Posts tagged February 2019
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!"