The Farmstead on Woodson Ridge

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By Kristina Domitrovich

Photos by Lindsay Pace

 

Tucked away off of County Road 2086 is “Oxford’s best-kept secret.” A flower farm, vegetable patch, soon-to-be beehive, and retreat sanctuary, The Farmstead on Woodson Ridge has a little bit of everything.

Circa 2005, the 130-acre plot that is now known as The Farmstead was nothing more than a cattle ranch, a “gash in the earth covered in kudzu,” remembered Katherine Sharp, 25. Her parents, Sandy and Anne Sharp, purchased the property in 2005. With her father’s “gift for vision,” the ranch has been overhauled into a blooming, nearly self-sufficient community.

 “We just need a grocery store and a post office and we’d be set. Maybe I need to open up a little general store,” joked Susan Tullos, who serves as the venue’s event coordinator and property manager.

 

Stay for a While

Sharp and Tullos live on The Farmstead full time, along with four other residents. With 14 cottages and plans to grow that number up to 33 in coming years, there’s plenty of room to spare for visitors, so they rent. With renting in mind from the beginning, each cottage was designed to include lockout floor plans to accommodate multiple separate parties. A whole cottage includes three queens and two kings, along with full amenities, like a kitchen and a back porch equipped for an evening of fun, like watching sporting events.

These cottages-for-rent were designed by Anne Sharp, who loves patterns and colors. Some designed cottages were bought “box, stock and barrel” according to Tullos, but a few residents have purchased their cottages and brought their own designing elements and furniture; some residents have chosen to build their own. For those wanting to reside on The Farmstead in their own cottage, there is a Homeowners’ Association with outdoor requirements, but the inside is customizable. 

But the vision for this rentable hiatus didn’t come to fruition until the first cottage was built in 2012. Before that time, the Sharps spent time curating the image Sandy had in mind. That image has always been a big picture, but is still detail-oriented.

“He’s told me before he loves it because it’s hilly, yet it’s flat – it gives you some terrain to look at and admire the beauty. And with the flower farm and the vegetables and then all the lakes, they’re placed just right,” Tullos said. “I mean, he put a lot of effort into plotting out each lot per se for all the cottages, so they all could have a pretty view.” 

Working his magic, albeit a patient process that looked to the long game, The Farmstead got kicked off with overhauling the barn. In it, a full kitchen equipped for a caterer’s needs, knowing events would come further down the road. In the meantime, renowned chef Elizabeth Heiskell and her husband were Farmstead residents, and she used the kitchen for her catering business. Later, a vegetable garden came into play, too.

 “Everything has thought behind it. He’s kind of a magician in that way,” Sharp said. “I don’t know how he sees it, but he sees it and it works. It works.”

From there, it all snowballed. Sharp, who broke the mold her brother and father had set by attending Ole Miss, graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South. With a perfect patch of land, she decided to try her hand at farming, “with the possibility of who knows what.”

“Because my parents were vegetable farmers, I started the flowers here to see if I liked farming with the flower farm,” she said. “I loved farming, I loved Oxford, and the flowers were going to be something I could support myself with.”

The flowers play perfectly into the long-term vision for The Farmstead, adding to the landscape. With “woodies” like curly and pussy willows, limelight hydrangeas, forsythias and snowball viburnum, the goal is to have “little orchards of woodies” scattered about, in addition to the annuals like zinnias – Katherine’s favorite flower, and the type she grows the most of – snapdragons and sunflowers.

All in all, there are about 300 woodies planted, and closer to 30 different flower varieties. Without greenhouses on the property, Sharp plants many flowers from seed, but she will also reach out to local growers to acquire transplant trays of different varieties. Each year, her seed list grows longer and longer. 

“There’s great satisfaction in planting a seed in the ground, and watching it grow, and it’s wonderful to do that,” Katherine said. “It’s truly, it’s very rewarding. And I think anybody who plants for the first time will see how rewarding it is.”

With an ever-growing list of flowers and demand, she has to have her helpers. Each season, she hires a staff of about five workers, usually Ole Miss students. She trains them carefully, and is most particular when it comes to picking the flowers for buyers. Her market is spread out, mainly florists and grocers in Memphis and Birmingham; locally, she sells to Oxford florists and farmers markets. 

Through the years and growing her business, she has learned the old farming adage rings true: If you’re farming you’re not selling, and if you’re selling you’re not farming. This year, she was excited to hire a driver to transport the goods to and from her markets. This way, she can get back to more of what she loves: farming and flower arrangements. Most notably, she arranges bouquets for retail on the self-serve honor cart.

“The self-serve was born out of a community that would make it work, and the community proved it: it totally works,” she said.

The concept is simple: Sales are based on the honor of the customer. The stand houses the bouquets in mason jars with water. Attached to the stand is a lockbox, where visitors can pay for a bouquet they would like to take home. Located in the alleyway by Uptown Coffee, Sharp stocks the cart every day from mid-May up until the first frost.

Other than bringing “something bright and pretty to look at” on the square, The Farmstead is more than willing to share their views with visitors. Aside from offering the gardens up to bridal parties for photos, Tullos said they open up The Farmstead to the community regularly, on specified days. One of the regular visitors are gardening clubs, whose members come to make a floral bouquet and stay for lunch at the kitchen. 

In addition to open-visiting days, The Farmstead hosts a slew of other events and retreats for people to come experience. Tullos and Sharp both agreed that a huge hit is the cooking classes. Featuring local chefs and some bigger names, The Farmstead offers classes ranging from macaron lessons, three-class series delving into Cajun cuisine, and BBQ lessons with national champion pitmaster Rod Gray. Aside from that, they also host corporate and artist retreats. At The Farmstead, everything can be customized, and the options are limitless.

“It’s a create-your-own adventure out here,” Tullos said.

 

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