Step inside one of the most interesting shops Asheville has to offer.
Recommendations are key when traveling to a new city — a little insight almost always makes for a better trip. Before my recent trip to Asheville, I was told that Villagers shop in West Asheville was a good place to check out, and it seems my sources were spot-on.
Natalie Pollard stood behind the counter, donning wise eyes and a welcoming smile as I walked through Villager’s doors. Natalie is the brainchild behind the urban homestead supply store. A life full of enriching and diverse experience inspired her to curate a shop of her own that specializes in gardening, herbal medicine, canning, preserving and educational workshops. Her hard work and determination has made Villagers shop one of the most interesting in Asheville. Tag along as we learn more about her journey and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from/where are you now, what do you do, and how did you get to where you are?
I am originally from the San Francisco bay area where I was raised by my parents, a civil engineer and an interior designer/artist. Currently I live in Asheville, North Carolina where I own and operate a small urban homestead supply store named Villagers.
I’ve done a fair amount of exploring in my adult life, and feel that everything I have experienced has brought me to where I am now. Through travel and art I discovered my passion for landscape. I am constantly observing the ways in which people interact with the place they inhabit; the resources they consume and the politics of landscape. I like to think that is what drives all of the work that I do, in all its varying forms. I see the shop as a manifestation of everything that I have learned so far on my journey, and a means to share that with my community.
How did Villagers come to be?
Six years ago my parents retired to North Carolina, shortly after my mother was diagnosed with stage-four leukemia and undergoing intensive cancer treatments. At that time I was looking to escape life in the city, and wanted to spend more time in the wild learning about plants. I had heard that Asheville had a long tradition in herbal medicine, and decided to move here to be nearby while my mother regained her health.
I quickly learned that living in a small town comes with its challenges, one of them being employment! I had a terrible time finding work of any kind, and all of my world travel and career accomplishments seemed irrelevant here. The upside to Asheville is that it is full of opportunity for entrepreneurs and creative people to explore ideas. I took a business plan writing class at Mountain Bizworks, and through that process developed the concept for the shop based on my particular set of skills coupled with my interest in urban homesteading.
Were there any challenges you faced in terms of opening up a shop of your own?
Opening a brick-and-mortar retail store has been incredibly humbling. Without going into great detail, I can say that the biggest challenge has been wearing so many hats at once. As a small business owner with minimal start-up capital, I am responsible for managing everything; finances, personnel, inventory, marketing, graphic design, customer service, taking out the trash, etc. With so much time and energy invested in the business, it has been difficult to keep a balanced life in terms of my personal relationships and health – ironic because that is what the shop is all about!
A lot of people say it takes three to five years for a business to get established, and I now sense that the business has reached that tipping point. My personal life is more balanced, and the shop is now built on a solid foundation from which it can grow and thrive, like a plant with established roots.
What is Villagers all about? What can customers expect to find/learn inside?
Villagers is an urban homestead supply store. We offer supplies, books and classes that support customers in their efforts to explore what it means to live sustainably. Inside the shop you will find supplies for growing and maintaining an organic fruit and vegetable garden, keeping bees and chickens, making your own herbal medicines and bodycare products, fermenting and canning foods, wild foraging and more. We also sell locally crafted housewares and a curated selection of products for those that don’t have time or desire to make their own.
Urban homesteading is not about doing everything yourself and abandoning or rejecting the conveniences of the modern age. To me, it’s about striking a balance and staying connected to the land, to the natural world and its resources. It’s about knowing when the moon is full and what that tells you about when to plant seeds or harvest roots. It is also about staying connected to the people in your community that support a sustainable lifestyle; like buying vegetables directly from a farmer at market, or eating a meal from a handmade clay bowl, or buying wild elderberry syrup from an herbalist.
I hear Asheville is a great place to be in terms of the work you do. Can you explain to us why?
The Blue Ridge Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world, and therefore rich with biodiversity. This region is known for its abundance of herbal plants and as a place of healing. There are also an incredible number of both old and young farmers here, many of whom grow food organically. Many people, often new families, are moving here from bigger cities with aspirations to establish homesteads, either in town or in the surrounding countryside.
What are some of the most interesting things you sell in the shop?
A lot of customers say that they want one of everything in the shop :) We sell many high quality garden tools that are designed for efficiency, ergonomic comfort, and built to last a lifetime. It’s hard to find these types of tools in most hardware stores today, such as a bamboo splitter, a hori hori garden knife, a botany loupe or hand sickle. The shop has a large bulk apothecary of organic and ethically wildcrafted herbs that customers use to make their own custom tea blends, tinctures and bodycare products. We also have a curated selection of glass jars, containers, and ceramic crocks for fermenting, canning and herbal preparations that almost everyone seems to appreciate.
I purchased a bag of your herbal coffee — it’s delicious! What did you use to make it, and what benefits does it have in each cup?
The recipe was developed over many years as an antidote to the negative effects of drinking too much coffee. The herbal drink boosts your immune system, detoxifyes your blood, supports your liver, increases circulation, enhances energy, sharpens concentration, nourishes your nervous system and more.
You can brew it on its own, or mixed with coffee beans if you need to wean yourself off caffeine addicition. It can be brewed in a french press or pour-over coffee cone so that you don’t have to give up your morning ritual.
It is a delicious blend of chicory root, dandelion root, burdock root, eleuthero root, chaga mushroom, cinnamon, carob and orange peel.
When it comes to making tinctures and other herbal blends, does it take a lot of experimenting? Where should someone start if they are interested in learning more about herbal living?
I like to think of herbalism as being similar to cooking. It does require experimenting with different recipes and finding what suits your own likes and needs. There are many good beginner books with information and recipes, for example Rosemary Gladstar’s book titled Herbal Recipes.
But if possible, I would recommend first taking a class from an herb school in your area. If you don’t have access to one, then consider an online course. My herbal teacher, Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, just launched a comprehensive online course with tons of videos that teach you how to make your own medicine.
What’s your daily beauty regime look like? Any certain products that you swear by?
Oh, it’s as simple as can be. I don’t wear make-up other than mascara and lip balm. I moisturize my skin with pure shea butter and almond oil, or a goat’s milk lotion that I sell at the shop. I try not to wash my hair everyday, since that strips the natural oils in hair. Instead I use a new herbal dry shampoo developed by my friends at Bari Naturals. If my hair needs moisturizing, I use pure coconut oil.
Your bio on the shop website seems as if you’ve dabbled in many things, in places all over the world. Has there been a time in your life thus far that’s been the most memorable, or a time when you learned most about yourself?
I spent an entire year traveling through New Zealand, Thailand, India, Nepal and Eastern Europe. That experience taught me to be resourceful, to trust in the benevolence of humanity, and that I don’t need much in order to survive or be fulfilled. I am most grateful for the lessons from the people of Nepal and the Tibetans in India.
In my early adulthood I became sick with a virus that depleted my immune system and energy levels. I had to stop in my tracks and re-evaluate everything in my life in order to regain my health. At this time I discovered the healing powers of nutrition, herbal medicine and yoga, and witnessed first-hand how transformative it can be to take care of oneself.
Any special projects currently in the works?
There are a lot of ways in which I would like to expand the shop, in terms of product offerings, classes and consulting services, and maybe even a tearoom. Most of those ideas will require more capital, so I am in the process of looking for investors or partners to team up with.
What’s been the most rewarding part since opening up shop?
Seeing inspiration, hope and appreciation in the eyes of customers. I have also learned an incredible amount from the people who work and shop here.
Be sure to stop in to Villagers shop if you’re in Asheville, or shop online here!
Follow Villagers on Instagram.