Ashleigh Parsons, Co-Founder, Alma
Upon meeting Ashleigh Parsons, she emulates such a beautiful sense of warmth and ease that you instantaneously want to be her friend. Part activist and part entrepreneur, she’s one-half of the creative duo behind the Los Angeles restaurant Alma, and the founder of the mindfulness and wellness program for children, Alma Community Outreach. We were so excited to spend a sunny winter day in Malibu with Ashleigh foraging the local market, exploring the coastline, and learning about her inspiring non-linear journey.
How would you describe what you do and your day-to-day responsibilities for Alma?
They have changed significantly since the opening of the 39-seat restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. We are now a business that consults creatively and operationally for other restaurants and hotels, so I've found myself in more of a creative and managing role. While the stakes are higher and the responsibilities greater, I enjoy overseeing creative collaborations, ensuring the staff is happy and thriving, and guaranteeing the companies we consult for are operating in an efficient, sustainable, and profitable way.
You also founded Alma Community Outreach. Can you tell us about this journey and your mission for the project?
My background is in psychology and education, and I am fascinated with the learning that occurs outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, many of these extracurricular programs have been cut from the education budgets. Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3) was founded in 2012 in tandem with Alma LLC as an effort to remind students back into their bodies through a holistic approach of mindfulness exercises, cooking, and gardening. We have four partnerships in the low-income neighborhood of Rampart, and we work with 150 students from ages 6 to 18 weekly. We have also created urban farming opportunities on all of our campuses and are currently overtaking a quarter acre farm in Glassell Park that will grow food for both the non-profit as well as Alma LLC.
Community seems to play an important role within your work. What do you love most about living and working in LA?
LA feels like home to me. It beat me up in the beginning—I’ve only been here for four years, but it feels like I’ll be here for a long time. The creative energy in Los Angeles right now is intoxicating as people across disciplines are collaborating and constantly dialoguing about how we can work together to make positive change given the current social and political climate. The energy is so palpable that when friends from outside the city come to visit, they share how they’re tempted to move here, as it truly feels like a unique moment in LA.
Can you describe your creative path and what brings you to where you are today?
The other day a close friend spoke about this notion of a path and how we are so conditioned to believe that the path of life is linear. However, he argues that when we wander off this supposed path, we actually find our true calling. My journey since college has been a meandering, twirling, whirling non-linear experience, but I think it is the collection of those moments that brings me to where I am today.
I would describe myself as a creative entrepreneur and activist with a focus on the food industry. Food is a basic human right and I believe we’ve become completely disconnected from this notion. In order to be healthy, thriving, and whole, we must first gather around a table and nourish one another.
Does intuition play a role in your creative process?
YES. For a long time I ignored my intuition, which I believe is quite common, especially in women. I try not to have regrets, but I can’t help but reflect on how if I had tuned in and listened to my intuition I would have avoided some of the challenges I faced with Alma’s beginnings. However, I can’t change the past, so moving forward, I promise to listen to my inner voice as it is often our wisest voice.
When you’re feeling creatively blocked or overwhelmed, how do you connect back to yourself?
I go to the ocean. I’m an introvert and my job is quite social, so after a long week of programming and events I sometimes feel depleted. When I feel this way, I drive to Rincon or Malibu. I’ll usually go on a Sunday, with the windows down, music loud, and my phone quiet. I’ll spend a few hours at the ocean, listening to the waves, watching the dolphins, playing fetch with my dog Sage, or sitting quietly. But no matter what, when I leave the beach as the sun dips into the ocean, I feel rejuvenated. I think we underestimate the power of nature and her ability to nourish and replenish. I also love ceramics, and in 2017 I’ve vowed to spend more time throwing at Ball Clay. I also vowed to sing more, so after ten years of not singing because for whatever reason I put that in a box, I’m taking up voice lessons again.
Can you tell us 5 things that would make up your ideal day?
My ideal day is a Sunday. I like to rise early and drink too much black coffee, then drive to the beach, set out a picnic on a beautiful blanket, swim until sunset, have dinner with friends and a bottle of rose. Either way the ocean and the sun are involved—maybe there’s dancing at the end of it all, I feel like we all need to dance more.
What is your relationship to fashion? Do you have a sense of a daily uniform?
Fashion is this passion of mine and a lot of my friends work in the industry, so I enjoy just learning about it and hearing about their creative process. I don’t have a daily uniform, though I do always carry my Make Smith leather backpack (I don’t own a purse) and I value a good pair of sneakers like Eytys or Supergas, plus a good pair of Band of Outsiders pants. My work often requires me to go from teaching third graders how to garden to organizing a dinner party, so I need to be comfortable while also looking presentable!
What is most important to you right now?
Silence. I just listened to Krist Tippett's interview with Gordon Hempton where he describes silence as an endangered existence. I've been sitting in silence, meditating, sewing, and reading. 2016 felt very noisy with lots of horns honking and unnecessary chatter. 2017 for me is about quiet, deliberate conversation, mindfulness, and tenderness.
If you had to give your young 20-year-old self advice, what would it be?
Trust your intuition and don’t shy away from your talents and dreams, even though people will try to squish them occasionally along the way. Lean into your friends—you don’t have to do it all on your own.