As small, rural towns across America struggle to maintain their vitality, two Kentucky communities are finding ways to thrive by highlighting foods and culture from here in the commonwealth.
KET’s The Local Traveler visited Stanford and Hindman to learn how people there are capitalizing on their unique dining, shopping, and craftmaking opportunities.
Good Eats in Stanford
Years before Kentucky even became a state, frontiersmen had established a community that would become known as Stanford. The courthouse in town holds land deeds that go back to Daniel Boone, and fellow pioneer William Whitley built the first brick house west of the Allegheny Mountains and the nation’s first circular horse track nearby.
Today Stanford, which is about 43 miles south of Lexington on US-27, is home to 3,500 people. And when locals and visitors want a healthy meal, they know they can head over to Main Street and the Bluebird Café.
In 2012, chef William Hawkins joined local businessman Jess Correll and his wife Angela to open the restaurant that specializes in locally grown foods. The emphasis on healthy eating came from Hawkins, who once struggled with Crohn’s disease. He discovered that eating chemical-free, pasture-raised beef supplied by a local farmer helped alleviate his symptoms.
“That led me to a café where I could partner with people who felt the same way and then we could produce our own food,” Hawkins says. “We just believe it’s healthier. It’s better for you… it’s better for the environment, it’s better for the people, it’s better for the community because when I buy locally I’m putting money back into my community.”
Beef and pork served at the restaurant come from local farmers, and Hawkins has it processed at Marksbury Farm Market in nearby Lancaster. He also sources his much of his produce from local farmers or grows it himself.
The café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and features a range of salads, sandwiches, and entrees, including down-home favorites like roast pork, smothered fried chicken, and Bluebird’s take on eggs Benedict that has fried green tomatoes and a smoked Gouda cream sauce.
From Goat’s Milk to Beauty Products
The Corrells also own another Main Street business called Kentucky Soaps and Such. It grew out of the couple’s love of raising goats. When their herd started to produce more milk than they wanted to drink, the Corrells researched other ways to use the rich, fatty liquid. They learned that goat’s milk is a terrific ingredient for soaps, shampoos, shaving creams, and body washes.
For more than a decade now, the Corrells have sold the products they make from milk supplied by other local goat farmers.
“Goat’s milk is really high in fat so that makes it very moisturizing,” says Carrie Davis, general manager of Kentucky Soaps and Such. “It also has proteins in it that kill bacteria, so it’s good for acne or for cuts or scrapes.”
Davis says bestsellers at the shop include their honey oatmeal and Tea Tree soaps and their specially blended Dead Sea bath salts. The store also offers Kentucky artisan foods as well as handcrafted pottery and jewelry. If you’re curious about how the soaps are made, tours are available of their factory located in the basement of the shop.
Keeping Craft Traditions Alive
It’s a longer drive to get to Hindman, which is located in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky about two and half hours from Lexington. The Knott County community of about 800 people was founded in 1884 and is home to the first rural settlement school in America.
In the wake of the declining coal economy, Hindman is remaking itself as a destination for those who want to learn modern artistic trades including digital photography or focus on more traditional skills like metal and woodworking, instrument making, and pottery.
“A craft is a good thing even if you don’t make a living at it,” says Dan Estep, master blacksmith at the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman. “It allows you to be a little more self-sufficient.”
Estep learned about the craft as a child playing in his father’s workshop. When he was laid off from the coal industry, he returned to blacksmithing and now teaches classes and sells his own creations. Estep offers workshops that range from a few hours to several days as students make items from simple key chains to hatchets and knives.
The center also has ceramics classes as well as workshops on instrument-making. Master artist in residence Doug Naselroad guides students through custom-building guitars, dulcimers, mandolins, and other instruments.
“It’s exciting to see this little magical thing happen when someone takes this chunk of wood and they stick with the process until they get to that moment where the music starts to come out of it,” says Naselroad.
In addition to workshops for people who want to make just one item, the center also offers apprenticeships for those who want to make their craft into a career.
Just down the road from the Appalachian Artisan Center is the Kentucky School of Craft. As part of the Hazard Community and Technical College, the school seeks to preserve Appalachia’s artistic heritage and provide job training and economic development opportunities. It has state-of-the-art studios for woodworking, jewelry and metalsmithing, ceramics, and photography. Students there can take workshops or pursue an associate degree in fine arts.
“The Kentucky School of Craft is really important to this community,” says Michael Flynn, program coordinator at the school. “It provides not only our college students with access to fine arts, but we also find ways to engage community members, local high schools, and a variety of people that are really interested in different creative processes.”