STANFORD — For most of us, bringing a more down-to-earth, cherish-the-land kind of experience into our daily lives probably involves planting seeds, perhaps visiting the local farmers' market, and paying attention to eco-friendly activities.
For the Correll family of Plainview Farm just outside of Stanford in Lincoln County, it has meant not only raising grass-finished beef cattle, Nubian milk goats, chickens for eggs and preserving home-grown vegetables, but also fostering economic development in their community.
While staying in line with the rich historic and agricultural heritage of this area — through which settlers passed on the Wilderness Road and where Benjamin Logan built a fort which he called St. Asaph in 1775 — Angela and Jess Correll have renovated Main Street storefronts into the Bluebird, a local-food based restaurant, and opened Kentucky Soaps & Such, a shop that features handcrafted Kentucky products.
The couple has also remodeled five Victorian homes into Wilderness Road Guest Houses, keeping the style and patina of old wood and architecture, while adding dry-laid stone masonry and updating the residences with comfortable modern conveniences.
"We both like to stay occupied, and we're dreamers," Angela Correll says. Influenced by ideas in the agrarian philosophy of Kentuckian Wendell Berry and revelations experienced while reading Michael Pollan's 2006 The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
An author in her own right, Angela Correll's debut novel Grounded (Koehler Books, 274 pp., $16.95), was published last year. In this story of a woman returning to her roots from a life in New York City, faced with a choice to stay or go, it's clear that Correll, a seventh-generation Kentuckian whose grandparents farmed in Garrard County, has a great love for the land.
Jess Correll was a teenager when he left Kentucky and went to New York and got into the diamond trading business. At 26, he settled in Stanford and founded the First Southern National Bank as well as making other acquisitions. He has a good handle on the business end, and along with his wife, their collaboration, one of social consciousness with class, has worked well and become a model for sustainable agriculture and economic development in rural towns.
Here are some of their accomplishments:
Kentucky Soaps & Such was opened in 2006 on Main Street. It is housed in a former dry goods store with high tin ceilings and wood floors that create an atmosphere of having been transported back to the early 1900s.
Plainview Farm Goat Milk Soap, as well as a line of other goat milk products, is now made in the basement factory, where free tours are offered. The retail shop's shelves are filled with a wide selection of Kentucky-related books, along with art, handcrafted pottery, jewelry, gourmet food items, and home accessories.
Correll began keeping goats after seeing them at an exhibition at Fort Harrod, starting with just one kid and ending up with a small herd. At the beginning, Jess Correll milked them by hand and trimmed their hooves. To justify their upkeep, "I researched the benefits of goat milk for the skin, and we began experimenting with soap making," Correll says.
The first batch was made in 2003, at her Plainview Farm kitchen with her niece Lea Ann Poynter, and shared with friends and family. Gradually, the business grew. The milk itself is a natural moisturizer; the soaps and creams are free of harsh chemicals, petroleum products and preservatives. The goat milk is now supplied by local farmers and Correll's herd is retired. The soapmaking and shopkeeping is done soapcrafter Jessica Towle and manager Carrie Davis. Visit: Kentuckysoapsandsuch.com.
Wilderness Road Guest Houses was begun as a way to house visiting friends, family and business connections. Saving a series of run-down Victorian cottages in Stanford suited their needs, and also the demand of others in the community. By the end of 2012, five houses were completed: Four on Mill Street, just a block from Main, are named for historic figures: Boone, Logan, Shelby and Whitley; another nearby is the Bishop house on Lancaster Street, so called for its longtime owners.
Another project on Mill Street, still in progress, is renovation of a large, early steam-powered gristmill, an unusual and striking feature, and icon of an agricultural heritage.
Architect Garlan VanHook, dry stone mason Richard McAlister and other skilled craftspeople were employed.
"I wanted a look of rustic elegance," says Angela Correll. "We kept the buildings' old look and charm, while adding the modern conveniences of a good hotel." Check out the results at Wildernessroadguest.com.
The Bluebird, which opened in 2012, serves well-crafted farm-to-table meals. It's a place where neighbors gather and visitors can relax in wood booths lit by glass pendant lights designed by Danville's Stephen Rolfe Powell. A collection of Henry Faulkner originals is currently on display, with giclée prints for sale. Find the menu at Bluebirdnatural.com.
Chef William Hawkins helped develop the restaurant's style. There are no interior walls, so you can watch all the kitchen magic from your table. The cuisine is based on locally sourced ingredients, some picked fresh from a vegetable garden he has planted in town.
"Basil and tomatoes love each other," says Hawkins, as he gathers a few to be served minutes later.
The Correll's son Preston Correll is a partner in Garrard County's Marksbury Farm Market, which supplies meat produced humanely, sustainably and naturally on many regional farms. The list of organic produce growers is a delight: Little Piece of Paradise Farm for berries, asparagus from Chicken Bristle farm, etc.
"It's fun. We're having a good time," says Angela Correll.