Living Simply: Bugtussle and Hill and Hollow Farms

By Jill Melton / Photography By Jill Melton | December 28, 2016
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Every weekend, for 15 years, the Smiths have loaded up their truck with freshly harvested produce to go to the farmers’ market. Here they are in their outdoor kitchen on their farm, Bugtussle, in Gamiel, KY.

Two farm families committed to living off the land and their stories.

Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course, but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”



Bugtussle Farm is a place out of time. The farm, owned by Eric and Cher Smith, is not exactly easy to find. You have to navigate an increasingly bumpy, perilous road to get to their “compound,” which consists of a cabin that Eric built, an outdoor kitchen, a barn and various outbuildings. I was greeted by 10-year-old Opal and her brother’s sheep. The children are home-schooled, or life learning as they like to call it, and completely resourceful. Ira, 12-years-old, was off deer hunting, and Opal, was gathering materials for an art project. All the girls knit and cook, Ira hunts deer and squirrel, which the family apparently ate a lot of last winter (voiced by Opal). The cabin has no grid-tied electricity but is fueled by water from a spring on a hill above the house and a wood cook stove, which drives the water to where it needs to go. They have solar panels for power, and as Cher says, spend a few days in the dark around the solstice (December 21). They have lived solely through farming, raising a boy and three girls. For a taste of farm life, follow them at @bugtusslecher and @bugtussleeric.


When Hill and Hollow’s barn burned down back in June of last year, Robin Verson and Paul Bela quickly learned two things: you can count on your community (who raised 10K to help them rebuild) but not your insurance company, who they have yet to hear from. Community becomes more important when you live miles from anywhere.

When I pulled up to Hill and Hollow farm, Robin was listening to a voice message on their land line. “I had occasion to use the iron, so the board and the iron are up, if you want to come use it” said the voice over the line. The voice was Robin’s mother-in-law, who lived in a house across the field from theirs. She does things like that, said Robin. William, her 5-year-old son, runs across the field to see his “Gramms” most days. Probably not that different from what a boy would have done generations ago. He also was flying a wooden airplane during our visit and “clearing a path for us” with a sickle that he picked up. We went out and looked for the remains of a sheep that fell victim to a coyote, one of the first instances they ever had. “We found the legs, some fur, but not much else. There’s no traces anywhere”, said William, mimicking his dad. Life for William Servan is not markedly different from a five year-old in the 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s living on a farm. That’s not to say that he doesn’t occasionally watch a movie on the family iPad. But for the most part, the 150-acre farm is his playground, and there’s plenty to explore.

Robin and Paul bought Hill and Hollow after looking for farm land for months while working at Jeff Poppens (aka The Barefoot Farmer) farm in Red Boiling Springs. When they drove across the spring and back into the cozy field with a wooden house and outdoor kitchen, it was immediate love. They lived in the one room wooden house without electricity for eight years with their two children, Sasha and Madeline, and moved into the a bigger place on the property when their third child William was born. The “old place” as they call it, is now occupied with interns most of the time, but has a special place in their hearts. Robin and Paul have been farming for almost 20 years and never looked back. “We’re producers” says Paul, rather than consumers. They sometimes make trips to Walmart for oil, cheese, wine, coffee and the like, but for the most part, live on what they grow. Robin milks a cow every morning for the raw milk, and they kill a cow every year for the meat. For going on 17 years, they’ve drive over an hour and a half, to the Nashville Farmers’ market to drop off their CSA and sell what they’ve grown.

They talk about streamlining their farm just so that it’s more manageable for them as they get older, but other than that, they plan on doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years to come.


Clothes out to dry behind their home
Photo 1: Ira’s sheep
Photo 2: The Smith’s cabin in the woods
Photo 3: In 1998 Robin Verson and Paul Bela moved to the hills of Kentucky and started Hill & Hollow Farm. Since then they have supported themselves and their 3 children with their CSA.
Photo 4: Robin & Paul’s very successful experimental lemon tree.
Article from Edible Nashville at
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