Farmers in the Bell
Young farmers claim Bells Bend for cultivating food, family, and Nashville’s future.
THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY.
In northwest Davidson County, in fertile land looped by the Cumberland River, a community has long held onto its unspoiled beauty and agrarian way of life. Scottsboro-Bells Bend is little more than fifteen minutes from Nashville’s urban core, yet is comprised of a drive that transports you into to a place of rolling hills, bucolic dells, rushing creeks, and new whooping crane refuges and a long held farming community.
For decades the community has united to protect its character from encroachment and sprawl. A chemical plant. An 800-acre landfill. A 1200-unit housing development. And lastly, a 600,000-square-foot office and retail center with 600 plus condos.
Now “The Bend” has new advocates—a crop of young farmers devoted to sustainable agriculture and the preservation of the last of Nashville’s rural areas.
BELLS BEND FARM
Born and raised in Scottsboro, Eric Wooldridge returned home to farm after attending Appalachian State. He helped start Bells Bend Farms after the community defeated the Bells Landing proposal, and soon became involved in stopping the massive May Town development. “The community has always been there before me and, we hope, will be there after me, but it has changed in a lot of good ways since we started farms here,” says Eric.
Now farming his 7th year, he and co-manager Loran Shallenberger have grown the group of four small farms to include vegetables, fruits, chickens, pigs, sheep, and cattle. They offer a vegetable CSA, full diet CSA, and sell at two farmers markets. They also grow hops for local Yazoo beer, and certain decorative gourds and plants for their neighbors, Humble Flowers. Diversity is key to success.
SIX BOOTS COLLECTIVE
Down the road is Six Boots Collective— a union of three small biodynamic farms. Eric’s friend Kevin Sykes worked with him for a year and a half before branching out to start Hoot 'n' Holler Gardens in 2011. Another fellow attendee of Appalachian State, Peter Burns moved to the Bend, interning with Eric for a year before starting Soggy Bottom Farm. Nashville native Will Tarleton moved to worked under Jeff Poppen at By Faith Farm in 2011 before buying four acres in Bell's Bend to start Wiley's Produce. It didn’t take long for Will, Peter, and Kevin to realize that they could best flourish in collaboration together. The power of three pairs of boots! In late 2012, they formed Six Boots Growers' Collective to offer a CSA and sell at area markets.
Will attests to that spirit of cooperation. “We all share equipment. We’ll help one another on big farm projects. My neighbors let me run the sheep on their land. It’s barter-and-trade economy. ‘Just give me a few vegetables in return,’ they say.”
WHOOPING CRANE FARM
Across the street from Six Boots is Whooping Crane Farm. This is Christen Craig’s agritourism venture entrusted to her by owner Dr. Ellen Jacobson, whose family has been in Bells Bend since the 1930s. Christen is creating a beautiful farm stay—where folks can retreat, refresh, hold events and workshops, and fall in love with this precious countryside.
Christen’s arrival to the Bells Bend community is itself a love story—for both a man and the land. While doing her livestock apprenticeship at the Stone Barns Center in New York, she formed a relationship with Will Tarleton. They now live together on his farm where she keeps a small flock of sheep. Her other business, The Farmer’s Florist, is a floral design service that collaborates with Humble Flowers. She cites an every growing list of what she values: the sunsets at Whooping Crane Farm, the Tuesday night potlucks, the old time music, the square dances at Old School and Sulphur Creek Farm, the friends she’s made, what she learns from them everyday, the access to parks, the access to wholesome food.
Varying enterprises, each with an agricultural bent, continue to blossom. Over on Tidwell Hollow is Sherrill Homestead, where Graham and Mary Lindsay Sherrill grow specialty produce that they sell at the West End Farmers Market, as well as raise rabbits, ducks, and chickens for Nashville restaurants.
OLD SCHOOL FARM
In 2012, Susan Richardson and Rowan Millar purchased and renovated the abandoned Wade School on Old Hyde’s Ferry Pike as a base for their operations, a non-profit dedicated to helping intellectually challenged individuals find meaningful work and independence. Now, their Old School Farm is a place where developmentally disabled learn farming, from seed to market.
Over three years ago, Tatum Stewart of Stewart Orchard expanded his Ashland City operation to Bells Bend to create the first pick-your-own orchard in Davidson County. This summer, he drew raves for his Contender and White Nectar peaches at the Hip Donelson and West End Farmers Markets. This fall, his Golden Delicious, Romes, and Arkansas Blacks are the apples of our eyes.