A Kentucky Original

Ashbourne Farms defines new role
as event venue

The La Grange, Ky., farm has a long family history

November 2019 Cover

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2019) – Since 1937, Ashbourne Farms has been a staple in Oldham County, Ky. Although its main goal was once to raise and breed Shorthorned cattle, it has eased out of this capacity and been revitalized primarily as an event space showcasing the best of what the farm has to offer.
“Our main mission is to preserve and share the farm’s history by creating sensory rich experiences which become meaningful and lasting memories,” said Annie Cobetto, Sales and Events Director for Ashbourne Farms.
Ashbourne Farms was founded by W.L. Lyons Brown and his wife, Sara (Sally) Shallenberger Brown, upon their marriage in 1937. Sally’s grandfather, Ashton Cockayne Shallenberger, gave the newlyweds a champion Shorthorn bull, a cow and two heifers as a wedding gift. The livestock was shipped to a Kentucky farm from Nebraska.
Lyons began to assemble the first herd of registered Shorthorn in the area. He became a premiere builder of the breed in the United States with his brother, George Garvin Brown.
Upon Lyons death in 1973, much of the farm was sold. Sally retained 850 acres until selling it to her daughter, Ina Brown Bond, in 1999. Before selling it, Sally placed a conservation easement on the property with the American Farmland Trust to protect the land in perpetuity. At the time, it was the largest agriculture easement in Kentucky.

Photo provided by Ashbourne Farms

The photo above shows the new look at Ashbourne Farms’ bar area.

It has now passed down through the family to the current owner, W. Austin Musselman Jr., Sally’s grandson. Musselman and his wife, Janie, own 2,300 acres, located on the outskirts of La Grange and only about 20 miles from Louisville.
Musselman, who was raised in Louisville and spent weekends at Ashbourne Farm, takes preservation seriously. He is vice chair of the Bluegrass Land Conservancy and has served in leadership roles for Kentucky Nature Conservancy and Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest, located just south of Louisville.
In a late October telephone interview, Musselman, 47, described how he envisioned his role of preserving the farm for future generations after only recently taking over full operations. “My mother bought it in 1998 and put me in charge, but only a few years ago did I really take it over. We want to honor the land and the land around the property while incorporating the natural habitat and wildlife.”
His initial goal was to restore the barns and rebuild the land “into a working farm again, and it was only later that we began to explore the idea of a hospitality aspect. It’s still a working farm with crops and cattle, but now we have this unique hospitality and event center, which has become the main focus.”
As a result of the change, the farm reduced its cattle herd from about 300 head six years ago to only 50 today, with a priority now on growing vegetables in four greenhouses and gardens – much of which is used on site in the kitchen.

Photo provided by Ashbourne Farms

Ashbourne Farms workers tend to vegetables and other plants inside one of four greenhouses.

Musselman, as now the third generation family owner of the farm, said he sees his role “as the steward of the land. I have five children, so maybe one of them will want to continue the tradition.” The couple spends about five days a week at the farm, where Janie practices her skills as a competitive horse rider.
Ashbourne Farms’ history has included orchards, a poultry operation and the Ashbourne Inn. The inn included a restaurant that served farm-to-table food and sat on scenic Hwy. 42.
It seems as if the idea of hosting farm-to-table dinners and serving guests has returned to Ashbourne Farms. Or maybe the idea never really left.
The farm has been repurposed and includes an event space for hosting formal events such as weddings and corporate functions. Events are held at the Show Barn, a beautifully restored 15,000-square-foot facility with impeccable design, Cobetto said. The Show Barn has two beautiful event lawns that can also be tented.
In spring 2018, Ashbourne Farms completed a five-year, multimillion-dollar renovation of its Show Barn. Inside, guests are treated to wide patios, a lobby bar, hilltop view of the farm through floor-to-ceiling windows, and wooden community tables and custom wrought-iron handrails and light fixtures.
Mussleman said Ashbourne employs about 25 full time people to operate the farm and event center and hires dozens of part-time workers during special events.
Last February, Ashbourne hired noted Louisville chef Patrick Roney as its new executive chef.  He oversees menus for weddings and special events, all housed in state-of-the-art kitchen facilities. Previously, he had worked at the farm as its chef de cuisine and helped open the doors of the kitchen at the Show Barn. Prior to that, Roney had stints as chef at Harvest restaurant and the Seelbach Hotel, both in Louisville.
Cobetto and the Ashbourne team works hand in hand to “host a wide variety of events in the luxury market: corporate dinners and multi-day meetings, weddings, fundraisers, as well as our showcase events such as the Blend Series, which we conceptualize, plan and produce internally.”
“The inaugural Blend event featuring Los Angeles Chef Timothy Hollingsworth was held Oct. 12 and was an incredible experience all around,” she said. “We are very anxious to begin planning the event for the fall of 2020.”

Photo provided

The Show Barn at Ashbourne Farms has become the primary attraction in its conversion to an events venue.

There are two parts to the Blend Series. An internationally renowned chef is invited to tour Louisville in the spring before a dinner event is held in the fall. The idea is to have the chef return in October to cook a signature meal using produce harvested at Ashbourne Farms and other local ingredients at a ticketed event.
Hollingsworth was the winner of the Netflix series “The Final Table” and former chef de cuisine at The French Laundry. He visited Ashbourne Farms with the team from his downtown Los Angeles restaurant, Otium.
During the opening reception, guests were treated to a tasting of food, cocktails and music by Teddy Abrams of the Louisville Orchestra. Following the reception, guests moved into the Show Barn for three courses of a family-style seated dinner.
Such events are re-inventing Ashbourne Farms and securing its place in the 21st century as a vibrant farm. These unique experiences are what make the farm so special.
Produce grown on the farm is incorporated into the culinary experience visitors to the farm receive. “It’s incredibly important to us, and every single menu is created on an event-by-event basis, depending upon the season and what is growing on the farm,” said Cobetto.
“Natural and certified organic growing methods mean not only is the produce noticeably more flavorful but it also contains better nutrients based on the soil content. We are lucky that we have access to such an abundance of beautiful products in our own back yard.”

Austin Musselman

“Ashbourne’s Farms’ CSA program has increased substantially in the past two years with memberships just shy of 100,” said Rodney Wedge, the farm’s general manager. “It’s been a true team effort, but most of the credit goes to our gardener, Alaina Jenne. She’s put a tremendous amount of effort in creating beautiful produce and was the driving force behind acquiring our organic certification – no easy task!”
Wedge is COO of Ashbourne Enterprises, which “encompasses overseeing and management of personnel in cattle, equine, gardening, land and wildlife and events,” he said. Wedge was originally contracted as a consultant to assist Musselman in the build out and opening of the Show Barn event facility.
“I consulted for Ashbourne for 15 months before I accepted the full-time roll that I have today,” Wedge said. “This is by far the most challenging and diverse position I’ve held in my career, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. The farm and facilities are beautiful, but the core differentiator of Ashbourne’s work environment are the employees and their relentless dedication and commitment to creating a truly specially place. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve been.”
Wedge’s professional background is in hospitality. He grew up in Texas, where his extended family ran a small dairy farm, and that is where he spent a few summers. Years later he moved to Kentucky from Georgia where he and his wife, Tonya, had a small farm.
He said that currently the cattle operation at Ashbourne “exists in a boutique fashion with approximately 25 head of pure-bred Shorthorns, with a few processed each year and sold to customers and the rest used in the Show Barn. We no longer grow crops, and the majority of the 2,500 acres are native grasses for habitat.”

Patrick Roney

To add to the amenity offerings at Ashbourne Farms is a 12-station sporting clays course. “We have limited sporting options available, but occasionally our wedding and corporate clients will add this as an upgrade experience,” Wedge said. “Our primary focus these days is private luxury events.”
Ashbourne Farms is also becoming known as a wedding venue. “The all-inclusive nature of our weddings makes it easy to understand the entire cost from the first inquiry and takes away the need to hire caterers, rental companies or valet since all of those services are included,” Cobetto said.
“We have thoughtfully curated the entire experience from the time guests drop their cars at valet until they depart for the evening. Additionally, our aim has been to completely raise the bar through our level of service. Our typical guest-to-staff ratio is 8:1.”
The organic fruits and vegetables grown on the farm have led the staff to bring in talented chefs to make each experience distinctive, whether it is a wedding or large culinary experience.
“Our culinary as well as beverage programs are definitely a distinguishing factor when you consider all the ways that Ashbourne is unique,” said Cobetto. “We are lucky to have an incredibly talented culinary team as well as many other talented chefs in the region who join our team on event days to help execute high-end restaurant quality cuisine on a large event scale.”
One such large scale event was the James Beard Taste America Dinner held last year at the farm. It was the culinary version of the Academy Awards.
Such collaboration with chefs and culinary teams “always leads to truly experience and that is what we aim to deliver,” Cobetto said.
She added that it put a huge spotlight on Kentucky, and the interaction of the chefs brought attention to Ashbourne and all it has to offer a new generation.
As he reflects on all that has been accomplished in his short tenure as caretaker of the family farm, Musselman said it has been an honor to see his dream come to fruition. He says he has always been an avid outdoorsman and in addition to the sporting clay range that currently exists, he hopes to eventually incorporate quail and duck hunting into the offerings.
“I grew up going to the farm and as a young kid used to hike in the woods and fish and hunt there,” he said. “As a teenager and college student and even after college I developed a deep connection to the farm because of my family’s history there. So when I took over, I could see the bones of a working farm from its heyday in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. My dream was to restore it and bring it back to life.”
Musselman has done that and more by having created a destination that gives visitors a true Kentucky farm experience. And now he is planning his next phase, which he hopes to announce in the next six months, to incorporate lodging on the property. “My family has always been big on hospitality with guests who come to Kentucky, so it seems to be a natural fit to offer this experience to people who come from far away. We want people to come and feel and enjoy what we all know and love about Kentucky.”

• Editor Don Ward contributed to this story. To learn more, visit www.AshbourneFarms.com.

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