attention to detail is what makes this business so popular – that and the delicious peaches, of course.

How does this influence rural America?

Whether you’re a cattle rancher or a peach farmer, it ain’t easy.  So many variables affect the outcome of each year’s harvest and that couldn’t be more true for the Pearson Farm.  

Al Pearson openly admits growing peaches can be quite stressful. One bad season with mother nature and that year’s crop is eliminated. Stephen continues to strengthen the bridge from farmer to consumer, which allows customers to have a greater appreciation for the hard work that is poured into every single box of peaches.  

With quality and pride that you can taste, it’s no wonder why Rose has been able to sell millions of peaches.

Danna LarsonDecember 2018
Blaine & Mackenzie Vossler

The Local Branch
Skaneateles, NY


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American Dream: achieving success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.

Blaine and Mackenzie Vossler, by very definition, are living the American dream. The Local Branch, their creative outlet founded in 2009, has come a long way since the couple sold their belongings, quit their jobs and traveled the country in their Airstream - a Craigslist $3,000 find funded in part by a Kickstarter crowdfunding project - that functioned as a home and studio.

During the formative years of The Local Branch, they developed their brand, crafted their own leather goods and apparel, and sold their products — all made on the road — at craft shows and festivals throughout the U.S.

The plan worked.

People loved their goods and The Local Branch was profitable in its first year.

Specializing in crafting their own leather goods and apparel, as well as showcasing a highly curated collection of other local, USA-made goods, along with antiques and relics from their travels. Blaine estimates up to 85 percent of the store is filled with products either made with his and Mackenzie's own hands or manufactured products designed by them — such as the screen printed apparel that is manufactured from his hand-painted designs.

During their traveling years, they expanded to a permanent booth at Chelsea Market in Manhattan. In addition to selling retail, The Local Branch has offered products wholesale to Urban Outfitters, Free People, Modcloth and more than 30 other local and abroad boutiques. For Mackenzie and Blaine, the story of where the products are made is as important as how they’re made. When you buy a leather holster, the tag may say “Made in Schenectady, NY” or “Made in Palm Springs, CA”, depending where the Airstream was docked at the time of creation. And their products have been shipped from hundreds of post offices across the country.

Bring it Back to Rural America

As much as they loved life on the road and the opportunity to meet their customers in-real-life around the country, the Vosslers eventually decided to commit to a rural lifestyle and dig roots closer to home. With ties to the Syracuse, New York area, they currently run the business from their upstate New York farmhouse and will soon be open for weddings, farm-to-table suppers, retreats, and other events at their homestead. They now sell their goods down the road from their home at their brick and mortar shop in the Finger Lakes town of Skaneateles, NY.

The Vosslers “look forward to the opportunity to create a unique retail space specializing in both accessible and high end handcrafted clothing, accessories, and home goods geared towards men and women alike, while paying homage to the history and culture of New York and the Finger Lakes region.”

Mackenzie and Blaine are an inspiration for anyone pursuing a life on the road and living outside the box.

Mike Wolfe

American Pickers, Antique Archaeology, Columbia Motor Bikes
Leiper's Fork, Tenn.


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No one knows small-town America better than Mike Wolfe, creator and star of American Pickers. Many of us know about the popular History Channel show that follows Wolfe and childhood friend Frank Fritz as they travel backcountry roads searching for antiques and their respective stories, but you might be surprised by the other project’s up Mike’s sleeve:

  • Many of the items purchased on the show are sold at Wolfe’s store, Antique Archaeology, which has locations in Nashville and Le Claire, Iowa.

  • Wolfe partnered with the National Trust to promote the Trust’s “This Place Matters” grassroots campaign.

  • Wolfe plays a critical/influential role in the revival of Columbia, Tennessee, investing in the restoration of some historic buildings and businesses there. Perhaps most notable is Columbia Motor Alley, one of his latest restoration projects located on Columbia’s public square, which was formerly an old Packard dealership.

  • You’ll often find Wolfe telling the tales of his back roads adventures on this blog, On Two Lanes.

"My batteries get charged by looking at old things in new ways.”

"Pennsylvania is my favorite state for picking. It's town after town and dirt road after dirt road. Plus, everything is so much older. I've found my best picks by driving to the middle of nowhere, then taking the first gravel road I see."

Why are rural downtowns important?

“When people think about main streets and downtowns, they don’t think of the ripple effect. The amenities that are on Main Street, the specialty retail and the architecture and all that, are what drives people wanting to live there and build homes there and move their corporations there.

“All of that is the Main Street, the historic part of town—it’s the honey to all the bees. We need to save small-town America, man. Because that’s the roots of our country.”

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Follow Mike


 
Marji Guyler-Alaniz

FARMHER
URBANDALE, IOWA


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While watching the big game in 2013, Marji Guyler-Alaniz, an Iowa native, was struck by the Dodge “God Made a Farmer” spot. However, it wasn’t until a few weeks later she realized only three of the striking images featured women.

That’s where the FarmHer story began.

Marji, who was then working in crop insurance, was armed with a bachelor's in graphic design and an MBA … and a passion for shining the spotlight on women in agriculture. Marji launched FarmHer, making it her mission to bring attention to the many women who are impacting agriculture every single day.

She uses FarmHer as an online showcase of pictures, videos, and stories of women working in all facets of the agricultural industry. To say her following is large is an understatement. With vast social media communities, it’s apparent her vision has caught on. So much so, she partnered with RFD-TV to air “FarmHer on RFD-TV.”

Marji, a wife and mom of two, is using her love of photography in a whole new way, to bring attention to the 30 percent of today’s farmers – women.

What can we learn from Marji?

Not only has Marji allowed us to learn about the many courageous women in agriculture, she has also taught us to follow our passions.

What started as a photography project has evolved into conferences, a tv series, podcast, SiriusXM radio show, and merchandise sales, which are all supported by a strong community of passionate, driven, inspiring women (and men).

We can absolutely learn passion is nothing without follow through. It’s one thing to identify areas of weakness in a system, but a completely different story to take action.

Marji took action, and in doing so she’s showcasing women across the country who are crushing stereotypes every single day in agriculture. Wives, mothers, and sisters are shown taking care of their families as well as their livestock and crops, all while using high-tech equipment and managing complex farming operations.  

How is Marji impacting rural America?

When most people think about agriculture, it’s highly likely they think about men of all ages dominating the field. Marji is ensuring the narrative is changing.

Through the stories, photos, and videos, Marji is reinforcing that women play an active role in agriculture.

She’s giving a platform for women to connect and build community.

She’s providing a path for future generations to be resilient, inspiring, and passion-oriented.


Danna LarsonAugust 2018
Anna Brakefield

RED LAND COTTON
MOULTON, ALABAMA


After a successful tenure in corporate marketing, Moulton, Ala., native Anna Yeager Brakefield returned to her third-generation family cotton farm to take on a new project with her dad, Mark Yeager: Red Land Cotton.

Red Land Cotton takes cotton grown from the red soil on their northern Alabama family farm and turns it into luxury bed linens that are not only available in a brick-and-mortar space in downtown Moulton (pop. 3,471), but also online at redlandcotton.com.

An accomplished graphic designer, advertising professional, and Auburn University alumna, Anna deviated from her Nashville career plans and relocated to rural America to lead the sales, design, marketing, promotion, fulfillment, and other duties as self-assigned.

“I spent a great deal of my early childhood and onward focused on leaving Moulton,” Brakefield shared. “I returned with more skills and things to offer."

 
There is something to be said about a small town community, and a community that respects agriculture. There is a lot to be said for the cultural richness that happens in a big city, but small towns and cities are what keeps America going. I probably would not have had a newfound respect for Moulton had I not experienced other things.
— Anna Brakefield
 
 
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What character traits define Anna?

Known for her remarkable and tireless work ethic and creative instincts, Brakefield is willing to go the extra mile regardless of the task. She brings a contagious positive energy and passion into her work, and her commitment and intentionality toward creating 100 percent American-made products is something we can all take a lesson from.

How is she impacting rural America?

Being a startup business in an industry that has struggled for decades in the United States is no small task, and Anna is committed to finding new ways to use the cotton from her family’s farm to expand the company’s offerings. Recognizing that their all-American-made products have struck a chord with their customers, Anna has quickly become an influencer an advocate in this space as the company gains more and more attention.

Red Land Cotton is grown and ginned in Alabama, spun and woven in South Carolina, finished in Georgia, and shipped from Alabama – making it 100 percent American made. Since starting Red Land Cotton, Anna and her dad Mark have found a unique way to blend art and agriculture, striving to deliver the purest product possible directly from their farm to their customers’ homes. Their intentionality in creating a product that is exclusively manufactured in America has set their products apart from any other linens you can buy.

After partnering with vendors in the southeastern United States that are still producing fabric (a rare find these days), Red Land Cotton shipped its first bed sheets in October of 2016. Since then, the family-owned business has experienced steady growth and expansion with more than $1 million in sales in its first year, and is attempting to spark a revival of the once-thriving textile business in Lawrence County.

The Red Land Cotton website states, “As we’ve traveled in this journey, our hearts have hurt over the empty manufacturing businesses that once employed so many American workers.” Many of these businesses were once thriving in rural communities, and Anna and Mark understand how important these mills are to these small towns. As a result, Red Land Cotton is dedicated to doing their part in bringing manufacturing back to the United States and helping to create and sustain American jobs, with a long-term goal of using all the cotton their farm produces in their own textiles.


Danna LarsonAugust 2018