Eileen and James Ray want you to live your dream—just like they have.
The former New Yorkers left what they thought were ideal jobs in finance and fashion in search of a more sustainable lifestyle—on every level. What they found, on their goat dairy farm in Tennessee, was a level of fulfillment they hadn’t realized they’d been missing. In 2012, they officially launched Little Seed Farm, which has since grown into a highly sought after line of conscious and organic soaps and skincare products.
Here, the couple describes their trajectory and why it feels so good to work together to make a dream a reality:
Live The Process: Where did you each grow up? Were you raised to appreciate nature and self-care or are those passions you discovered later?
Eileen Ray: I grew up in rural Vermont in a town named Chittenden. James’ hometown is Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both sides of our family are very active, and we both spent a lot of time in the mountains and participating in outdoor activities.
We sought out the farming component of what we do through a need to change our life direction. The natural beauty element of the business found us more than we found it! It was such a natural extension of what we do, and the customer base has pulled us along for this entire journey. We can’t produce enough!
LTP: What did your life look like before you decided to head to Tennessee and focus on Little Seed Farm? What inspired the change?
James Ray: Before moving to the farm, we lived in a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I worked as an investment analyst at a small firm in Manhattan and Eileen was a fashion designer for a womenswear brand, also in Manhattan.
ER: We both pretty much had office jobs that reflected our childhood dreams. James wanted to make money and was always interested in finance and business, so his role as an investment analyst fit perfectly. He was relatively happy, but not fulfilled.
I quickly became disillusioned with my job as a fashion designer. Having studied and trained in fashion design in Milan, it was my dream to be in New York City as a designer. The more I traveled to our factories in India, however, the more I realized that this wasn’t an industry with which I was proud to be involved. Also, my stress level was super elevated, and it was taking a toll on my health.
JR: Then, I realized that I wanted to propose to Eileen. In thinking about it, I realized that, if I proposed, then we would get married; and, if we got married, we would have kids; and, if we had kids, we’d have to move to the suburbs somewhere outside of the city. We’d both have to work to sustain our lifestyle. So, we’d both have long commutes and long hours at the office in order to pay someone to, in effect, raise our kids. And the more I thought about it, the more I understood that our current trajectory was not how I viewed my life playing out. I had to make a change, but I had no idea if Eileen was interested in quitting her dream job too.
ER: So, one night, James came home from work, apparently after thinking about this for a long time, and just started asking me all these big life questions. I also wanted to get married, but at this point we weren’t even engaged. And, out of the blue, he unleashed a litany of questions that (unlike him) I hadn’t spent the last few weeks thinking about!
I was taken totally off guard and started crying because I didn’t understand why he was asking me all these serious questions about what I wanted to do with my life.
JR: I figured out what was going on and took a step back and let her know that I was trying to explore her dreams for the future. I wanted to make sure we were on the same page, if we were going to spend our future together, raising a family and so on.
ER: And then I understood where he was going, and we pretty much right then and there decided to make some changes. We had no idea what would be, but we set out on a very intentional path to set life goals and seek professions that were more sustainable (personally and environmentally) and fulfilling.
JR: That was in 2010 and, soon after, we were engaged. We started by researching possible occupations, but ultimately wanted to start our own thing—together.
ER: We were very involved in the local food scene in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, both in terms of visiting and also volunteering heavily at a large produce farm that managed a CSA at our local farmer’s market. Food, both the production and the sale of it, was a topic that engulfed our free time and was a primary focus of interest for us.
We spent many weeks and months searching for ways to incorporate our love of food into a business, but we knew we didn’t want to run a restaurant. We explored managing a bed & breakfast and ultimately realized that wouldn’t be a fit for our personalities. So, we kept going down the ladder until we got the root of it all: become farmers.
It seemed insane, mostly because the stereotype of farmers is that they’re poor, there’s no more small farms, it’s a dying industry etc. But the more we looked at it and visited with other small farmers, the more we realized that it could be possible.
After nearly a year of searching for a farm and determining what we could produce, we landed in Lebanon, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, and started our goat dairy. At the beginning, I made goat’s milk cheese and James made goat’s milk soap, and we sold it at local markets.
LTP: How did you come to launch your line and what separates it from the pack?
ER: The official launch of our soap was in November 2012 and, in the summer of 2013, we launched an assortment of skincare products.
It was extremely small at the time, as cheese was a bigger portion of our business. However, the demand for our soaps and skincare started pulling us into shops all over Nashville and soon all over the country.
We formed a partnership with West Elm and several other large retailers over the course of the next few years and pretty soon we were exiting the cheese business and focusing all of our efforts on soap and skincare production.
We use only organic and natural ingredients, so that automatically elevates the line above and beyond 99% of what you can find on most retailer’s shelves. So much of what goes into beauty products is chemicals or other synthetically derived ingredients these days. We don’t use those.
In addition, all of our products are developed by us and for us. We are the testers, and we go through rigorous testing before any new product is launched. Our Deodorant Cream, for instance, took over three years to develop. But boy was it worth it! If you’ve ever used a Deodorant Cream, you know there can be many pitfalls, like it doesn’t work (ours does!) or it gets grainy over time and isn’t smooth (ours stays smooth, no clumps or grains!).
Our soap steps it up a notch by avoiding the use of palm kernel oil. Palm-derived products are a huge source of rainforest deforestation. It’s generally an unsustainable plant source for what is now the most common ingredient in soap and skincare products. Palm oil is everywhere—even in many, many foods! We don’t use it, instead opting for organic coconut and olive oils that are much more sustainably produced and also dramatically better for your skin.
All of our products are produced from start to finish on our farm. Each bar of soap, each jar of Deodorant Cream and every single other item we make is full of handmade love. Our organic ingredients are either produced on our farm (goat’s milk and organic herbs), or we source them intentionally from internationally-certified organic farms. We directly distribute to our customers.
There are no contract manufacturers involved; we don’t use a huge sales company to go out and peddle our wares. We are here with our team making and selling each product, and then shipping it out the door, whether it’s direct to the customer’s house or going on a national retailers shelf. We do it all from start to finish, and I think that’s what truly gives us control over the process. We can make sure no corners are being cut, that only the best ingredients are being used and that what we say is in the product is actually in the product.
LTP: In what ways is your business sustainable?
ER: Our solar panels generate 120% of the electricity used to operate our farm, soap production and home. We use only the highest quality natural and organic ingredients, supporting responsible farming techniques and ethical business practices worldwide. Our products are packaged in reusable and recyclable materials. Orders are shipped using eco-friendly padding and packaging options. Our humanely-managed goat herd is perhaps the only 100% grassfed commercial herd in the country. Intensive rotational grazing rehabilitates the soil on our 84-acre farm and lush, healthy pastures sequester more carbon dioxide than the lifeless pastures we adopted. We further maintain and protect approximately 45 acres of woods. Lastly, we implement strict reuse and recycling policies for all excess cardboard, paper, plastic and metal brought onto our farm.
LTP: What are some beauty and/or wellness rituals that keep you feeling balanced and healthy? What are your go-to products from your own line?
ER: Meditation and masks! I committed to a daily meditation practice three months ago and it has been game-changing. Life can get chaotic when you’re running a farm and a small business and also parenting! Meditation keeps me grounded—connected to my higher self and my deepest intentions. It’s pretty magical.
For beauty, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a mask. I love what they do for my skin and the intention of self-care that applying one sets. I’m in the formulation process for Little Seed’s first masks, so there’s lots of testing and masking going on in my life right now, and I’m loving it!
From our line, I am addicted to the Elasticity Serum and the Goat’s Milk Moisturizer.
JR: I spend a lot of time outside working with the goats, which gives me alone time outdoors on the farm. During garden season, I try to spend time outside each day planting, weeding, harvesting etc. The combination of those two things gives me a good chance to clear my head and also get some exercise.
I don’t have any beauty tips, but I do swear by turmeric and vitamin D3 for health!
Our soap totally changed my life and view on what a soap could be. It’s truly a luxurious soap and it gave me the confidence to build the foundation of the business around it. But, I couldn’t live without the Deodorant Cream. It’s my number one. The Hand Aid has also saved my hands from so much cracked skin and pain, so I couldn’t live without it either. So I guess I have three that I couldn’t live without!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
ER: We are pretty dang close to having it! In addition to loving our lives on the farm, we are now the proud parents a 2-year-old and a 4.5-year-old. Our vision when we left New York was to start a sustainable farm and also grow a family. Beyond our kids, we also have an incredible team that we consider family.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
JR: Pursue your dreams, don’t just dream them. If you have a dream, make it your goal to achieve it and figure out a way to make it happen. The process is the best part, and living in that moment when you’re pursuing your dream is an incredible feeling. If you’re not living the process, your goals will always be dreams instead of realities. Go do it!