We had the good fortune of connecting with Carolyn Elliott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carolyn, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Strath Haven Ranch has been an evolution that emerged out of a spirit of making the most out of what I have at hand: a lot of optimism, experience working with artists, a desire to connect with and support my neighbors and community of artists, a love of nurturing young people and a few cute animals.
In the early days of the pandemic I found myself on countless zoom calls in the only quiet nook I could find, outside with our Tennessee Fainting goats. When they would ‘bomb’ my meetings out of curiosity it was amazing to see the relief in my colleagues faces – something funny and joyful out of nowhere does wonders for a stressed out human. A friend suggested I offer up my goats for Zoom calls and so we tested out the idea.
As a theater artist myself, I thought I could make the virtual goat party even more surprising and fun by training the goats to ‘drink’ from tea cups. So I set about creating a website, with no idea if having a wild tea party with goats online would be something people would be interested in or not – but it was fun for me and it was a great way to create something with my daughter.
Our first few tea parties with the goats were for a group of theater artists for a virtual meeting, followed soon after for a corporate team building group, followed by countless birthday parties for adults and children. It was after a child’s birthday ‘goat tea party’ that I was approached by a foundation who wanted to support the theatrical way I was imparting information about endangered livestock and the importance of biodiversity in our food chain. I soon created curriculum for school groups and found myself doing goat zooms for everyone from girl scout troops to USC students.
This became a fun side hustle that earned enough money to keep my animals well fed. It wasn’t until I was laid off from a thriving career in the performing arts as an arts curator for high profile venues (Broad Stage, Disney Hall, Hollywood Bowl), that I started to strategize around how I could create something that would outlast the pandemic and could become a viable business well beyond the necessity of zoom for group communications.
At that time I was also working to find interesting ways to teach my then 7 year old daughter in project based ways – such as helping her to start her own egg business by helping her buy some baby chicks, and building a lemonade stand so she could raise money to pay for her chick’s feed until they became egg laying hens that would have eggs she could sell.
The lemonade stand became a surprisingly moving enterprise and was the seed for the evolution of what my business could be. Before the stay at home order was in place, I did not know my neighbors much beyond a wave hello. When we popped in the front yard with an old nightstand painted pink with a lemonade sign on it, little did we know that it would become a focal point for our neighborhood to get to know each other. Standing 6 feet apart instead of driving past each other for our daily commutes made us appreciate each other, our differences and our shared desire to gather. We soon added fresh baked cookies and the art projects we had been making, fairy doors out of pony shoes, bunting out of vintage hand embroidered linens, seedlings we had started growing. We were making enough money to buy our chicken feed and then some!
I didn’t want to feel like I was continually asking my neighbors to purchase lemonade every week, so I suggested we all join together and do a pop up market – all the kids had been making crafts like crazy, and a few of my neighbors are bona fide artisans making salves, pottery, fine art and killer empanadas. So we hosted a neighborhood pop up craft market on my lawn. I took everyone’s temperature and we all spread out comically far from each other and all of us earned enough money for us to agree to do it again.
Not a single one of us had ever been a vendor at a market before and half of the vendors were under the age of 10. From that first pop up market, I crafted a vision for what these could be; a place to nurture young entrepreneurs, a safe place for artists to gather and a joyful celebration of our immediate community. I hosted two more markets on our lawn, each time doubling the number of vendors.
I soon found an amazing partner with the California Latino Leadership Institute as a non-profit to support the vision, and Monteverde Ranch Equestrian Center who generously hosted our first public craft markets next to their polo grounds in Lake View Terrace. My vision is to continue to grow these markets and turn them into thriving community events that celebrate and support youth entrepreneurs side by side with professional artisans.
My plan is to grow smart, with a vision to become a valued family friendly arts festival in my underserved community that includes showcasing live music, presents art making workshops, provides entrepreneurial coaching to young people and a boutique market place that remains FREE to the public. I have spent the summer developing a business plan, applying for grants and have begun to curate our next market for December 4th. I hope to see you there!
In short, the thought process on building my business is being sensitive to the needs of my community, truly listening to find ways to create and share opportunities and following my heart. In many ways I think of myself as a community organizer more than an entrepreneur; I hope to create something that sustains my family and nurtures yours.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I started my career as an actress over 30 years ago, and quickly discovered that producing was far more fulfilling for me. I loved to gather people together and nurture the magic making of live theater. I’ve worked as a producer, creator and curator with small theater companies such as 24th Street Theater, and with larger venues like the Hollywood Bowl and The Walt Disney Concert Hall. I’ve worked closely with local musicians to create theatrical content such as La Santa Cecilia, Gustavo Dudamel and Daniel Ho. It is a career I have been proud of.
As the pandemic struck, I was working as the Director of Artistic Programming for The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, a thriving mid-sized venue. I was furloughed, then laid off and found myself abruptly at a crossroads. I felt like I had suddenly been thrust into the 1950s, I was an instant housewife and homeschooling mom. I turned to what was immediately around me to look for ways to navigate my new reality. At my fingertips were children, animals, a decent spot of land and a desire to build something that nurtured others. I began to garden furiously and to think outside of my previously narrow conception of what ‘work’ was.
Work used to be scramble to get the family ready for their day, drive 1 1/2 hours to work, sit at my desk frantically trying to keep up with London, NYC and Australian time zones, (virtually impossible) and then turning around and sitting in 2 hour traffic to make it home just in time to kiss my daughter goodnight, unless I was at the theater until late for an event. I always felt like I was missing the most important part of my life and unable to be the parent I wanted to be.
I had always envisioned launching an International children’s arts festival at my venue, and had even taken a course in Edinburgh on festival entrepreneurship but was never able to gather enough internal support for our organization to make this a priority. I remember being told it was a ‘world class idea’, but that it would require too much funding risk for the organization to take on. Ironically, the festival of my dreams is emerging without an ounce of funding, and coming together with a great deal of love and community pride at its core.
Over this past year, I have taught myself how to build a website, purchased gently used event furniture from a party supply store that was going out of business, and learned that grassroots growth is better than top down thinking. I have been specific about building a ‘look’ for my brand that honors my farming roots, highlights my artistic esthetic and a wholesome approach to life. I use my animals in many of my promotional flyers and they are at the center of an approach that is about slowing down and appreciating life. What is wonderful is that the pace of growth is manageable, and has given me time to creatively parent, and to approach building these events with a spirit of radical hospitality.
Today my work is not linear, and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ – its more listening to others, thinking creatively and strategically about building an infrastructure to support growth. I see my ‘job’ as being in tune with what my community needs, and finding joyful ways to support those needs. My art practice is finding ways to connect like minded people, to give back and most importantly to model to my child how to be a good citizen.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA is so much more than what people see in movies and I would love to show them the vibrant variety of this city by starting with my own little neighborhood. I’d rent horses at Monteverde Ranch Equestrian Center and take them horseback riding through Hansen Dam, where we would tie up our horses at The Hideaway Cafe for the best tacos in Los Angeles for lunch, and then we’d dash over to my place to have tea with my goats, and then dinner at the Ranchside Cafe for glorious Ethiopian food. I’d take them on a hike using the ‘Boyscouts Trail’ up to the Griffith Observatory – there is a family of coyotes and a random rooster that live in harmony in the glen at the bottom that I love watching, plus the observatory itself has a magical view of the whole city. I would be sure that we spent a day in Malibu at el Matador State Beach followed by dinner at Moonshadows restaurant on PCH. We would definitely catch a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl. We’d also eat the best Thai food at Thai Dishes in Santa Monica (the one on Wilshire) and do some people watching along Venice beach and catch a show at The Broad Stage. We would also visit my friend Betina’s little farm where she has an incredible butterfly garden of native plants and where she hosts painting parties where an artist teaches you how to paint animal portraits using her goats, pigs, horses, chickens, and bunnies as models. On a Sunday, there is an authentic Charro promenade at the Lake View Terrace recreation center, complete with corn on the cob, and beautiful Andalusian stallions promenading for all to see. We would also listen to the Bolero music of Tres Souls under the stars near Olivares Street and drive to the Odyssey restaurant’s parking lot in Granada Hills on the 4th of July to watch the city erupt in (illegal but beautiful) fireworks. I would take out of town guests to the Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market and to a Grand Prix horse show at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. And then, we would just sit in a hammock in my backyard and watch the infamous golden hour turn into the gloaming.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to thank Michele East for helping me test out the Goat Tea Parties. Penny Orloff from the Chaspen Foundation of the Arts for her financial support, friendship and encouragement. Lisa Baca from the California Latino Leadership Institute for her generous sharing of resources and relationships. I’d like to thank photographer Jim Newberry for the portrait and for showcasing me with in his documentary https://youtu.be/Da9ehtGqbtY and Natalie Terrell of Wyldside Media for highlighting my goat tea parties on her instagram page https://www.instagram.com/p/B_nqMEYJB7I/
I also want to thank Patricia Rulof-Hazaard for her friendship and mentoring as well as my incredible next door neighbors who have such enormous supportive hearts: Arabella and Jan Johannes, Diana & Kyle Tourje, Candice & Mark Thompson, Natalie & Eliseo Hernandez, Jennifer & Jade Love, Joanie and Jim Rotundo, Linda and Darius (sorry I don’t know your last names!) as well as Jessica Loncala and Kenny Hartnett. And I’d like to thank most of all my husband Kieron Elliott and daughter Skye Elliott for always being game to try anything.
I’d also like to thank my parents Patrick and Catherine Palmer who are brilliant role models for their entrepreneurial approach to life. Their work with horses can be found here https://www.
portrait by Jim Newberry.