Rattle off a list of odd jobs, and chances are Ashley English has held most of them. Between earning college degrees in sociology and nutrition and taking on her current career as an author and eco-living guru, she managed a B&B, worked at a natural food store, baked professionally, donned a sales rep hat for an organic wine and beer company, and the list goes on.
So how’d she end up homesteading and writing about it for a living? “It was so serendipitous, it’s ridiculous,” she answers candidly.
She met and fell in love with her now-husband, Glenn, and moved into his 1930s bungalow on 11 acres in Candler — once an herb and edible flower operation. Inspired by her new digs, she gave notice at her medical assistant and nutrition consulting gig thinking she might revive the farm. And, she started up a blog at smallmeasure.com to get back in the habit of writing, which she’d always done. But before she could fully plot her next move, she got a decisive offer from an editor friend at Lark Crafts aware of her many talents and interests: author a series about small-scale homesteading.
She couldn’t wait to dig in. After all, homesteading was in her blood: She grew up visiting her grandmother’s u-pick blueberry farm in Chesapeake, Virginia, and fell in love with farm life — even her Nanny’s “crazy” goat Howard. “It was the first place I ever dug up potatoes or picked tomatoes off the vine,” she recalls. Her son, Huxley, has the same formative experiences now, right out his backdoor.
In addition to the Homemade Living series, including Keeping Chickens, Canning & Preserving, Keeping Bees, and Home Dairy, English also authored A Year of Pies with Lark. Roost Books published her latest, Handmade Gatherings, this spring and will publish her homemade beverage book, Quench, this fall. She’s hard at work now on a manuscript dedicated to picnics, due out in 2016.
Carolina Home + Garden’s Maggie Cramer visited with English to learn about the woman behind the books and blog.
What interesting monikers do folks give you?
Years ago, I was called a hipster homesteader or hipster homemaker or something like that. There’s so much pejorative association with the word hipster. I don’t think of myself as a hipster at all! I think of myself as a crunchy mamma, so I thought that was pretty funny. A lot of my close friends call me an eco or green Martha Stewart, which I appreciate, because I’ve been a fan of hers since I was 18. I think Martha has opened up the home environment in a way that’s profound, although I think her sphere is a bit insular. What I want is for people of all demographics to feel like they can attend to the needs of the home no matter where they are financially.
Name the books recently added to your bookshelf?
For my husband’s birthday, I got him a copy of The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, which I’m very excited about for both of us. I bought a book called The Farm by Ian Knauer; it has great recipes. My friend Jenna Woginrich — another author and blogger in upstate NY — has a memoir called Cold Antler Farm. She’s a single woman living and farming whom I’m very inspired by.
What blog can suck you in for hours at a time?
It’s a Tumblr called The Yard PDX (theyardpdx.tumblr.com). It’s just images culled from all over that are in this kind of collage format. You can click through on a picture, and it shows you where it was sourced from. If you could show in imagery everything that I love and like, it’s The Yard PDX. I call it my happy place. It’s where I go and get inspired and feel refreshed and renewed. It’s like a spa for me.
Be honest: Is every dinner at your house photo-worthy?
We’re totally fine with having hot dogs for dinner. We cook for a living: When the food that I’ve cooked is something that we can actually turn around and have for dinner, that’s awesome. But if it’s chutney, you can’t make a meal out of chutney. So, we always have hot dogs for when we’re really tired, and we always have Amy’s organic frozen pizza just for when we need it. Don’t even try to judge, because we’re so comfortable with it!
What would you change about your place to make it the homestead of your dreams?
I’d remodel our house. I’d make it a little bit bigger, and I’d make it look like a hobbit house. I’d love to panel the side in wood and let Virginia creeper take over and make it blend into the forest. Right now it’s this very conspicuous white house. We’d have an earth pond dug in our lower field — we really love the idea of having a pond that we could fish from and stock with fish. And we’d build a natural swimming pool. Then I’d live here ‘til I die.
Who’s your homesteading hero?
Amanda Soule. She lives in Maine on 40 acres with her husband and her five children who they’re unschooling. She has probably the most heavily trafficked natural parenting blog: soulemama.com. She cans and preserves; she makes cheese; they have bees, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats; they tap maple trees; she’s the editor and founder of Taproot magazine, which I write for. It’s phenomenal her output and her productivity, and she does it seamlessly. She’s kind of an idol, but she’s also a friend and a mentor.
You’re a bonafide Asheville celebrity. Tired of all the interviews?
I’m so flattered! I feel humbled beyond description every day that I wake up that I get to do what I get to do. That I get to work from home, that every day I’m with my son, and I get to be with my spouse every day. That I know and love my property and homestead as well as I do. The fact that people are supportive and enthusiastic about what I’m doing, I’m so grateful for that.
Follow Ashley English at smallmeasure.com.