Susan Shaw – Owner of TheArtBarn

[quote style=”boxed”]If you don’t know you can’t do it, you can do it![/quote]

“Farmer Sue,” as she has been dubbed by the children who have visited her farm, will warm your heart with her unending enthusiasm and genuine love for her favorite things: children, art, animals and agriculture. As the self-proclaimed “Happiest Girl in the World,” Sue is an Atlanta native, which is a rare find around Atlanta. She is a city girl who was born with a country heart. She holds a B.F.A. in graphic design from the University of Georgia, and worked as a graphic designer and production manager for the last 24 years in Atlanta. She spent 15 of those years as the owner of Shaw Design and Production, Inc.

Morning Glory Farm and The ArtBarn are a dream come true for Susan–a chance to escape city life and to follow her heart on a joyful, country path. Her whole world revolves around kids, critters and creativity, or as she now says, art, animals and agriculture. Farmer Sue is a woman who is truly living her dream! Her greatest joy comes from introducing her “farm family” of delightful creatures to new friends, creating art with guests of all ages, and sharing the farm through programs at local schools and at Morning Glory Farm’s ArtBarn in Canton, Georgia.

Sue came to the farm for a little peace and quiet, and to escape the hectic pulse of the city. Originally she planned to put her graphic design studio in the barn, but the computers never made it through the barn door! After hosting an open house and 40th birthday at the barn, she noticed how much everyone–children and adults alike–enjoyed the quirky, rickety crickety-ness of the place, not to mention the art table full of supplies she set out for her guests to experiment with. After the party was over, a few children belonging to friends requested to come back to “Sue’s Art Barn” for another visit–and voilà, the seed was planted.

Ten years later, Farmer Sue celebrated her 50th birthday with a huge smile, ate way too much cake, and taught hundreds and hundreds of friends how to paint roosters and pigs for the resounding cheer, “Can do Farmer Sue! I’m a farmtastic artist and so are you!” Through her passion for kids, critters and dirt, she has inspired lots of tiny friends to say, “I want to be a farmer just like you.”

Most recently, Farmer Sue got a facelift for her 50th birthday–a farm facelift, that is. Her new husband had all the pastures reseeded, the barn refurbished and new board fencing installed. Wow 50 looks “farmtastic!” Besides creating a magical environment for friends and families to savor at the farm, her other greatest accomplishment has been the transformation of her absolute city guy into her number one fan of the farm. With boundless energy and love for what is good in the world, Sue continues to grow on her little slice of heaven as she expands the Farm to Table and other educational opportunities for teachers, children and families.

What are you working on right now?

Okay, that is a funny question to ask an entrepreneur–or at least me! I work on about a million things at one time. Just kidding, I’m only working on ten things! Right now, I am in the middle of whooping up a whole lot of fun with field trips and summer campers. I’m also trying to finish up three projects this summer: 1) Putting the finishing touches on a cute, short, little rhyming book about the farm, 2) Outlining a book called My Barnyard Blueprint, which will educate other small farmers on how to do what I do here in Georgia, on a similar or smaller scale, so that other farm families can build additional revenue streams and 3) Working to meet my fall deadline for another cute book, The Art of Chicken Keeping, which is all about super sweet, easy art projects that anyone who loves chickens can do! The list goes on but I’ll stop here. Somebody please ask me at the end of summer if I’ve completed these three projects.

Where did the idea for TheArtBarn at Morning Glory Farm come from?

Being the accidental farm girl, I can truly say the idea or seed for TheArtBarn at Morning Glory Farm was planted at my 40th birthday party, which was the culmination of a long trail of those sometimes painful, change-your-life events.

Moving to the farm was an absolute dream come true. I wanted out of the city. Being able to run my graphic design business from the farm and possibly have some sort of small flower business or some business that allowed me to use my hands in the dirt was my original goal. I was already doing some afterschool art classes at the barn just for fun and to make my heart happy. Just before I turned 40 I knew I was no longer happy doing graphic design. Although I was making great money, I was just tired of the job. I started making lists and lists of the things I love, an exercise from a wonderful book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Always at the top of my list were art, animals, kids and nature.

After more than 25 years hovering above a keyboard and staring at a big Mac screen, I just knew I wanted out of the business and just plain outside. For a getaway, I went with a bunch of girlfriends out west. When I came back, I decided I needed more room. The city was just too confining in so many ways. I started driving around the countryside just above Atlanta and found a dilapidated little farm that was in need of much love. (Those were not quite the words my dad used when I brought him to the farm to see this great move I had made all on my own, as a single, 40-year-old with no advice from a sane person!) When he asked me what I was thinking, I simply replied, “Simon the dog likes it and it does have a red barn.” (My dad, being the amazing guy that he is, got the ball rolling when he put the little red barn back together rather than insisting it be demolished.)

The rickety, crickety, little red barn was to be my new studio. I hoped it would help breathe new life in to my creative spirit. And then, like a hurricane, the studio doors slammed shut and the barn doors burst open, creating a life that I only had ever gotten a glimpse of in a dream.

What does your typical day look like?

Okay, let’s just say it’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Every day is filled with unexpected adventure, so you’ve gotta have a pretty flexible plan. After one adventure, as I like to politely refer to them (although the term “snafu” may be more appropriate), my dad asked me how I get up and do this every day. I said, “Well you’ve just gotta laugh and keep going, because if you don’t, you’ll never stop crying.”

So here we go… I’m up at about 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. The chickens start crowing at 4:35 in the morning (yep, 4:35!). I usually roll over and tune them out. Then I burst out of bed with what seems like a hundred notes in my head about crazy cool stuff. Next comes coffee. Then I stick my head out the door and say hello to my furry, feathery family, which starts their amazing barnyard serenade (remind me to record that one morning so other folks can enjoy my start!) Next, I answer emails and prep a list of to-dos for the day. At about 8:00, I jump into my overalls, pearls and boots, and head for the garden to see how things are coming along. Then I go back to the barnyard to set up for fun while shouting, “Who wants to party with Farmer Sue?” Thank goodness my neighbors love me! Donkeys bray and line up at the gate, ready to take their places along with ponies, sheep, goats and more! (Somebody once asked me if the animals enjoy their jobs or if I have to drag them out. To be honest, they throw quite a fit if I’m in the backyard and don’t invite them to come out with me. Can you say hullabaloo and put your fingers in your ears?

At 9:30, I make a quick run through TheArtBarn to make sure it looks presentable, then head down to grab the haywagon and bring it up near the big bell. At 9:45, during the week, guests start arriving for school field trips or summer camps. On the weekends, guests come for birthday parties and workshops. At 10:00 I do a quick meet-and-greet with a funny set of farm rules and explain the need for everybody to make a wish at the Magic Wishing Arch. I encourage them to wish for something good for the planet and/or one another. (Wishes are unlimited and they do come true; I can honestly say this because the Magic Wishing Arch was the source of my original business plan.)

After the Magic Wishing Arch, I start the barnyard parade to introduce my furry, feathery family. Thomas the Turkey, our now official greeter, meets us down by the big farm bell and gobbles his greeting to all. I never knew a turkey could be so loveable! Once all the animals are introduced, I turn guests loose to brush, love and snuggle all the animals. We hold big chickens like giant bouquets of flowers, search for eggs, marvel at the goats dancing on the roof of their little barn, and go roust the pigs out of bed. At some point we stop to make some super farmtastic art–usually watercolors of chickens or pigs. After admiring our artistic success, we head for the hayride, which is pulled by Matilda, our 1957 Ford tractor. We ramble the farm, checking out the round bales. Then we go down to compost piles to see what’s cooking, move through the woods, and wave at neighbors and ponies while singing our personal version of Old McDonald. Then we go down to the garden to see what’s “growing on.”

At lunch time my friends stop to picnic under the magnolias while I head to the barnyard to scoop poop–garden gold. After lunch, I lead more hayrides or talk about the honey bees and our veggie garden. Then I relax for a moment, ring the bell, and hug lots of friends as they head home (on farm tour days this happens at 1:00, and on camp days it happens at 3:00) Next I put away all the animals, stack water buckets, tidy up TheArtBarn, head into the house for a quick glass of tea, check messages, return calls, make notes, go back to the barnyard, check feed cans, run errands and breathe. Then I go down to garden to see what is next on the planting or watering cycle and maybe do a little weeding.

I then think about dinner, gather greens from the garden, fix dinner, sit down and enjoy my own farm to table experience with the greatest guy ever, and then sit on the deck and watch the farm go to sleep. At 9:00 I light a fire in the fire pit, enjoy a glass of wine, run down to Pullet Palace to gather eggs, come back, sit down, and try not to think of any new projects to start at 10:00 at night (note: I’m not usually successful at this, as there are so many wonderful things to learn, explore and do). I fall into bed between 11:00 and 11:30 after one more quick check of emails. And yes, seriously, that is my typical day. My guy always worries about me working too hard, but I’ve told him I’m not working but am doing what I love. As you know, if you love what you do and do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. He laughs because I almost always wake up happy!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I unfortunately just jump in and figure it out as I go along. If you don’t know you can’t do it, you can do it! I have a little sign on my kitchen counter that says: “Believe you can and you are halfway there!” I truly believe in the Mary Kay adage, “Fake it ’til you make it.” But seriously, I would love to have had a copy of the My Barnyard Blueprint project I am working on right now. It would have saved me in so many ways in terms of time, energy, money and more!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Oh, for sure it is the “farm to table” movement and the educational agritourism elements that go with it! For the last 8-10 years, it has been a constant struggle to get teachers interested in the educational aspects of the farm–other than the barnyard meet-and-greet or (I hate to say it) the petting farm aspect for kindergarteners. We are so much more–art, animals, agriculture and education. Now with the new learning initiates in place requiring that kids must have a better understanding of where their food comes from, our tiny farm is finally getting more attention. (Those 300 personal letters I sent to teachers and principals last March are helping too!) In years past, when teachers wanted to incorporate a farm experience outside the classroom, it meant taking a trip to a dairy farm or orchard. Now the cool thing is that we have it all right here: a garden, bees, eggs, farm animals, and a compost–all together with a big, bold splash of paint and loads of smiles, hugs, and “farm-fives!”

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

It was working as an intern for a one-man agency. I was stuck up in an attic studio with absolutely no interaction, no input, and no banter for hours and hours while my boss was off rambling around. Creativity certainly comes from within, but it grows at greater rates when you have others with whom to banter. The worst part was when I had done some sketches for him (for a school logo), which he pretty much discounted as “nice.” Months later when I saw the school’s new logo, I learned a very good lesson! The good news was that it let me know that I did have a good eye and a good vision.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

That is really really hard to say. I would have loved to have a resource similar to what I’m working on with my Barnyard Blueprint project, to give me some sort of direction. But when you are tying to do something that nobody else has done, it makes it kinda hard. Right now, as I say this, I am thinking it would have been great to do this with a partner of some sort. It was a mammoth undertaking, but if you don’t know you can’t do it, you can do it!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Try to take time to think about your business from the outside rather than just the inside. The phrase I’ve been trying to focus on is: “Work on your business, not in your business.” And I must say it has been a challenge the last two months. This has been the craziest, busiest, nonstop spring and summer I have ever had. I’ve nearly doubled my average billings. We are growing, growing, growing. I am trying to catch my breath and step back to determine how much additional help I need. I’m also trying to define exactly what I need additional help to be doing. The funny thing is, your interview came right in the midst of all these growing pains. I have to say thank you for holding my hand and unknowingly giving me a little push!

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Honestly, for me, the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is delegating. Delegating, when you are used to being a staff of one on a tight tight budget, has got to be the most challenging thing. Determining when it is time to add another person in order to make sure I am working on the right things is difficult! I am right in the middle of this stage now. As a business owner, you sometimes have the feeling that you can do it better. I am working on documenting or clarifying just how I want each job done so I can hand things over to someone else and be happy with the way they were taken care of, so I can work on the bigger picture or the ROI items.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Tap in to your loves, then translate them into educational afterschool programs. Schools are looking for new and different afterschool programs. There is a great need for kids to be inspired to think outside of the box, and we truly need to build a community of tiny entrepreneurs.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Now I’m gonna sound so silly. I would like everyone in the world to just to be nice, sort of like they are on Christmas day when the planet seems to take a tiny break from bad stuff. In a stage of niceness, no person or creature would be hungry or persecuted, and every single person could work toward their goodness and potential.

How would I go about it? Well, for starters, every single day I invite friends on the farm to go through my Magic Wishing Arch. I tell them to make a wish from their hearts for something good they want to do or be (the wish can’t be for a million dollars; it has to be from your heart). Then I tell them to make a wish for the planet and for a friend who needs a little help with something. That pay-it-forward mentality really, really works when we can keep it moving. Now, if we could just get the whole world on our team!

Tell us a secret.

I cried when the Victory Garden was planted. For me, it was a marker of change. Getting kids, families and communities to dig in and get their hands dirty and experience what it means to learn, love, laugh and have fun in the dirt is so special.

My deepest, darkest secret is that I was a vegetable-hater as a kid! I never wanted anything on my plate to touch. Now I love rambling through the garden with a bunch of kids on a field trip, tasting herbs, chomping fresh beans off the vine and nibbling on raw asparagus. “Who knew they were so good,” exclaimed one of my five-year-old friends. Another tiny friend thought it was the greatest field trip ever, because he could spit (but not on his neighbor!).

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Technology is not my strong suit. I struggle with it daily. This is where I need to do some serious delegating and open my brain to more learning!

  1. Right now My absolute favorite resource is Copyblogger. Brian Clark and his team shoot out great ideas every single day. They cover meaty topics and give great direction. Now I’ve just got to lock myself away in a quiet place and concentrate on following their directions!
  2. Constant Contact allows me to quickly and easily reach more than 1,800 people via email. I’ve been using it for years and love it.
  3. Don’t laugh, but I love Their talking pig card puts me in hysterics every time I script a cute reply or announcement to folks. Just a few days ago, a dad told me his child watched my talking pig message–which was personally scripted for his child–nine times before stopping! The other neat thing is that you can post American Greetings creations to Facebook and other platforms. American Greetings makes it easy.

Also, I do have to add that I’m trying to get the chickens to tweet more, and all this interest in Pinterest is pretty cool. But I can see getting detoured for hours of visual surfing if you’re not careful.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I have to go back to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Julia encourages you to take a break and do silly tasks which always seems to make the ideas you are ultimately working on blossom in a bigger way.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. Brian Clark of Copyblogger has great ideas and a great pool of writers who cover current, inspiring topics. He gives great direction on how to be successful in business.
  2. Christine Kane is an amazing chick who has grown her personal coaching business from a few hundred people to thousands of followers using online classes, videos and live conferences, along with personal coaching. I am mesmerized by her continual growth, and need to go back to my course notes for a refresher. You should interview her; you’ll say wow.
  3. Pattie Baker is endlessly pushing the boundaries for greater growth in the green arena for communities, on a doable level that make you say, “Yeah, I can do that!” She blasts out tweets from other interesting folks she is following. I want to be as good as Pattie at using my tools!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

The last time I laughed out loud was when a bunch of kids asked their moms if they could take home baby chicks after a week-long camp session. After some huge sales pitches and promises of what they would do for these tiny balls of fluff, my husband and new business partner looked over at the moms and said, “Well, the chicks are free but please note there is a $100 restocking fee!” (We get calls every other day from folks who have purchased pets without thinking about the animal’s habitat, care, lifespan, etc. And yes, potbelly pigs do get big and live for 18 years. We have four thanks to folks who did not exactly do all of their homework!)

Who is your hero?

In my original notes, I had listed three. My friend, Pattie Baker, is my hero because she inspires me every day with her blog, her community outreach and her insistence and persistence for making change in the world. Every single time I talk to her, she makes me want to do more. And next, I’m going to name two people I will never actually get to meet. (As I write this, my eyes are welling with tears. I’m gonna write them thank you notes; who knows, maybe they will end up reading my notes with a smile.) So my other heroes are Michelle Obama, for getting the Victory Garden installed and bringing attention to the educational farm to table movement, and Oprah, a woman who is an explosion of positive energy. She made her own way to the top and is known for her kindness and generosity, and for creating a path for change in so many ways.

What is your hardest or biggest challenge?

Along with every other entrepreneur, my biggest challenge has to be figuring out the best way to reach more people–teachers, parents and kids. It’s also difficult to know which group I should be marketing to the most. I know this sounds idiotic, but sometimes I feel like I have three products to sell to different groups (field trips to teachers, camps and parties to parents, and everything to kids!).

When I get a teacher to sign up for a field trip, this can mean 100-200 tiny, eager visitors at the farm who I hope will go home and say, “Mom and dad, we’ve gotta go back there!” I feel like I am finally getting to the teachers, but trying to make sure my message gets home can be challenging. Do I need a flyer? A sticker? The promise of a personalized, talking pig in a mom’s email inbox?

What is your biggest dream for the farm?

This is scary to say, but my biggest dream for the farm is growing it so that it receives some sort of national recognition via online resources. This would create what lots of entrepreneurs refer to as “mailbox money.” I’m not sure if this would involve dialing in to hang out with Farmer Sue, meeting an animal and learn some fun facts about it, or creating a cool art project using animals for models. Would I use Skype? Downloadable videos? I’m just not sure what my most useful vehicle is. Anybody need a project?

What is your happiest moment in life?

My happiest moment actually happens every single night when I sit with my guy (the converted city guy) on the deck of this tiny, tiny farm house and watch the farm go to sleep and the stars come out. I hope that I have made someone smile and have helped make a lasting memory. If you can be a part of someone’s happy memory, you’ve done a big thing.


Susan Shaw on LinkedIn:
TheArtBarn on Twitter: @TheArtBarn
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Susan Shaw’s email: [email protected]