During Bloom's seedling stage, I was just on my way out of Western North Carolina, returning home to Tallahassee. While living in North Carolina, I frequented Asheville often for errands and good food, but never really immersed myself in their local businesses and community. I lived just far enough up in the mountains to make that 20 mile drive feel like 2 hours.
Nevertheless, I was on my way out of town when I first discovered a locally-run shop formerly known as Small Terrain, now as VILLAGERS. Visiting their site for the first time, I remember that this shop embodied so much of what we were trying to shape with Bloom - aesthetically beautiful and inspiring to our own lifestyle interests of wellness and sustainability. What completely enamored us with VILLAGERS was the brief bio of shop owner, Natalie Pollard:
“The shop creator, Natalie Pollard, earned her Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley, an herbalism certificate from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in Leicester, NC, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, CA. She worked as a landscape designer for Olin Studio in Philadelphia, interned with Project for Public Spaces in New York City, managed an urban CSA program at Greensgrow Farms in Philadelphia, and worked as a professional photographer in San Francisco, CA. She has volunteered with several environmental non-profits, community gardens and urban farms. Traveling to over thirty countries has given her a global perspective on environmental issues and their relationship to urbanity, politics and public health. Since moving to Asheville, she has worked at the North Carolina Arboretum, the West Asheville Tailgate Market + local farms, and volunteered with the Asheville Design Center and OPEN Asheville.”
Obvs, instant girl crush set in. We hadn’t even visited her store yet and were already in love. Unfortunately time went by, and I wasn’t able to visit NC as frequently. Bloom became so busy within our own community, that we sort of lost touch with this little dream shop.
As Bloom has grown - our content, inspirations, manifestations - it felt like the right time to pick up where we left off on our curiosity for VILLAGERS.
VILLAGERS is an urban homestead supply and design shop. AKA: Bloom’s dreams actualized.
Beautifully crafted and expertly curated with locally made goods, VILLAGERS provides that familiar, warm n’ fuzzy feeling you might get going inside a home, rather a store - which is really a beautiful thing, as the supplies and goods for sale only inspire a more “harmonious” way of living. There’s everything from bees wax for protectants to specially made fermentation crocks to a whole wall of specially chosen herbs. It’s almost a good thing I don’t live there anymore, as I’d be dead broke…
But even after all its wonder as a store, there are so many other facets which makes VILLAGERS truly inspiring. The shop regularly hosts varied community workshops, led by experts of the field that welcome all types of interests, such as introduction to bee keeping, composting correctly, vermicomposting, and so on.
I was lucky enough to attend a workshop while visiting Asheville recently - Women’s Herbal Trio: Shatavari, Rose + Vitex - led by Clinical Herbalist Christina Bertelli. In the class were several woman of varied ages and personal experiences with natural healing. A truly encouraging experience, I couldn’t help but leave with a renewed sense of community engagement and the pursuit of knowledge to better my body.
Natalie was unfortunately out of town during this workshop, but the realization of her vision was obvious throughout the shop: its role as a local resource for homestead supplies and instruction; the growth of community camaraderie through educating workshops on lifestyle wellness; and ultimately, if at the very least, inspiring for the betterment of your living environment and lifestyle towards good health and sustainability.
Though I couldn’t meet her in person, Natalie kindly shared her time and knowledge with us in the interview below. After reading me gush, like *really ok we get it* gush over VILLAGERS and the result of Natalie's hard work and accomplishments, it’s super inspiring to sorta peak into her mind with what interests and experiences led her to where she is today.
It was at least to us, especially as our overlapping passions embody all that we as Bloom hope to cultivate: communities driven by characteristics of locally ran, organically grown, naturally sustainable, and beautifully crafted goods.
After reading your bio (on the Villagers site), it sounds like you’ve already lived such a full and well-traveled life. Where along that journey brought you to where you are today?
This is challenging to answer without writing my life story! I feel that everything I have experienced in my life has brought me to where I am now - a golden thread links each and every choice, experience, relationship, etc. That said, there are certainly key moments that come to mind.
In my early adulthood I became sick with a virus that depleted my immune system and energy levels. I had to stop in my tracks and re-evaluate everything in my life in order to regain my health. At this time I discovered the healing powers of nutrition and yoga, and witnessed how transformative it can be to take care of oneself.
While making art, I discovered my passion for landscape. I realized that the photographs and paintings I created were reflective of my interest in how humans interact with the place we inhabit, the resources we consume and the politics of landscape. At a certain point, I lost interest in the act of making art. I wanted my creative energy to be more directly connected to that which was fueling it instead. That is when I decided to study landscape architecture. The field interests me because it combines design + creativity with tangible, practical applications of transforming our landscapes toward a healthier and sustainable future, for everyone. Well, it at least has the power to do that, when executed well.
Similarly, when I travel, I am constantly observing the ways in which people interact with the land they inhabit. Having experienced so many different cultures, I have witnessed the similarities that bind us together as a collective whole, regardless of our background or heritage. It is these things, the essence that binds us, that interest me the most about life. I like to think that is the essence behind all of the work that I do, in all its varying forms. I see this little shop, Villagers, as a manifestation of everything that I have learned so far on my journey, and a means for me to share that with my community.
It seems as though you’re pretty familiar with both coasts of this country – anything in particular that draws you to the east coast?
I was first drawn to the east coast when I spent a summer living in a warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. During graduate school, I decided to work as an intern for Project for Public Spaces in New York. My work involved spending time in public spaces in Manhattan, observing and analyzing how people engaged with one another and the built environment. Pretty much my dream job!!! My roommates called me the 'professional people watcher'…haha. Anyhow, I think what I enjoy most about the east coast (when speaking of both New England and the Southeast), is the intellectual dialogue here. I think I have gained a greater sense of the history of this country and what it truly means to be American….in all its glory, and all its tragedy.
What projects/events/workshops/etc. does Villagers offer to the local Asheville community? Why do you feel like this is important?
We offer classes and workshops for gaining traditional knowledge and skills, mostly related to growing and processing one's own food and medicine. For example this month we are offering classes on organic vegetable gardening, herbalism, composting, tool repair, raising chickens, tying knots, leather sheath making and caring for fruit trees. The teachers live here, and are in tune with what is going on in this particular region of the country. They are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with this community. We also host film screenings, mostly documentaries that tell the story of WHY the things we promote at the shop are of significance.
The classes are an essential component of the store. I honestly don't think I would enjoy running this business without the element of people gathering to share information and skills with one another. To me, it is what separates this business from other retail stores. The concept is similar to an old general store. Sit down. Stay a while. Most customers don't come here to simply buy a bag of chicken feed or a garden hoe…they make connections, run into neighbors, exchange information, learn something new.
What are some of your favorite products currently stocked in the store?
Bee's Wraps http://www.beeswrap.com/
All natural beeswax + cotton fabric wraps that you can use to preserve your leftover food (instead of plastic wrap). Made in Vermont.
Opinel Knives http://www.opinel-usa.com/
Very handy and affordable, I love these pocket knives! The design is simple and elegant, and of high quality. Made in France.
Herron Avenue Pottery Crocks http://herronavenuepottery.com/
Beautiful hand-made fermentation crocks, by a local potter in the neighborhood.
As someone who also quite admires and is inspired by my grandma, I think it’s really wonderful you chose to dedicate the store to yours. Is there a story or fond memory behind that, specifically?
Oh yes, my grandmother Mary will forever be an inspiration to me! She was a very confident woman, full of spirit and tenacity. An independent thinker, I really appreciated and respected her views on the world. I have many sweet memories with her, taking me on nature walks or simply telling me how it is, straight up. I only wish I could have spent more time with her. Here is the one memory that has always stood out the most...I had been dancing on the porch of her Illinois farmhouse, listening to 'The Great Pretender' by the Platters on an old record player. Twirling until almost dizzy, I jumped down off the porch, but didn't land well and ended up falling to the ground. My face planted in the grass, I glanced beneath the porch and saw what I though was a crazed monkey staring back at me. Turns out it was a dead possum. I ran to my grandmother in horror, who shook her head at me and nonchalantly picked up the carcass. As the sun was setting, she talked to me about life and death as we weaved our way through the cornfields to find a good burial site. I can't remember all that she said, but just writing this is making me cry, so it must have been good!
Personally, I’ve always found the mountains to be reliably inspiring and centering. Do you feel that way, and do you feel like that has any sort of effect on your work with Villagers?
Honestly, I find the Appalachian Mountains to be a bit unsettling. Something about them stirs me up, rather than centering me. Maybe you shouldn't include this in the interview! The landscapes that inspire me the most have always been the ocean and the desert. I prefer the expansive open horizons and dwarfing scale of those places.
What’s your favorite herb recipe? Or favorite herbs to use?
Adaptogens! This class of herbs are so good for just about everyone. They strengthen our immune systems and tone our nervous systems. They are great for anxiety and stress, for preventing illness and restoring overall balance in the body. It seems to me that most everyone these days is suffering from stress, and could benefit from taking these herbs. A few of my personal favorites are Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Licorice and Eleuthero.
What are some of your favorite websites, blogs, or books for inspiration?
ON THE WEB Oh, let's see…I spend limited time on blogs and websites because I already spend so much time on the internet for work! It tends to be information overload for me, and aggravates my ability to focus.That said, here are a few blogs that I have enjoyed as of late.
- On Being http://www.onbeing.org/I must admit this is probably my favorite place to go for inspiration. I appreciate reflecting on life and spirituality through so many different lenses (art, music, science, literature, politics, psychology, theology, etc.)
- The Paris Review http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/ Lately I've been turning to literature for inspiration outside of my familiar realms of landscape, design and the environment. The Paris Review has introduced me to a lot of great writing and thinking.
- GOOD http://www.good.is/ A blog about creative solutions to our current problems. Inspiring stories and information on living well and doing good in the world.
- NPR Fresh Air http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/ Classic. Can't go wrong listening to an interview by Terry Gross.
- Center for Land Use Interpretation http://clui.org/ This one is a bit obscure, and most people probably won't appreciate it. But I love it! Every once in a while I look at their photo archive, which documents the modern American landscape. Or as they say on their website, "how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived."
- Blog Castanea http://blog.chestnutherbs.com/ This is the blog of my herbal teacher and mentor Juliet Blankespoor, of Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. She shares a wealth of priceless information in a format that is easy to understand.
IN PRINT So hard to chose just a few! Here is what is on my nightstand right now.
- Design for Ecological Democracy, by Randy Hester
My mentor in grad school wrote this book, which is a culmination of his life's work and teachings. Every time I open it I am reminded of the power of good landscape design.
- Sowing Seeds in the Desert, by Masanobu Fukuoka
Japanese farmer and philosopher. I am intrigued with the desert lately, and really enjoyed reading his last book about reversing desertification using natural farming techniques.
- The Art of Living, by Epictetus
My father just gave me this book after a discussion we had on philosophy and the meaning of life. It is a good book to turn to for quick inspiration and what really matters in life. I find it to be very grounding. I am also reading a lot of traditional Dao philosophy lately!
- A Devil in Paradise, by Henry Miller I was in Big Sur a few weeks ago and picked this book up at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. He has always been a favorite author of mine.