Combining the Old World appeal of quality, handmade goods with the necessities of modern commerce, the Polder family embodies the concept of a 21st-century cottage industry. Their family-run business, Old World Kitchen, sells handcarved wooden kitchen utensils, from coffee scoops to spatulas to honey dippers, and each member of the family contributes to the business.
The Polders—which includes mom Angela, dad Trevor and 12 children ranging in age from 29 to 4—make their home on a 115-acre farm in Virginia. They tend a herd of beef cattle, four Jersey milk cows, 5 hogs, two horses, a few dozen chickens, honey bees, two dogs and two cats. It’s quite a shift from their lives in Florahome, Florida, where Trevor once managed the plant of a large railcar corporation. When the plant closed 15 years ago, Trevor had to decide between accepting a new job that would keep him on the road and away from his family, or taking a leap of faith.
They bought chicks and rabbits. They planted a garden in their small, sandy yard and sold baked goods at a farmers market. And, knowing very little about woodworking, they began to carve and sell wooden spoons. “We taught ourselves little by little; we never took any classes to learn the skills necessary to make kitchen utensils,” says 24-year-old Rebekah. “The first few looked rather rustic, but over time and with trial and error, we refined our designs and began to make the kitchen utensils we later called Dreamware.”
Trevor and Angela moved their growing family to a farm in Tennessee in 2011, and then again to their current home in Virginia in 2016. By this point, the Dreamware line was in high demand, and nearly every member of the family was pitching in on some level. “Dad is the master carver and makes everything run smoothly in the shop, while Mom is quality control,” says Rebekah, who designs and also manages the packing room and customer service.
Loran, 31, handles social media and marketing, and Caleb, 28, Mary, 26, Christian, 22, Amelia, 20, Elisha, 18, and even Abigail, 16, all have a hand in production, from design and carving to turning and finishing. “One of our biggest challenges has been learning to do everything ourselves from the very first day,” says Rebekah. “We didn’t have any experience with woodworking or running an online business, and we had very little money to boot. This forced us to educate ourselves instead of paying professionals to help us. There’s nothing more valuable than knowing all of the behind-the-scenes intricacies of your own business.”
They now fulfill several hundred orders of Dreamware every month, with pieces like the Artisan Scoop Set, the Italian Villa Spoon and the World’s Best Cookie Spatula among the most popular. Even with increasing sales, each piece is made in the same labor-intensive manner using fallen hardwoods from their property. The trees are hauled off the mountainside, milled into boards and left to dry for anywhere from three months to a year. Wood is then selected for specific pieces, milled to size, and traced with the design before being cut, carved and sanded. Each piece is then dated and signed with the family name before the finished piece is buffed and polished.
In the spring of 2016, they also began selling a selection of other American-made goods and vintage copper cookware. “We didn’t want to mass-produce, and we didn’t want to hire employees, so we took the route of bringing on exclusive vintage and curated items that would complement our own products,” says Rebekah. This has allowed the company to grow while the Polders remain hands-on with every aspect of their business and the lifestyle they’ve created for themselves.
“We all wear whatever hat is needed at the moment,” says Rebekah. “That also includes chasing runaway cows, grinding sausage, cooking dinner, mending broken fences, planting gardens, canning jams and jellies, building animal housing, milking cows, feeding hogs, extracting honey from our hives or cutting hay. We work as a team.”
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