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Big city transplants are looking for greener pastures in Kentucky

The Sticky Wicket
Sam Dick
The Sticky Wicket

Sam Dick goes Off the Beaten Path to meet some new Kentuckians who are moving from big cities, seeking a lower cost of living and a slower pace of life.

Many new Kentuckians are coming from big cities, seeking a lower cost of living and a slower pace of life. In Garrard County there are two big city transplants who work seven days a week on the farm with a side business that is very appetizing.  

It is found on High Bridge Road, which flows along a ridge in Garrard County near Herrington Lake. It is lined with occasional homes and farms. You can see for miles across Central Kentucky.  

Leslie Abbey and her husband Robert are transplants from Arlington Heights in Chicago.  

“This area when I was driving thru, my heart just started beating very fast, it just captured my heart,” Leslie said.  

Robert chimed in too.  

“Most of this was Leslie’s vision, and I just said, I’ll go along with it.”  

Leslie held down a stressful job in the mortgage business. Robert hails from Iowa and has a knack for making and fixing things. Both dreamed of owning land. On a trip through Kentucky, they stopped at the Farmer’s Market in Lexington, and were encouraged by what they saw and heard from small farm owners. They found a home and nearly 12 acres in Garrard County.  

“Just walking on that much land and saying, oh my gosh, this is ours, and what are we going to do this all this,” Leslie explained.  

They named it Sticky Wicket Farms…a nod to honey.  

To see what they have created and grown these last 7 years is inspiring and exhausting.  

“Henhouse is here, and we have about 139 laying hens,” Leslie said.  

They’ve named some of the animals, like Bully the ram.  

Leslie went to sheep school at the University of Kentucky.  

“They have a free sheep school, so I’ve been there 3 times, it’s absolutely fabulous. Another wonderful reason to live in Kentucky,” she explained.  

There is even Mariah, one of three dogs protecting the animals from coyotes. In addition to the laying hens, they have dozens of chickens for meat, two peacocks, and pigs may be on the way.  

Leslie says they also grow plenty of vegetables.  

“We’ve got our snap peas. We’ve got our zucchini. We’ve got our sweet potatoes, we’ve got okra, and then here’s the beans.”  

Gary Martin, by way of California and South Africa, is her farm manager.  

“I think it’s important that small farmers like this can still make a living. We treat our animals well. We treat our plants well. I think it matters you’re getting food from the land, you’re respecting everything,” Martin explained.  

18 months ago, Leslie opened a tiny restaurant at Sticky Wicket Farms. 450 square feet with a table for two so it’s mostly order and take out. Lydia Allison is a baker and line cook.  

“She is really lucky that we have all these fresh ingredients from the farm to work with. If we need herbs or something, it’s either right out front or we go to the greenhouse and grab it,” Allison said.  

Leslie is in the tiny kitchen four days a week where the menu changes a lot. She fell in love with cooking for other people as a child.  

“I’ve absolutely loved it. I love to hear when people are enjoying the food, I love to see them come back. I love that people are relying on us…we have some people who come in 3 times a week,” Leslie exclaimed.  

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce says as thousands of other transplants are coming to Kentucky, just as many people are leaving the Commonwealth for places with low to no income taxes and other benefits. Jacqueline Pitts with the chamber says Kentucky is making progress.  

“Lowering the income tax, which happened in the 2022 session, as well as some childcare help, another bill that worked thru the session. We saw investment in tourism and economic on the budget this year…so a lot of good things being done in KY to make sure this growth continues,” Pitts explained.  

Back at Sticky Wicket Farms, the 62-year-old busy bee, Leslie Abbey is looking beyond the small farmer challenges.  

“This is so exciting. I mean for me to sit here in the morning, and just hear everything that’s going on, and see and smell when I’m out picking the produce, I’m just so fascinated- Hey look we grew this. It’s like a big adventure every single day.”  

Sam is a veteran broadcast journalist who is best known for his 34-year career as a News Anchor at WKYT-TV in Lexington. Sam retired from the CBS affiliate in 2021.
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