Start Me Up

From blogger to podcast producer to fiber farmer, Woolful’s Ashley Yousling will never stop.

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BY LISA BUTTERWORTH
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVID KLAYTON

The night before I catch Ashley Yousling on the phone at her farm in north Idaho, she received a call from a neighbor: “Hey, I’m trying to get rid of these two roosters and they’re really friendly, do you guys want them?” she relays. Last year, Yousling was a tech professional in San Francisco and though her blog, podcast and small-batch yarn company Woolful was wildly popular, at the time, this call would have been absurd. But since then, she, her husband David, and their 2-year-old son Coltrane have moved to 40 acres of land nestled between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains and conversations like these are par for the course. By the time we chat, the ostentatiously feathered birds have been christened Puff Daddy and Biggie Smalls and are right at home surrounded by the family’s flock of hens. 

It’s fitting that the roosters’ names were not only inspired by their avian swagger, but also by Yousling’s time working at Beats, the Dr. Dre–founded brand that was acquired by Apple, where Diddy and B.I.G. were unspoken mascots. Even though the day we speak marks the first week of her family’s full-time farm life, Yousling, as the creative director at a start-up smartphone company, is still very much a part of the tech world, managing to straddle Silicon Valley and a pastoral fantasy most professionals only daydream about. 

“It’s so cool to have these two worlds very meshed together,” Yousling says. But it’s hard, too. Especially since she spends a good portion of most days at a coffee shop in town, the closest place with reliable Internet. “I have to completely separate myself from the life that I think my heart’s longing the most for, which is being on the farm, being a part of everything that’s going on.” And there’s a lot going on. Earlier in the week she was foraging borage, purple flowers she’ll use to color fiber for Woolful’s Natural Dye Club yarn. Before our chat she was clearing the ground for the yurt her family will live in (her parents, who they bought the property with, will continue living in the ranch’s rustic cabin). And in addition to roosters and chickens, the farm is home to three Maremma sheep dogs tasked with safekeeping a flock of Icelandic ewes (Ethel, Lucy, Louise, and Alice), the real seeds of Yousling’s dream: to build a fiber mill and create a breeding program. 

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Yousling has always been a DIY-er, but after learning to knit from her aunt as a kid she didn’t take up the needles in earnest until she was pregnant with her son. “I never stopped knitting after that,” she says. “It was very much my way of balancing the tactile with the digital life.” She became interested in the production side of fiber, learning everything she could about farming and sourcing eco-conscious material, a quest for knowledge that spawned the Woolful podcast as well as a serendipitous support system of farmers, fiber entrepreneurs, and like-minded makers. 

That’s when the dream of building a fiber mill began in earnest as well, one that’s much closer to becoming a reality now. “It was like holy crap, this actually could happen,” she says of the realization she had after purchasing the farm. But as of-the-land as her life is now, she doesn’t discount the path that got her there. “I don’t think I would have a podcast if I wasn’t in the tech industry,” she says. “The tech world has given me a lot of gifts that make me a better farmer.” But the success of Woolful, and its inspiring future, can be attributed as much to Yousling’s gumption as her ever-expanding skill set. “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing out here; I’ve never had animals other than family pets,” she says with a laugh. “But I’m a huge believer in dreams, and when you put everything you have into pursuing those dreams, it may not end up exactly how you anticipated it, but you’ll definitely end up in a place that you’ll derive more happiness and joy and balance from.”