Tea with Local Milk

Beth Kirby, photo via Local Milk

Beth Kirby, photo via Local Milk

“Hey! Wanna meet at my house instead?...I’m not in the mood to be in public.”

When I got this email from Beth Kirby, about 20 minutes before we were scheduled to meet, I lost it. All day long I had looked forward to meeting Beth, the artist behind the brand Local Milk, at a coffee shop in town. Being invited to her home for a cup of tea felt too good to be true.

In addition to maintaining the eponymous food photography blog, Beth is a freelance photographer, stylist, and writer. She hosts workshops all around the world with other chefs, stylists, and bloggers and is currently working on writing a proposal for her first cookbook. Before setting off on a three month trip that will include retreats in Australia, Japan, and Italy, Beth found time to sit down with me and talk about her journey to becoming a full-time artist.

As I walked up Beth’s long driveway, praying that I had the right house number, I turned to see a cozy porch, complete with two different seating areas and antler chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. As Beth’s boyfriend led me into the kitchen, Beth yelled down for him to come help because the washing machine wasn’t working. She came down quickly, apologizing for cursing at the washer, “I’m sorry, I’m just so ready for clean sheets tonight!” We talked about the simple joy of sleeping between clean sheets as Beth made a pot of tea.

We sat down in the living room with freshly brewed cups of White Wolf tea and Tasmanian honey, and Beth began to tell me about the roundabout path she took to becoming a creative blogger and photographer. Beth was raised in Chattanooga, and at the age of 17 her life took a wild turn. Beth dropped out of high school and began attending and eventually failing out of University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). Eventually Beth transferred to Loyola University in New Orleans, where she majored in Philosophy.

At this point in the conversation, Beth interrupted her story and dropped her voice. “You may or may not know this, but I was an alcoholic/drug addict for about a decade, and that was already going on.” She explained that while she had been successful in her second round of school, studying and making good grades, addiction found a foothold. She admitted: “as it tends to do, my life ran off the tracks.”

For the next few years, Beth’s life consisted of moving in and out of rehabilitation centers, chasing boyfriends around the country, a broken marriage, and a brief stint at L’Abri studying Christian apologetics. During this time, Beth lost faith in God or in any higher power. It finally took the threat of being cut off from her family for Beth to check into a rehab center near Chattanooga and  finally break free of her addiction.

“People are always like, ‘how did you get clean?’ and I’m always like, ‘I don’t know, it was a spiritual thing,” Beth confessed. Her addiction eventually ended with what Beth called, “a belief in a loving plan.” As she began to re-enter normal life, it was at a suggestion from her therapist that Beth pursued blogging. “I had always wanted to do what I saw people on the internet doing, and my therapist was just like, ‘well do it!’”

Beth gave herself a year to begin Local Milk, and by the end of 2012, it was a full time job. She devoted every day to it: cooking, styling, and photographing. She found new meaning and purpose, pouring herself into creating the brand and inspiring people with her photographs and recipes. I was one of those inspired people. I remember coming home from a bad day of work in 2013 in the Woodlands, Texas, where I hardly knew anyone. I remember finding Beth’s recipe for salted spice double chocolate chili cookies and immediately began therapy baking. I brought cookies to everyone the next day, and her cookies worked like a balm on my loneliness—not healing me completely, but helping me get out of myself and be a blessing in an unfamiliar place.

In describing the work that she does, Beth believes that there is so much more to her blog than what initially meets the eye. “The more complex side of [Local Milk] is the faith that allowed me to stop drinking and do this. I couldn’t have done this without it...The faith gives layers and depth to what could be pretty mundane work...I like there to be more there than just the top layer.”

She went onto discuss the specific ways her philosophy of life, post-rehab has affected her creative work. “I think everything is connected, everything is spiritual...food is the way we get energy, it comes from the earth we put it into ourselves, it is so cool. Relationships happen at the table, it is all so connected, there is nothing mundane about the mundane. That’s where I get my inspiration.”

The name Local Milk is a combination of two things Beth hopes and believes her blog will be for people. “The metaphor is simply milk stands for sustenance: emotional, spiritual, relational; and local is about being present where you are in space and time. So finding sustenance where you are.” says Beth. You too can be inspired by Beth by following her blog, twitter, and instagram.