Meet Ashley Weeks Cart, 30, from Southwestern Vermont. She runs Cartwheel Farm with her husband James, and she is mama to two beautiful girls (Addison (Sunny) who will be turning five next month, and Courtland (Kaki) who is two and a half), a super mutt they call Hanna Banana, a puppy named Gladden, a potbelly pig named Penelope (“Penny” for short), a flock of five hens – Bunty, Edwina, Dora, Nemo and Ginger and an angel dog – their beloved three legged dog, Ursa Bear, who lost her life to cancer.
Before Ashley and James were introduced to the world of parenting and farming, they lived in Los Angeles and Ashley attended USC, where she received her MA in Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere. She also ran a reusable bag business with her sister at the time.
After Sunny was born, Ashley and James returned to the East Coast to be closer to their families. Both attended College in the Berkshires, so they moved back to Williamstown, MA for the first two years, and that is when they decided that they wanted the rural life. So they bought a farm across the border in the Green Mountain State.
“James’ family had a farm growing up, and we really loved the idea of our daughters learning about where their food comes from and the responsibility and care that comes from owning farm animals and tending a vegetable garden. That was all possible with this little property.”
Both Ashley and James are photographers and Ashley does freelance work on the side. Her introduction to photography began when she was just a kid, and would spend hours tooling away with her dad’s Nikon SLR. All of that playing and shooting paid off, because now she connects with her readers through her photography on her blog.
” I have albums of black and white photos of our pets and house growing up that I shot with that camera from back in 70s. It was totally a hobby, but it brought a lot of joy. It wasn’t until after college that I got back in to photography. I was working at another small liberal arts college that allowed me to take one course a semester.
I took a film photography class, and loved hiding out in the dark room and relearning how to really use a camera. When we moved to California we invested in our first digital SLR, and after our oldest daughter was born, James and I really began to want to better master our camera as we were amassing a slew of baby photos.
When we moved back east, I developed a great relationship with a local professional photographer and she really helped me take my work to the next level. I try to pick up my camera and shoot every single day. I learn something every time I do. Practice practice practice is the best advice I can give. That, and shoot in manual mode. Just do it. Your photos will be world’s better once you get a hang of it.”
Ashley started her blog Blog a la Cart when she was still living in LA and was the first of her group to have any children. With James working all day, she felt alone and overwhelmed, and she needed a creative outlet that would get her thinking about more than changing diapers and feedings.
“Honestly, I write about whatever inspires me at the moment – there is no real rhyme or reason to my blog content – that space is ultimately an outlet for me, so I write about and share what is most impacting me at the time. Sometimes is as simple as a room makeover, other times it’s more serious feminist issues that I’m struggling with as a parent/mom.
I try not to be influenced or alter my point of view to please anyone but myself since that space was born very much out of a need to better support myself. I love that people share in that space, but it’s ultimately about being true to my voice and story.”
Since Ashley has a full-time job, her photography and blog are both done on the side. They are creative outlets for her, and while she admits it can be tough balancing family, work, the farm and her creative business, she loves what she creates and is grateful to have both there to supplement their lives.
“I have a truly amazing partner. I would not be able to do all I do without him in the mix, providing the balance and support that I need. He is the girls’ primary caregiver, and does the lion’s share of the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping etc. This enables me to work a day job full time, and then come home and spend time with my girls and have meaningful family time, before spending my evenings editing photos for clients or writing content for the blog.
There is no way I would be able to keep everything in balance without James helping carry the weight. I think people don’t consider enough how their choice of life partner will be one of the biggest, most impactful decisions of their entire lives. People want the pretty wedding and storybook romance, but don’t often consider the long term weight of that decision. I feel very lucky to have been able to grow into adulthood with James by my side (we met at his 20th birthday party in college) – we’ve been able to make some huge decisions and changes together and we really compliment and balance each others strengths and weaknesses.”
Of all the things her girls have already learned on the farm, she hopes that they will always have a respect for their food and the cycle of life. Both have already experienced the loss of a family pet they cherished and loved and they know where the food on their table comes from.
“We don’t shelter them from this, and they have a very thoughtful and honest perspective on death and life (for their age). I love that they understand that our Thanksgiving turkey comes from a turkey farm and must be killed before we can eat it for dinner. It’s not just some plastic wrapped lump from the grocery aisle.
They know the sweetness and joy of picking blueberries right off the bush. They understand that maple syrup comes from the veins of a maple tree as they themselves have collected the sap and watched it boil down into that sugary delicacy. They’ve hand turned apples to cider. They’ve weeded and sweat and and pulled fresh carrots from the ground. There is something so simple and yet so very important from these lessons that we get to make a part of their everyday.”
Ashley’s best advice for working parents (whether it’s in or outside of the home) is to carve out time for yourself. She likes going to the gym or for a run or a walk once a day. It’s not only good for her physical health, but it’s good for her mental and emotional health as well. She also loves crafting, and shares many tutorials on her blog.
“I have trouble sitting still, so I build in crafts and projects to any free time I may have on a weekend or evening. I love working with my hands, and it’s fun to be able to involve my children in the projects when possible.
Mostly, I would be happy to spend my days knitting and listening to audiobooks – but it’s good to mix it up. I learned to quilt last year, and that is a dangerously wonderful, time-consuming hobby. I hope to be able to do more of it when my children are older – as it also demands a lot of stuff and space (iron, cutting table, sewing machine, etc.) whereas knitting I can keep in my handbag for a down moment waiting at the doctor’s office or pharmacy, etc.”
In the future, Ashley hopes to expand her photography portfolio and hopes to capture more maternity and childbirth moments. She wants to master tomato growing, to include alpacas or other fiber animals in their farm family so she can spin her own wool and she wants to bake a truly authentic loaf of French bread. Her favorite thing about everything she does is the impact it makes on other people.
“My favorite moments happen when a reader emails me to say that something I’ve written or shared has touched them in some way, either by making them feel not so alone, or validating their feelings, or even getting them to think about something in an entirely new way. Those emails send me over the moon.They bring me so much happiness.
And with the photography, I love getting feedback that I’ve captured a client or their family in a way that really represents them. Getting positive feedback on my work keeps me motivated and makes me feel like I am making a difference (however small) in my community.”
And as for the impact she has felt from her children, and life on the farm:
“There are SO many ways that motherhood has changed me, mostly it has given me deep respect for my own mother and the mothers around me as I am so acutely, personally aware of the challenges, joys, heartbreak, and perspective that motherhood brings. It’s humbling and inspiring and I am so very grateful everyday that I get to call myself a mother to my little girls. It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do, yet I am eternally grateful that I get to have this kind of experience and perspective and love in my life.
And the farm has connected me to life beyond my family in really meaningful ways. From the flowers to our vegetable gardens to our chickens, I am tuned in to the life cycles and seasons of life on the farm. I recently read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (everyone should read it!) and it has really inspired me and further enforced in me why James and I made the choice to buy this home and raise our girls this way, connected to their food and this place.”
You can read Ashley’s blog Blog A La Cart to find out more about raising a family on a farm, and you can also view her portfolio there. And check out her video about life on the farm! If you want to hire Ashley to take your photos, you can e-mail her and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you are an awesome mama or you know one and would like to be featured in this series, don’t be shy! Leave me a comment, e-mail me and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest.