From High-tech to Hand-made: Apple Employee Leaves Silicon Valley to Build Craft Skills Brand from the Mountains of Idaho
Ashley and David Yousling, Making Magazine, Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Ashley’s journey of Urban Exodus is personal to me, as Ashley and I are dear friends. We met in our mid-twenties while working at a mobile phone company in Seattle. In an office of over 70 people, we were two of a handful women that worked there. We would log long hours, constantly travel for work, spend our lunches talking about work, spend our weekends talking about work and be endlessly stressed about looming deadlines. We were unhealthy and spent very little time outdoors. Our reality was the same as the people we surrounded ourselves with, so we didn’t have any perspective on whether or not this way of life was healthy or rewarding.
A year or two after I moved to Maine, I visited Ashley in San Francisco. She was excited to ask me about my new rural life and even more excited to share her dreams for the future. She had told our other friends and colleagues that she wanted to build a farm in Idaho and they couldn’t imagine why anyone would leave a sought after job at Apple to move to the country to farm. I gave her immediate encouragement, Ashley was a self-taught graphic and software designer and she quickly worked her way up the corporate ladder. She's a woman capable of anything she puts her mind to. I knew that being away from her son was taking its toll and having been out of the hectic pace of the city and tech industry for several years, I had finally gained perspective on what truly held meaning in my life – promoting the latest and greatest device on the market did not fall into that category. I watch Ashley from afar build her Woolful brand, produce her podcast series and plan her exodus from the Silicon Valley to the mountains of Idaho. Once she settled in Idaho, Ashley partnered with fellow master knitter and pattern-maker, Kerry Bostock Hodge of Madder, to create Making magazine. A beautiful quarterly publication with all sorts of inspiring tutorials for making anything from sweaters to coin purses.
I’m so incredibly impressed at what she has accomplished in the last three years. I knew I had to photograph Ashley for Urban Exodus, but I wanted to wait until she felt settled in Idaho. I visited her this past November, right after they finished the roof on their yurt. She smiles and laughs so much more now than the young woman I once knew in Seattle. She is relaxed and confident in her intentions – a woman who has found her stride and passion in life. Her son is happy, curious and independent. Her and her husband David are a strong team, working side-by-side building their future together. It has been an absolute honor to interview and photograph every person featured on Urban Exodus, but Ashley’s story is special because I witnessed the before and after transformation. I’ve seen firsthand her hard work, determination and evolution. I can confidently say, based on both her and I’s metamorphosis, that the country truly is good for the soul.
What inspired you to move to the country?
After the birth of our son Coltrane, life really shifted for us. We moved to San Francisco for work and it soon became very apparent that it was not our home. Between our time living in Seattle and San Francisco, we realized what we really longed for was a place to put down roots, to build a legacy for our family. We began spending our weekends on farms and becoming friends with farmers in Marin and Sonoma and that’s really what spurred our interest and forged the path for us taking the leap to move to the country.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
We bought our property in 2014 and we hadn’t planned to move there for awhile, but plans changed and a year later we found ourselves ready to move and right away. So the biggest challenge was our living situation. We plan to build a house, but where were we going to live in the meantime…so we bought a yurt. It was a race to get the platform, yurt and interiors built before the snow hit. We moved in a mere few days before Christmas last year and while we were so grateful to have made it, it was really cold. Like really cold. We learned that Winter that the insulation wasn’t sufficient for our northern climate, so we supplemented our wood heat with propane heat and wore lots of woolens. Almost a year later and we’ve just finished insulating the yurt completely and it’s a toasty 70 with just our wood stove. It’s things like being warm that are so easily taken for granted, but not anymore. Each night we are so thankful for warmth.
So many challenges have presented themselves this past year and the most important thing we’ve learned and are learning, is to handle them with grace. Whether it be livestock escapees, predators, animals births and deaths, or learning to live together on a multi-generational homestead. There’s a dynamic to both farm and family that you only learn to wade through by experience. Nothing can really prepare you for either.
What were the hardest things to get used to?
Slow and limited internet. Ashley still works remotely for her company in SF and between that, the Woolful podcast and general internet-ing and entertainment, satellite internet has been an interesting experience. But even these limitations haven’t been something we’ve fixated on. I think we also had an expectation that we’d find “our” people and we have, but they’re different than I think we first imagined. Most of our friends are a generation or two older, while we sort of thought we’d meet more folks our age who are doing what we’re doing. All in all though it’s felt surprisingly very natural.
What surprised you most about rural living? Did it meet your your expectations?
There wasn’t too much that surprised us, it sort of felt natural from the start. Despite having lived in cities for the past 15yrs, we both grew up in rural small towns…definitely not as rural as we are now, but it laid the foundation for where we are now. If anything living here has exceeded our expectations. The people we’ve met, the experiences we’ve had and things we’ve learned…it’s really incredible and we’ve never looked back.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
What do you appreciate most about the life you have created here?
Honestly, everything. The land, the animals, our family, the ability to live out our dreams and raise/grow our own food. It really feels like this is how life was meant to be.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Spend some time on farms or in the country and evaluate what matters most to you. Travel? Money? Legacy? Food? Family? Career? We will all come to a time in our lives where we reflect on what we did with them, who and what we invested in and how we spent our time. For us, leaving behind both a physical, spiritual and relational legacy is the most important thing and moving and living in the country is a huge part of that.
What inspired you to start Woolful?
Woolful was a long time coming. David and I had previously ran a design centric blog for years, but I always struggled that it wasn’t very personal and lacked to represent what matters most to me…especially after the shift of starting a family. I had been longing to create a place where I could share our experiences and pursuits, both fiber and farm, and made a commitment that I would begin Woolful when I was ready to share these things. In the Spring of 2014 I started the Woolful blog and by that Fall I began the Woolful podcast.
At the time I was commuting to Cupertino from the city and had over 2hrs of travel each day. I’d listen to business podcasts and knit, but I was always in search of a fiber podcast that spoke to my inquisitive nature…digging deeper into the fiber industry - ranching, wool processing, shops, designers, fiber artists. I was looking for a place that shared the types stories of folks that I was encountering on our weekends spent on farms and with organizations such as Fibershed. I couldn’t find one. One evening on the ride home I made a rough outline for what this podcast could be and researched the technological and formatting components. That night, David and I stayed up late coming up with a plan and how I’d somehow juggle this new adventure along with a full-time job and being a mom. He was and still is my driving force…always encouraging me to stay committed and enjoy what I love most about Woolful. But here’s the most paramount thing that’s come of all this…Woolful has inspired me. Where we’re at now, what we’re doing and pursuing…it all came about in large part to the folks we’ve met through Woolful.
Have you noticed a trend of more young people wanting to farm or be more self-sufficient? If yes, why do you think that is?
Definitely, but it’s hard to tell if it’s a larger segment than in generations past, or it’s just more apparent because of the communities we’re a part of. I would say that with the advent of the internet, knowledge is far more attainable to folks not coming from or living in rural communities and who learn from their families. The digital world allows us to live vicariously through others, learn vast amounts of information and in many ways inspire the confidence to pursue your dreams. What it doesn’t do though is provide the practical ‘experience’. You can’t replicate that, not even completely on another persons farm. There’s an overwhelming amount of confidence, knowledge and love for what you do that won’t be attained until you ‘do it’.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Surely, but I think the change started long before moving away from the city. It started with the longing and desire to move. As those feelings became stronger, the changes in ourselves because more apparent. Moving felt like a fulfillment of those changes. Now we’re in a place, both mental and physical, where we’re (mostly) free of the constant distractions of city life and our focus is more directed towards faith, family, and farm. Because I still work for my company in SF, there is a struggle living between those two worlds and I look forward to eventually focusing fully on our lives here. That’s where our hearts are.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn't have dared to try before leaving the city?
Living in the country brings an entirely new set of tasks and challenges that you may have never even considered before leaving the city. It’s less about the daring and more about the ‘just doing’. We often find ourselves laughing in the midst of a task that is so far removed from our previous lives in SF. Like butchering, or burying a dead sheep, or finding firewood on our property, or helping during the birth of one of our animals, or using an outhouse. ‘Remember when we used to just walk into the bathroom, flip on the light switch and then flush the toilet?” These days we’re living off-grid, so those previously simple conveniences look quite differently now. You learn very, VERY quickly to just got with the flow…or as my friend Mary says, “Wax your board and ride the wave. It’s a lot more fun.” When you do this, you hardly notice the things that may have seemed daring beforehand, now they’re a part of your assimilation to country life and growing confidence in your capabilities.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Everywhere around me. This land and what it holds. This beautiful northern country that surrounds us, especially during the Fall and Winter…it’s breathtaking. You can’t spend more than 5min outside without your mind drifting to dreamland, your lungs full of fresh air and witnessing some entertaining farmyard happenings.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Leave your ego at the door. What you did in the city will hardly matter to any folks around here. Life in small communities is where it all started. Immerse yourself in these communities…potlucks, auctions, forums, markets, and you’ll find your people. Use your previously obtained knowledge to build business ventures, network, create online presence, and research…these will be some of your most valuable tools.
Don’t be afraid of living in the country, but be prepared for the unexpected. In other words, make sure you’re ready to take on whatever life brings. You’ll forego many of the ‘comforts’ of city life and trade them in for true comforts. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but if you have the right attitude, mucking stalls won’t seem like work…it’ll seem like a dream. ;)
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Begin life as a family or four. Begin homeschooling Coltrane. Continue to build our cattle and sheep herds and other farm enterprises. Lay the foundation for our house. Design a new knitwear collection. Build a barn. Put up fencing. Continue to grow Woolful. Build a greenhouse. The list is endless...
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