The Folk Collaborative in McCaysville unites local artists, farmers, educators and businesses to keep their rich culture alive for future generations
Walking into The Folk Collaborative in McCaysville felt like I had just walked into my grandmother’s home. Chairs for sitting. Mason jars for opening. Pies for eating. I only discovered the out-of-the-way charmer through Facebook and friends, reaching out for an interview, unsure of what I would discover. I walked toward the back of the barn-like structure, and there sat Luke Dilbeck on a stool, in front of his computer, clad in overalls, printing labels for jars.
“Ain’t nothing fancy about us,” he begins. “We’re just a group of folks who love and look out for each other.”
As the life of Dilbeck beings to unravel through words, I realize that my first glimpse of him in front of a computer was as foreign as a snowy Florida, and more than likely, a sight I wouldn’t see again. His life and work dwells on the land, through his hands, and alongside his family. And which is true of Appalachian living, the heart and soul their life is their family roots and growing branches.
“My wife, Mae, is the soul of the kitchen,” says Dilbeck, master herbalist. “A brilliant and beautiful lady who finds peace through her yoga, her goats, and any body of water. Our boy, Hunter, moved to the sunshine state to find his way in the world and he’s doing right well. He found love and a passion for restoring old adventuring vehicles. And I may be wrong but I feel that some nights after being in the land of eternal sun, his soul thinks about the cool mountain air of southern Appalachia. [Our] daughter, Isobella, went off to get her education and then made her home just up the road a bit. She has a passion for plants and the written word so she opened up a plant store and writes blogs and for a couple of newspapers. Mama and Daddy are still a huge part in our lives. Daddy works with us in the orchard and Mama keeps our bellies full with suppers a couple nights a week. It’s nice when we all get together around the table and then watch the lightning bugs in the evening from Mama’s porch.”
Keeping Appalachia Alive
The farm has always been in the family’s hands, with an apple orchard of some 50 years. As the older generations retired, their teachings and sway did not. Dilbeck and Mae moved their Blue Ridge apothecary and yoga businesses to the farm in 2020, where they now live on the second floor of the building. They claimed their Appalachian traditions and built a collaborative based on this foundation. They united with local artists, farmers, families, educators, businesses, and the community to keep the culture alive.
“And in the process, we do what Appalachian folks do; we look out for one another,” Dilbeck says.
With a decline in knowledge of the Appalachian culture, the Dilbecks created a space where people could learn and experience it.
“Everything in life evolves in some shape or fashion, but I’ve noticed that when you speak things to the universe, you might oughta be ready for it when it answers,” says Dilbeck. “So, we started doing what we loved—collecting stories, making products like Mamaw used to make ‘em, growing and gathering our own ingredients, teaching classes to other folks who want learn the same. And dang it, if folks were more interested than I thought they would be.”
Much more than an ancient mountain range, it’s a people. “I often refer to Appalachians as ‘the forgotten,’ for throughout its history, it’s kind of how the rest of the country treated us. And to be perfectly honest, it’s how many folks wanted it. To be left alone came with a freedom as well as hardships, but that’s where the people of the area looked out for one another. It’s what we have to continue doing lest we forget who we are. It terrified me that such a beautiful culture might quickly vanish and be replaced by a [half-hearted] reproduction of itself.”
Sit for a Spell
The Folk Collaborative is a gathering place where people learn about gardening, cooking, farming, preserving, quilting, fishing, even planting by the signs. Classes and workshops teach insights into the living of past generations, like medicine making—its history, dangers and beauty. In the fall, visitors can wander the orchard to pick their own apples in a less crowded and more unhurried setting than other area U-Pick farms. The shops offer “generations of mountain wisdom” in the form of soaps, cleaners, teas (Appalachian Summer Tea) and medicinals created from ingredients forged from “hills and hollers.”
Not only will you find a menagerie of Appalachia in McCaysville but also in their satellite Copperhill, Tennessee, location. Open only a couple of months, this location rivals in space and sells everything you’ll find in the original venue, just not the vast quantity and selection; yes, there are pies. Daffodillys Plant Company, Dilbeck’s daughter Isobella’s passion project of flora and coffee, is taking root next door to the collaborative in the Copperhill community.
In the eatery back in McCaysville, Mae’s cherished recipes feed the soul.
“Mae’s chicken and dumplings and Shepard’s pie will be what we pass on to our grandkids. Lord, they’re so good.” And be sure to take home a box of delicious apple pies and scones.
Dilbeck and his family welcome you to their home.
“Grab a cup of coffee or one of our special lemonades and sit around and jabber jaw with each other on the porch. I do hope that they like us being here, and that when folks come to visit, they slow down for just a few moments and remember what’s it’s like to just simply be. I hope that they learn a few things that they can pass on to their family or youngins. I hope that they experience friendly folks who are willing to go out of their way to help, and I hope that it inspires them to do the same when they meet someone on the street.”
As time passes, Dilbeck sees the positive consequences of those who have stopped in at the collaborative.
“I see them finding joy in that first bite of a tomato they grew themselves, or that they now know how to make their own laundry soap. I see folks finding peace in watching a sunset, then counting stars in the sky rather than staring at a screen. I hear rumors of how this next generation or two under me will ‘unplug’ their children and allow them to have dirty feet and messy hair and drink from the water hose once again. And inside, it makes me smile.”
The Folk Collaborative
Apple Orchard, Apothecary & Bakery
2984 Mobile Road, McCaysville
Copper Hill Storefront
111 Ocoee St., Copper Hill, Tenn.
Folks, meet me at the orchard
With the fall season bringing lower temperatures and the maturing of apples, it’s the classic season to visit Dilbeck and his family. Visit thefolkcollaborative.com to make reservations for upcoming events.
Apple U-Pick: The season begins September 1 and continues through Thanksgiving. Make a date to pick a varietal that is exclusive to the Dilbeck’s orchard, the Johnny Smith—a combination of Mutsu, Cameo and Jonagold (available September). No reservations required.
Tractor Rides and Farm Tours: A 20-minute tractor ride navigates the orchard and is ideal for families with small children. The 45-minute tour includes stops among the tress, history of the farm, and tasting the apples. Enjoy a view of the Cohutta Mountains. Available Monday – Friday during apple season. Reservations required.
Picnic in the Orchard: Bring your friends and let The Folk Collaborative provide the picnic basket filled with Mae’s delicious eats. The Dilbecks will make it memorable while you create the memories. Reservations required. Fire on the Mountain: Experience Appalachian life in the orchard around a roaring bonfire. They furnish the fire, wieners and s’mores, plus the music and storytelling. Slow down and enjoy the evening. Reservations required.