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Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep DC, just give me that countryside.
OK, I modified the lyrics a bit, changing “Manhattan” to “DC.” It was a necessary move so I could tell the tale of two Capitol Hill socialites who left the Big City and set up housekeeping in Granville, a half-hour from Cowtown. They did not just build a home, however. They set up a farm and a Bed & Breakfast called Orchard House.
Don Jones and Andrew Kohn moved to Ohio last August. Since that time, they have been busy with many projects: furnishing rooms for the B&B, creating a classy website for it (www.orchardhousegranville.com), working with local businesses in the area, and getting to know their neighbors. The result: an establishment with an eye toward beauty, sustainability, comfort and the basics of farm life for those who want to experience the flavor of country living.
In addition, Andrew runs a blog about his new life with the following entries:
“I was strangled by a llama today.”
“Head-butting. And other favorite pastimes.”
“We’re getting an elephant!”
For the conversations alone, I want to visit the Orchard House. But there are other attractions. Don and Andrew have created something akin to a queer version of the Amish, if the Amish did blogs, enjoyed the occasional evening in the Short North, and welcomed LGBT guests into their extended home.
Speaking of conversations, the men have graciously answered a few questions for us. Fascinating guys, the both of them.
Mickey Weems: Whose idea was it?
Andrew Kohn: We moved from DC to Granville because of me. I needed the country. I needed it simpler. Or, at least, calmer! As I’ve learned, gossip in a small town can be as fierce as any competition in the White House.
Our house in Maryland had reached its capacity with rabbits, dogs, cats, and chickens, so, ultimately, there would have een no room for llamas. Now we have four. Now we have a small fridge that makes us intentionally have to by fresh produce every few days. I learned that trick in London. The English are so smart. We don’t have any crazy commutes, we enjoy clean air, and our suburban chickens have started putting matchbox cars outside their coop.
Don Jones: Its true I had been hearing of Andrew’s yearning for the country for a while. He had talked of getting a farm & B&B while we were still in the DC area, but that would have just meant a very expensive place and a much longer commute for me, so I had said to defer, defer, defer.
The moment when this whole thing was set in motion was while I was sitting with Andrew at Level in the Short North, remembering how much I loved Columbus when I lived here 13 years ago and plugging in the figures on a cost of living calculator on my iPhone…shocking. I had tired of my commute from Maryland to Virginia every day, and knew I could do my work from anywhere in this day and age, and what better way to not have to commute than to require a plane to do so? I also wanted to be closer to my folks and family in Cincinnati- but not too close! We both just felt this crazy move would be right for us, so here we are.
MW: With your background in llamas, chickens, ducks, sheep, dogs, Madagascar, DC politics and LGBT activism, it seems that the real draw of your B&B is the two of you. Is this true?
AK: We do live interesting lives! Remind me to tell you about the time a chimpanzee spit in my mouth. Or maybe the time I was almost strangled by a llama. Or maybe how I was sent to Madagascar during law school but didn’t speak a word of French. We certainly have had our share of experiences. And every day a new story is born. Every night, gathered around our dining room table, with a glass of Pinot, we love to hear our guests’ experiences. And it’s amazing how many times we find we have something in common.
DJ: As Andrew mentioned, one thing we offer for our guests is a nightly wine and cheese. We’ve really enjoyed the variety of very nice people that have stayed with us. Our first guests even brought us a grand opening gift! Andrew and I have both had lots of experiences, though his might be a bit more…eclectic…than mine, though I certainly have some interesting tales from the goat farm growing up: “I’ll give you a nickel if you eat this cheese,” my Dad would say. I can’t eat goat cheese to this day! Travel, reality television, post-modern constructions of online identities, or making jam, we can pretty much cover the gamut.
MW: How have the neighbors reacted to your presence since your arrival last August?
AK: We couldn’t have asked for a warmer reception from our neighbors. In fact, some have become our closest friends in Granville. I like to think we bring something special to the community. While every town in our nation has an LGBT presence, we are proud to be the only LGBT owned bed & breakfast in Granville, and will continue to find ways to help our neighbors, as all active members of a community should do. I’m sure there are people in Granville who disapprove of our sexuality, but we will continue to live as a proud, out couple. We can do no less.
DJ: I agree that we have only felt welcomed since coming to Granville. Everyone I have met, from church to the checkout at the grocery store are gracious and friendly. Honestly, no one has batted an eye at us being an openly gay couple. While I wouldn’t be holding hands down the street, I think Granville is a very welcoming place for gay people. Denison even has a queer studies program!
MW: Don, Ohio is home to you, and you seem happy to have returned. What has changed? Andrew, how are you adjusting to life as a Buckeye?
DJ: I must say I was happy to return to Ohio as a blue state when I came back, so I was disappointed with the last election. Ah well, there’s always 2012! In terms of Columbus, there are certainly many more buildings on campus, and the continual growth of the High Street corridor is great. It’s amazing to see places like Union still around- I remember when it first opened- and that they possess the kind of relaxed feel that you just don’t find in DC very often. Having been spoiled with the fantastic restaurants in DC, I’ve been impressed with what seems to be an emerging food scene in Columbus.
All in all, it’s the “niceness” compared to a lot of folk out East, and the different emphases on what is or isn’t important, that I remember well from growing up and welcome back into my life. It was funny when I was in DC how much us fellow Ohioans ended up coming together there…something connects us.
AK: People from the East aren’t nice? I grew up in Philadelphia…Hey, does that mean I’m not nice? Humph! Moving to Ohio has been a transition. Everyone is so nice. But I still feel like they’re talking about me behind my back. But that could be my East Coast paranoia.
The first thing I learned about Ohio was the name of the OSU football coach. The second thing was where to find a good bottle of the gin. Transitioning from the city to the country can be hard. I live the Baby Boom life but, unlike Diane Keaton, we have Columbus close by for a night out when things get claustrophobic.
MW: I was speaking with a beautiful transwoman a couple of nights ago who had left Columbus for a few years and then returned. She said Cowtown is “on point” and its scene is up there with Chicago and DC. What do you think?
AK: I would agree and disagree. In DC, every subculture has a specific location to congregate. One of the things I love about Ohio, and Columbus, is that you can go to Union or Axis, and see young gays, old gays, bears, lesbians, and African-American couples all in one location. While I can appreciate some in town may disagree with this, and demand locations for individual groups, it’s refreshing to see a community together, everyone within speaking proximity to everyone else. It equalizes a community that, in larger cities, tends to segregate itself. And I can see Columbus moving in that direction. I hope that as more venues are opened, they remain inclusive for the entire community.
DJ: I think Columbus has a high quality and diverse scene. I used to always tell my friends in DC how ridiculously gay Columbus was, and every time I’d come back it would just be gayer! Even back 10 years ago, it had as many bars as DC did. I get what Andrew is saying too because one thing that struck me as soon as I moved to DC was that people stayed very much with their own kind, whether ethnic or subculture. Status and influence were also really important- the first question after what is your name is always what do you do. While it certainly happens in Columbus, I’ve always felt like you see many more different people mixing it up together out here, and with less attitude.
I remember one night being at a place and within a few feet of me was a black drag queen, a bull dyke, a couple twinks and a daddy in assless chaps…all having a great time. I’ve seen that same spirit since coming back. And don’t get me started on cheaper drinks, lower covers and much more parking. I don’t mean to kvetch on DC, it has a fantastic scene, but Columbus gays should know they have something good here too.
MW: The arc of your lives as you described them to me made settling in the country a sure thing. Tell our readers some details of your long journey to Granville.
AK: Honestly, Ohio is the last place I ever saw myself. I found my good mid-western boy, but in Washington, DC. Having lived and worked in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Scotland, Kenya, and Madagascar, it was unexpected to land in the Village of Granville. But when we drove through we fell in love! A town founded by Welsh settlers from New England? Done. I was back in Vermont. And we were close to Don’s parents. A compromise that brought me a farm, a gorgeous historic house – the first licensed home for alcoholics in Ohio! – and the chance to buy antiques and decorate. Inevitable? Yes.
DJ: If you had asked me a year ago that I’d be living in Granville, I would have thought you were crazy. I had thought about moving back to Columbus about 8 years ago, but always saw myself living in Victorian Village.
I think as you get older, though, the things that you were familiar with growing up become more attractive. My dad, who recently passed away, was a hobby farmer growing up, and when I put on his old barn coat for the first time to help get the llamas out of the trailer and into their new home, I really felt like he was up there laughing seeing his son fall not far from the family tree. It certainly helped that not only did we find a beautiful house on beautiful land, but it was minutes from a village with lots of charm, culture, good food and good people, and we were also only 30-40 minutes away from Columbus’s downtown, and to us DC transplants, a 30-minute drive is nothing, so we really got the best of all worlds. With all the stress of the last 6 months, there have been very few moments where I wasn’t still happy to have gone back to the country.
MW: Tell us about your work on behalf of the Gay community.
Don: While we were in DC, we both participated in community groups and political activities, supporting marriage equality, helping gay youth or gay people of faith and passing hate crimes and anti-discrimination legislation. Being in DC, though, you are somewhat sheltered from the struggles that people face in places where equality is less sure and the path to such things as marriage will be rough. We definitely want Orchard House to be a place where we can provide our community, both in Granville and the greater Columbus area, a space for events and gatherings to bring our brothers and sisters together to fight for common cause as well as simply understand the simple, eternal embrace of a welcoming community and home.
Andrew: I couldn’t have said it better myself.