Gathering Together: Building a Homestead in North Carolina

An author and her family eat, work and live with nature on their homestead in the forested Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


| September/October 2014



Ashley Gardening

Ashley tends lettuce in a raised planter.


Photo by Jen Altman

On their idyllic mountain homestead in North Carolina’s rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, Ashley and Glenn English raise a huge variety of vegetables and herbs; tend honeybees and chickens; throw laid-back but extravagant parties and get-togethers; and, most important, bring up their son Huxley amid the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

A Writer is Born

When Ashley and Glenn, a freelance art and color consultant, met on New Year’s Day 2007, Glenn already lived on the 11 acres that’s currently the couple’s homestead. The spot was a former organic herb and edible flower farm, and Glenn wasn’t exactly sure what the future held for him on the property—just that he loved it and wanted to grow a home and life there. Enter Ashley, a nutrition consultant and medical assistant at an integrative medicine practice at the time. “I loved it, but I knew I was never going to become a nurse or doctor,” Ashley says. “After I met Glenn and we had this farm and greenhouses, I thought ‘Maybe this is what I should do. I’ll bring the farm back.’”

She put in a month’s notice at her job and, as fortune would have it, an editor friend at Lark Crafts contacted her shortly after. The editor had an idea for a series of books on homesteading, and she knew Ashley and Glenn were planning to embark on a similarly themed adventure. She wondered if they might want to chronicle their experiences in a series of books helping others do the same. Thus the Homemade Living series was born.

The first work of Ashley’s relatively young but prolific writing career, the Homemade Living series includes Home Dairy, Keeping Chickens, Keeping Bees and Canning & Preserving, each offering basic, hands-on advice for people wishing to start any of these self-reliant activities. The series was a hit and encouraged Ashley to keep up her writing. Fast forward to today, and she’s building a homesteading literature empire of sorts. Her book A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies came out in 2012, followed by Handmade Gatherings: Recipes & Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties. Her book about homemade beverages, Quench, comes out this October. And she’s currently working on an as-yet-untitled book about nature picnics, due out in 2016. She is also a contributing writer to a number of blogs and online magazines including Taproot (taprootmag.com), Design*Sponge (designsponge.com) and Verve Magazine (vervemag.com), as well as keeping up her own blog, Small Measure.

Eating “Out”

Ashley is enthusiastic about helping people live in closer contact with the natural world. “The more you start to develop a relationship with the outside world, the more inclined you are to become a steward of it,” she says. “When you’re outside and you see the azaleas and the trees, you like it. You enjoy it. It produces a serotonin response. We’re supposed to be out in nature.”

She especially enjoys teaching her son about all the ways the earth provides for us, from helping him learn to wild-forage food in the forests around their home to enrolling him in a nature-centered school program. “A lot of our activities involve nature—we’ll go to the botanical gardens, the arboretum or the apple orchard. A lot of what we do involves outdoors and food, which is the fabric of our lives.”





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