As many of you may have read, Leadership Owen County 2014 is well underway. Each month, our session focuses on a different aspect of community leadership development, and we are given the opportunity to converse with current community leaders in order to learn from them, as well as discuss the potential of Owen County.
The focus of June’s session was “Entrepreneurship.” As we listened to the entrepreneurs we had the pleasure of visiting, the common themes of passion, hard work, and perseverance emerge
Asa Phillips has grown his business with no-nonsense tactics, whether that be his business of making and shipping Styrofoam trays and custom greenhouses at EPS Products, serving as a distribution point for potting soil, or raising cattle and tobacco. Asa started his float tray business here in Owen County in 2010, after realizing it would be more efficient to make them himself than have them made elsewhere. His business has continued to grow, and he now ships trays to tobacco growers in and out of the state, as well as greenhouse supplies. Asa advised the leadership groups to always take advantage of opportunities and to work hard at things that interest you, in order to find success.
Bud Forsee inspired us to persevere with whatever endeavors we take on. Working on the sheep farm as a young man and going out on his own in the grocery business has not been an east row to hoe, but he has been able to support is family through hard work. He told us to “Keep pushing and digging, and just do better tomorrow than you did today,” because “If you give it your heart and soul, and do what you should, you can survive.” He said that he is blessed to have been given opportunities by others that changed the course of his life, that they were contingent upon hard work and that young people need to be given more opportunities like that. Bud is proud of all of his children and the hard work they have put into their lives and the lives of their families. His son Rodney has partnered with him in the grocery business and will continue operating Meadow View Shopwise.
After being encouraged by Bud, we headed south to Earth Tools, located on Kays Branch Road. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you very well might miss it. A couple of turns on small country roads and one low-key sign at the end of the drive make for a surprising realization when you learn of it. Joel Dufour and his crew are passionate about their Italian-made, two-wheel, walk-behind tractors. They offer two different brands (BCS and Grillo), each with six models available, and close to 40 different implements. They even have a hay baler attachment! This business has been in Owen County since 2002 and is, by far, the largest North American dealer of walk-behind tractors. When they tell you Earth Tools “differs from all the other walk-behind tractor dealers in North America in several ways,” they are right. Not only do Joel and his family live the energy efficient lifestyle they preach, the company operates under the same standards, they offer great quality and impeccable customer service, and they are the company the national distributor sends you to when you cannot get what you need from them. To quote BCS America’s website, “BCS America strives to sell the best, most durable attachments available. However, some tasks aren’t covered in our lineup. In those cases we direct you to www.earthtoolsbcs.com, which has a wide selection of additional attachments available for order,” right here in Owen County. Not only does Earth Tools sell walk-behind tractors, but they also offer hand tools that are ergonomically designed, durable and repairable. Joel is proud to sell hand tools that you can use and pass down to your children and your grandchildren. If you plan to put out a late garden crop, or are thinking about starting a garden next year, go visit the crew at EarthTools. You either have to go, or call; although online ordering is not available – you cannot best serve the customer if you do not know your customer’s needs.
Leaving there, we headed just a little ways back toward town, but first went down on Sawdridge Creek to visit Gray Zeitz and Larkspur Press. The place is cozy and picturesque; I’ve never made a book before, but a person could sure curl up there and read one. It was very intriguing to watch Zeitz as he showed us how he would set type in the hand-fed C&P printing press he has that is over 100 years old. This method of letterpress printing is, traditionally, the way books have been made for hundreds of years. However, with the onset of technology that enables publishers to transfer an image indirectly, letterpress printing is becoming something of a lost art – but not if you know Zeitz. Books published by Larkspur Press are incredible works of art whether they are printed on machine-made paper or handmade paper, they are hand-fed into the press, hand-sewn together, cut using a hand-operated guillotine paper cutter, and hand bound into their covers. Special edition covers are decorated papers or cloths on boards with spectacular designs by Carolyn Whitsel. Because of the painstaking process, they only publish a couple of books per year. As to who they publish, the focus is mainly on Kentucky authors and only works that Zeitz likes. Larkspur has printed Wendell Berry, James Baker Hall, Bobbie Ann Mason, Silas House and Guy Davenport, among others. An open house is held each fall, the weekend after Thanksgiving, and book binding and wood engraving workshops are offered each year. Larkspur Press adds to the beauty that is Owen County.
On from here, we headed down 355 to Gratz and had an amazing dinner at New’s Cafe & Antiques. If you have never had Linda New’s cooking, you are seriously missing out! Everything was absolutely delicious from the green beans to the potato salad, the cooked apples to the ham, not to mention the banana cake with caramel icing. As we ate, we listened as Linda described the transformation that took place as she and her husband Earl renovated the old building and made a business out of their hobby of “Antique-ing.” The people of Gratz were tickled to have the shop, but were really rooting for a restaurant – and it took a good while before Linda gave into their begging. Now she has a steady stream of “regulars” with an occasional “antique-er” (especially now that the old bridge is gone). Linda and Earl also remodeled the upstairs portion of the building into the lovely Gold Star Bed & Breakfast, which features a full kitchen, sitting room, beautiful bedroom and great bathroom. It would be the perfect place to stay for a peaceful get-a-way, right next to the new boat ramp to do some fishing.
From there, we headed up the hill toward Owenton, making another stop at Gene Ray Stewart Performance Horses. Gene Ray has had a passion for horses, beginning with showing them in 4-H, over 20 years ago. During the years, he has moved to a couple of different places. He started his business in the Prospect Area of Louisville, and after being there 3-4 years, decided to move back home. Stewart operates a full-service barn, charging a monthly fee that includes stalls, feed, washing, farrier and vet fees as well as training. He and his team travel the country showing horses. Gene Ray has coached youth and amateurs into top-ten finishes at events from the Kentucky State Fair to the Palomino World Show, and he and his team have earned honors from multiple associations in the equine industry, rating in the top ten at the end of multiple years. He is proud to be located in Owen County, to bring other individuals into the county by day to work with him, and to have had 3-4 horse owners move here. Gene Ray expressed his hopes to continue to help make Owen County a viable place to live.
Late in the afternoon, we made our last stop at Elk Creek to visit the Hunt Club, Lodge and Winery. Beth Rowe, who leases the Hunt Club along with her husband, gave us a guided tour of the facility, showing us the rooms they have available, telling us about the courses, types of shoots to go on and the major events they hold each year, such as the Boomer Esiason Sporting Clays Pro-Am. They are also offering Orvis clothing that serves well for both fishing and shooting. When touring the Lodge and the Winery, Shanna Osborne, the manager of the winery, served as our guide. Shanna pointed out the winery was built in 2006 and currently has approximately 30 acres in vine. The grapes grown in the vineyard are what are used to produce their “estate” line of wine and blackberry wine. They also produce wines from fruits grown around the U.S., including watermelon wine and blackberry wine. Besides selling locally produced wines, the winery also features local artists upstairs in their art gallery. If you stop by at the right time, you may also hear a concert from local musicians.
These entrepreneurs are working hard to support not only their families, but their home of Owen County as a whole. We would like to thank them for welcoming our group to their places of business, and sharing their experiences and tips for success. We encourage residents of Owen County to shop local when you can and support these individuals and businesses, as well as the others around our country.
Submitted by Jessi Williams and Ginny Cook