Amy Kent ran her finger around a dark ring in the center of a 2-and-a-half foot wide walnut log. “A lot of the times, I can tell you exactly where the trees came from,” Kent said.
She takes pride in repurposing downed trees from nearby woods for the small business she and her partner, Jeff Evans, operate on Duncan Plains Road in rural, western Licking County.
This particular tree came from farmland that has been in her family for at least three generations. It’s a mix of table-flat soybean fields, gently rolling hills and old-growth woods tucked into the valleys and along meandering creeks. Kent lives with Evans on 140 acres near Johnstown.
The land is a mile east of where Intel plans to develop the largest computer-chip manufacturing plant in the world – a $20 billion campus to be built on nearly 1,000 acres of Jersey Township in Licking County.
And it’s land that developers have their eyes on for future growth beyond the industrial park that is sprawling east from New Albany.
Evans said he recently received a call from someone at the New Albany Company, which developed much of New Albany and is involved in the Intel development. The person asked if he and Kent would be interested in selling.
“Not interested,” he said.
“They said, ‘We’ll call you in a year or two,’” Evans said, shaking his head.
Kent and Evans, both 53, own and operate Sand and Sip, a rustic workshop in a century-old barn where friends and family can sip their favorite beverages while crafting cutting boards, tabletops, and furniture from live-edge lumber.
Since its creation in 2019, the business has grown into the fun retreat that Kent and Evans hoped it would be. Now, the business and the couple are facing the seemingly inevitable changes that Intel and the related development will bring to what has been a quiet, rural swath of Licking County.
A short distance away, houses on Green Chapel Road are being demolished daily to make way for the Intel factory and related development.
“You can sit around and scream and say no,” Evans said about developers, “but you’re not gonna stop them.”
“We’re just in limbo,” Kent said, as the couple stood in the barn that houses unique slices of walnut and maple. The shop sits on farmland that has been in the Evans family since the 1940s, after they sold their farm on Beech Road for development. Evans’ grandfather originally bought 300 acres that is now split among family members.
Evans and Kent met at a 4-H fair many years ago, and continued to see each other as Kent worked at Almendinger Sawmill, just up the road from the current home they share.
The windows of the house look out over a wide valley carpeted in last fall’s corn and soybean stubble and flanked by some of the woods from which their lumber comes. They officially opened Sand and Sip in February 2020, but a month later, COVID-19 hit, and they had to close it before it could really get going.
Now, they are back up and running, hosting private events and classes for church groups, book clubs, families, and for couples on date nights. The cost ranges from about $25 for the lumber, tools and supplies to make a cutting board to several thousand dollars for a complicated bar top. And clients bring their own beverages.
Popular items for customers to make in the shop are charcuterie and cutting boards, but repeat customers often come back to make the more intricate, larger pieces.
A recent development in the business has been the more challenging use of epoxy to creatively fill gaps and cracks in the wood with colored resin – as in bright blue to represent a river or blood-red arteries flowing through a piece.
In a corner of the shop is a large walnut bar top bisected by sparkling turquoise resin. It was crafted by a couple to symbolize the tropical spot they visited during their honeymoon.
Kent and Evans find that workshop tasks become meditative for their guests. “When you get to sanding, you kind of lose yourself in it,” said Evans, who added that he gets a similar feeling while tilling acres and acres of farmland.
With a background in homebuilding and operating his own sawmill, Evans also repairs furniture and makes pieces that showcase the unique lumber from trees in their woods.
For Kent, one of the valuable aspects of the business is educating customers about “why things look the way they do.” On a recent windy, 52-degree day, she explained that in walnut trees, the very different colors of rings in the wood are caused by the minerals that were in its environment during those years.
Some downed trees hold personal history for her. “I remember playing around the tree,” Kent said, describing her grandfather’s walnut tree that had to be cut down. “Now, I can turn it into family pieces.”
In the summers, Sand and Sip opens its barn doors so that customers can take in the pastoral view while doing their woodworking. And during a late afternoon class, a group can end their visit with a relaxing bonfire behind Kent’s and Evans’ home, sip their favorite beverage, and watch the sunset over the soybean fields.
It’s a scene that is likely to change in the not-too-distant future.
Faith Boirard, Molly Born and Alan Miller, of The Reporting Project, contributed to this story. The Reporting Project, part of Denison University’s Journalism Program, is supported in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.