A farm and event space that is representing the best of Kentucky
By Mariah Kline
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
It all started with a handful of cows.
When W.L. Lyons Brown and Sally (Shallenberger) Brown were married in 1937, the bride’s grandfather gifted them a shorthorn cow, a bull and two heifers, which he shipped to Kentucky from his home in Nebraska. Since the young couple didn’t own a farm at the time, they briefly stowed the animals on a friend’s property before leasing and eventually purchasing 100 acres of land in La Grange. They named the estate Ashbourne Farms.
Today, it’s made up of 2,300 acres and owned and run by their grandson, W. Austin Musselman Jr. “My grandmother was a natural. She was always into painting and bird watching. My grandfather slowly developed a love of agriculture. This became an escape for both of them, and they both fell in love with it.”
Musselman serves as vice chair of the Bluegrass Land Conservancy, following his grandparents’ lead and sharing his knowledge of land use. The Browns’ original Ashbourne included orchards, a poultry operation, an inn and a restaurant on Highway 42 that served farm-to-table food. In the 1940s, a guest could order filet mignon for $3.85.
The main function of the farm was raising and breeding short-horned cattle for showing and auctioning off. Today, the show barn has been revitalized and repurposed as an event space for weddings, corporate gatherings and nonprofit fundraisers.
“We always treated the farm like our personal space where we’d come for enjoyment with our family and host events and parties for people,” Musselman explained. “We initially kind of resisted the idea of anything commercial, but people have always loved this space, even when there was no AC and it had a dirt floor.”
Over the course of several years, the family warmed up to the idea of hosting formal events and began developing and beautifying the outdoor grounds. With Musselman’s passion for farming and collection of capable staff members, Ashbourne Farms is quickly becoming known as an ideal setting for events that are quintessentially Kentucky.
Overseeing the show barn’s affairs is Sales and Events Director Annie Cobetto, who takes pride in Ashbourne’s mission.
“What people are used to having access to in the event world is things that are a bit more commercial,” she said. “It’s hard to take great detail and use it for 250 people at the same time. What’s exciting for us is that because of the long-range planning, we work hand in hand with each client and look through a fresh lens so that the event speaks to what their goals are and who they really are. Because of the land, we’re growing all of these beautiful, organic products and we get to work with our gardening team to plant, specifically for an event, a row or more of produce.”
Outside, greenhouses with organic fruits and vegetables are maintained by Musselman and his team. They’ve even established a system of community supported agriculture so that anyone can buy a share of the crops and receive fresh goods each week.
Also taking advantage of the plethora of produce is Chef Patrick Roney, who is more than familiar with the farm-to-table scene and its relevance. He relishes his new position in the show barn’s kitchen alongside pastry chef and bread maker Nokee Bucayu. While he thrived as the head chef at NuLu favorite Harvest, Roney now enjoys being able to thoughtfully plan for each meal experience.
“Harvest was awesome and I really enjoyed the fast-paced kitchen,” he said, “but when we know exactly how many people are coming, we can really dial in the food. We get to utilize what we have coming from the farm and make every event extraordinary.
“I love it here,” he added, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s my dream job.”
“Chef Patrick is so well-trained, well-traveled and so open to the creativity, we’re really striving here with our culinary endeavors,” said Musselman. “He’s not only using what we produce on the farm but sourcing food locally from other farmers in the area and the region. We’ve even been out in the woods gathering wild onions and mushrooms and persimmons and incorporating that into our cuisine.”
Musselman and Roney aren’t savoring the flavors by themselves, however. Following the James Beard Taste America Dinner Ashbourne hosted in October 2018, the team realized that they should open the gates to more visiting chefs to present the best of the Bluegrass’s culture, food and hospitality.
“When we hosted the event for the James Beard Foundation, it sort of defined the types of events we want to be doing,” said Cabetto. “We’re now looking at partnerships with some fantastic chefs and culinary teams and well-known restaurants from around the country. We plan to bring them into Kentucky and show the best of what we have to offer here.”
With its food and its natural beauty, Ashbourne is an appropriate place to introduce people to the farm life in an elevated way. For curious locals, there are ticketed events and activities such as the upcoming dinner and concert experience on May 2, and more are in the works. For out-of-towners seeking a glimpse of life in the country, Musselman plans to add lodging in the future.
“A lot of people are curious about what it’s like to live on a farm,” he said. “Here, they can come and fully experience it. There are so many points of entry where they can get involved with whatever their interest is, and we want to offer that to people in a very sophisticated way.”
Adding entertainment value is the farm’s 12-station sporting clays course, equipped with clay pigeons and targets.
“It’s kind of like playing golf with a shotgun,” Musselman laughed. “Even people who aren’t into hunting find it fun to learn how to shoot.”
The course winds through the woods, where hiking trails and multiple fishing ponds can also be explored. Soon, the team plans to offer shooting clinics and fishing and fly-casting classes as well as agricultural and cooking courses.
The show barn is open now, though it’s not officially finished. Two silos that sit adjacent to the structure are currently being transformed into functioning rooms that connect to the first and second floors of the barn. Atop one silo is an observation deck where visitors can take in the rolling hills and greenery around them.
Following W.L. Lyons Brown’s death 1973, Sally Brown sold several acres of the land but placed a conservation easement on the farm, preserving and protecting it from development. Musselman says the move was the first of its kind in the area and the largest agricultural easement put in place in Kentucky at the time. Thanks to the wisdom of his grandmother, Ashbourne can maintain its authenticity and purity for generations to come.
“People are really craving unique and authentic experiences,” he said. “And they’re looking to escape this busy world of technology. People want to unplug and escape, and it’s becoming more and more important for them to know they can come to a place like this and unwind.” V
Ashbourne Farms Derby Social: An Evening with Tyler Childers
7 p.m. May 2
Elevated Experience: $750
Tickets can be purchased at ashbourneevents.com
Ashbourne will celebrate Derby with an exclusive evening of fine dining, cocktails and entertainment. The experience will include a full top-shelf bar, passed hors d’oeuvres, a three-course plated dinner with wine pairings and a private hour-long performance by singer-songwriter Tyler Childers.
The Ashbourne Farms Experience begins at 6 p.m. and will include valet parking at the Original Makers Club Derby Lounge at the Omni Louisville Hotel and transportation provided to and from the Omni to Ashbourne Farms. The ticket includes access to the hotel’s Library Bar for a cocktail prior to departure, an additional 30-minute welcome reception featuring an interactive Woodford Reserve cocktail station, seating closest to the stage for Tyler Childers’ show and a performance by Senora May.