One thing that’s been consistent, since meeting Martha McMillin, is that I’ve always left her Westside Provisions storefront wishing I’d had more time. Our conversations at Preserving Place flow seamlessly through a variety of topics that could range anywhere from our love of entrepreneurship to shared childhood memories of exploring the World Book encyclopedias within our homes. Though she’s been a Charm partner for years, I recently realized that she’d not yet shared what prompted her leap from a 30-year career as a corporate attorney to selling beautiful preserves and artisanal goods. I hardly expected her journey to begin in Scotland, but stories like this make Martha the perfect guest at a cocktail party, as her sister suggests.
Though Martha’s family originated in Scotland, they entered America through Philadelphia and settled along the Appalachian Mountains. She grew up hearing stories about the Revolutionary War from her Aunt Peggy, the family historian. In fact, her Great-Great Grandmother was a spy. After the war, the family was afforded a land grant in South Carolina for their military service. “Land was good for my family. It felt like it was a part of the family,” Martha shared.
The McMillin’s lived off of their land, owning a gristmill, cotton mill and farm with produce and what we’d consider organic, grass fed cattle. Her mother, now 95 years old, was an excellent cook, and the family ate what was in season or had been preserved. “My cousins were getting after me about learning recipes…and my mother kept saying food doesn’t taste as good as it used to.”
Martha started shopping at Morningside Farmer’s Market and found that the produce there tasted like the varieties she grew up with. Not only that, she found herself happier when driving to the market. It was a place that reminded her of her childhood, when the conversations were driven by land, weather and bugs.
This was part of the recipe that prompted the 2013 launch of Preserving Place: a space that honors Martha’s mother and father by preserving their sense of place and honoring the land. She wanted the store to look and feel comfortable and hospitable, with a farm table to gather around and a pretty kitchen that would ensure its students left with the feeling, “Now, I know how to do it!” She’s done just that and more, with popular chef-led cooking classes, and Preserving Place artisanal products being featured by Chef Linton Hopkins on various international Delta Airlines flights.
You can also find Preserving Place goodies at H & F Bread, 3 Parks Wine and Atlanta farmers markets. Classes, like Canning 101 and Southern Put-Ups, are updated regularly online. Be sure to stop by the storefront to sample what’s in season and sit for a spell with Martha!