Writer Ashley English Talks Career, Family, and Homesteading

I finally got a chance to interview my homesteading guru, Ashley English.I became a fan of Ashley’s when I needed inspiration for my backyard homesteading adventures. I discovered her Homemade Living series at my local library, and she’s been my homesteading guru ever since.

I have been inspired by many of Ashley’s wonderful publications, and I admire her ability to achieve success as a writer, mother and wife.

It is with great pleasure that I get to share my recent conversation with her:

Q:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself – where you live, your family, and your interests?

A:  I live on 11 forested acres in the tiny town of Candler, which is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. I live with my husband Glenn, our 6 year-old son Huxley, two dogs (Fly and Dexter), two cats (Harold and Maude), a flock of chickens, and a hive of bees.

Related: Mama Musician Lisa Loeb Talks Music, Family and Balance

Glenn and I work together full time on books, magazine articles, and various homesteading projects. Huxley is home-schooled, so the three of us are always together.

Fortunately, we like each other a lot! Our work revolves primarily around natural living and small-scale homesteading in all its guises, from food, to animal husbandry, to gardening, to natural crafts, and products for home and body.

Q: Please tell us how your writing career has grown. 

A.  When I met my husband in 2007, I was working as a nutrition consultant and medical assistant at an integrative medical practice in Asheville, NC.

Glenn already owned the property and home where we live, which had been a certified organic edible flower and herb farm when he bought it in 2005. There were still several hoop houses on the land, and, as much as I loved the patients and staff at the doctor’s office, I thought about taking a big leap and maybe bringing back the farm.

I gave a month’s notice, and literally days before my final day of work, I got a call from a close friend, who also happened to be a senior editor at Lark Books at the time, asking if I would like to write a homesteading book series (later titled “Homemade Living with Ashley English”), as I was already doing all of the topics she hoped to include in the series.

So, I left work, took a month off, and then jumped headfirst into writing my first two books in tandem, “Keeping Chickens” and “Canning & Preserving,” which published on the same day in 2010. After that, I authored three more books with Lark, including two more titles in the “Homemade Living” series (“Keeping Bees” and “Home Dairy” which published in 2011), and a book on seasonal pie-making, “A Year Of Pies” (published in 2012).

Related: Canning with Kids: The Basics You Need to Know

I then pitched several books to Lark, but they were all turned down. Then, Amanda Soule of Soulemama and Taproot, reached out and asked if I’d like to write for Taproot, which she was just starting.

We traveled up to Maine in March 2012 for the magazine’s launch and stayed with the Soule family. During our time together, Amanda asked what new books I was working on. I told her how things had stalled, and she asked if she could connect me with her editor at Roost Books, Jenn Urban-Brown. That connection turned into four books with Roost.

 Q.  What strategies do you use to balance your professional life with your family life and your role as a mother?

A.  I joke that when you work for yourself, and work from home, you’re kind of always working. Which has its advantages and disadvantages, to be sure. What I like about it, though, is that if I’m just really not feeling up to writing or recipe testing or whatever it is I’m working on at the time, I can take the day off, and then circle back to my work commitments later, either at night, or on the weekend.

That lets me tune into the needs of my family, allowing us to, say, go on a spontaneous picnic on a sunny Tuesday when it seems like that’s what we all truly need. I also do try to shift out of work mode around 5 p.m. I’ll make a cocktail or have a glass of wine, my kind of silent signal that the workday is done.

That doesn’t happen every day, but I do try to put limits on just how much I work. That said, I rely on my husband a tremendous deal. We share all parenting and home and work responsibilities equally, and having that extra set of hands and eyes is invaluable, what with all the balls we’re constantly juggling!


Q: Tell us about your new books.

 I’m really excited about both of these new projects, and they even have the same publication “birthday”, April 4th, 2017!

“The Essential Book of Homesteading” is essentially a consolidated edition of the four titles in my “Homemade Living” series. So, instead of buying 4 individual books, you can now buy just one. I edited out some content from each of the books, but mostly just things like photos that were redundant or superfluous, and updated resource material for each of the books.

“A Year of Picnics” was such a passion project for my husband and I! It was actually he who had the idea for the book in the first place, years ago. It offers 20 location-specific picnics, meaning that all of the foods, crafts, and activities (in addition to recipes, all of the picnics also offer simple, nature-based crafts and activities to do on those specific picnics) refer back to the location of the picnic itself.

So, for example, a “High Altitude Picnic” focuses on foods commonly taken on mountain hikes, that are highly transportable and non-perishable, while a “Birdwatching Picnic” offers foods that all in some way refer back to birds.

The picnics are broken down into 12 picnics for Spring and Summer, and 8 picnics for Fall and Winter, so that people are always finding ways, no matter the season, to get outdoors. The overarching ethos of all of the work I do is, at its core, about promoting environmental stewardship. With this book in particular, by encouraging people to eat outside, I’m hoping that more time spent outdoors engenders a desire to take better care of those beautiful picnicking spots, and, in turn, care for our planet.

 A Year of PicnicsQ.  What’s next for you?

A.  Well, I’m due with my second child in late June — another boy! We are all tremendously excited, especially our son, who has been asking for a sibling now for 4 years. I’m also going to be adding two new books to the “Homemade Living” series, one on “Housekeeping”, and one on “Home Apothecary.”

In and around all of that, I’d like to begin developing some video content, based on all of the books that I’ve written. It occurred to me that I regularly teach classes on my book’s subjects, so why not make videos to take that content to a wider audience?!

About Ashley English

Ashley lives in Candler, NC with her husband, their young son, and a menagerie of animals.

She holds degrees in holistic nutrition and sociology. She has worked with a number of nonprofit organizations committed to social and agricultural issues, hosted a bimonthly column for several years in the popular blog Design Sponge, and is an ongoing contributor to the quarterly publication Taproot Magazine.

Ashley has been featured in major publications, including Food & Wine, Country Living, Delish, Edible Magazines, and Anthology. She has been a repeat guest on Martha Stewart Radio on SiriusFM. You can find her books on Amazon, and check out her blog at www.smallmeasure.com.

Image Credits: Top Photo: Tim Robison, A Year of Picnics

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