- Community Development
Christmas at Mustard Seed Hill just kicked off its 2020 season this week, and now looks to this weekend for the opening of this year’s Artisans’ Market - where dozens of local artisan vendors will set up booths to sell a variety of uniquely-made, hand-crafted goods. For many of these artisan vendors, Christmas at Mustard Seed Hill presents a much-needed opportunity to increase sales revenue during a difficult year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For two of them, the Market represents more than just a sales opportunity - it is a second chance to launch a successful business.
Shon Wylie and Kathy Meyer founded KY Wool Works, a company that sells pet products, home goods, and wearables made from repurposed wool. The two shepherdesses met back in 2012 when Shon decided to add sheep to her horse farm and began buying sheep from Kathy. The two forged a friendship, and ultimately decided to explore a new business venture, using wool.
“Wool is something that people don’t know much about. It is so sustainable, it is so eco-friendly,” says Wylie. Kentucky Wool Works focuses on developing natural, sustainable wool products for a variety of everyday uses. “We’ve got dog beds that use recycled horse blankets that are stuffed with wool. We have felted dog coats featuring repurposed all-natural materials such as men’s suit coats and ladies’ dresses. For home goods - we’re making pillows that really are pieces of art. They’re decorative - you’re going to put this in your living room and feature it.”
In 2019, Kentucky Wool Works set up a vendor booth at Christmas at Mustard Seed Hill to see how their products would do. “Last year the product we had was very well received,” says Wylie. After a successful showing, the duo was optimistic about their growth for 2020. They purchased new equipment, designed new products, and partnered with the Kentucky Natural Fiber Center to support the fiber producers, artisans, and retailers in Kentucky. The KY Natural Fiber Center currently operates at Mustard Seed Hill, where KY Wool Works has a studio. “We wanted to help facilitate classes and workshops and retail opportunities through the Natural Fiber Center, because there was no real connection for producers to connect with artisans to sell their wool, other than the annual KY Sheep and Fiber Festival,” says Wylie.
But when the pandemic hit, all their plans were upended. “Everything we had planned - the workshops, the classes cancelled. Fiber is tactile. People need to physically see it, touch it, smell it. Not being able to meet in person really makes it difficult.” Aside from one virtual fleece competition held in June from the campus of Mustard Seed Hill, they were not able to host in any in-person events, which is why this year’s Christmas event is so important to them. “I’m hopeful that this year, people do turn out, and we’re able to reach people. It’s going to be a big a relaunch at the Christmas market,” says Wylie. Kentucky Wool Works will have their own presence at this year’s Christmas event, with a booth set up during each of the four Artisans’ Market weekends.
While the two are excited about participating in this year’s Christmas event, their commitment to Mustard Seed Hill runs even deeper. When Mustard Seed Hill began to explore uses for one of its buildings, McIntyre Hall, the two saw a great opportunity. “We both live within five minutes of Mustard Seed Hill, and we watched the transformation every day as we drove by. The Natural Fiber Center made sense to be at Mustard Seed Hill because so many of the wool producers are in Central Kentucky.” Thanks to a grant from the KY Sheep and Goat Development Office, the KY Natural Fiber Center was able to lease available space in McIntyre Hall, currently under renovations. Both Shon and Kathy offered to support the Natural Fiber Center’s efforts at McIntyre Hall by facilitating its workshops and classes and special events, designating themselves the “key keepers” for the facility. The two also use studio space within the Natural Fiber Center for their work. With the help of CV staff, they were also able to develop a new website to help their outreach efforts, and they were able to use the gymnasium on the campus to host the organization’s only virtual event of the year.
When reflecting on the renovation of the buildings at Mustard Seed Hill, both Meyer and Wylie speak with optimism about the impact on Millersburg. “Millersburg was a downtrodden, depressed little town. Now, it’s a really cool destination. And at last year’s Christmas event, the people in the town were just so grateful,” says Wylie. Meyer adds, “I’m interested in the transformation. We hope this event will transform to something where people from Lexington anticipate it, for their holiday shopping, and more.”
As for Christmas at Mustard Seed Hill, they still see a tremendous opportunity. “We hope that people will be coming there to find us, and not just stumble upon us by happenstance,” says Meyer. “I really think Christmas at Mustard Seed Hill will be a destination for people, over and above the shopping experience, but making memories - taking pictures, bringing your kids to see the lights - it’s so cool. I think this event is really important…it’s a little bit of normal.”