Leading Ladies: Celebrating Women Farmers of Tennessee
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, only about 15% of the nation’s farmers are female and, of them, the average age hovers just over 60. However, while this “grass ceiling” may indeed be the case on a national level, locally—at our neighborhood farmers markets and produce stands—it increasingly feels like young, female farmers are the norm. Here are three Nashville-area ladies taking the lead on their farms.
THE FARM AND FIDDLE
Samantha Lamb puts the “art” into artisan farming. Her garden explodes with the colors brought about by rainbows of cherry tomatoes, carrots, and beets, five different varieties of peas, and edible flowers such as snapdragons and drift roses. Not only is she a gifted photographer (which allowed her to finance the farm), but also a knitter. The Farm and Fiddle is twenty-two acres in Fly, Tennessee, an unincorporated community about forty-five minutes southwest of Nashville. Samantha’s beau, Daniel Foulks, is an accomplished fiddle player, hence the name. When the couple first arrived on the farm in the dead of winter three years ago, there wasn’t much there—neither water nor electricity. But there was a barn and a freshwater spring, and so now there’s a house, built by Samantha and Daniel themselves. There are also dairy sheep and dairy cows—sixty of the former and four of the latter, three of which are in training. (Yes, it takes training to be a good milk cow. You have to have a great temperament and be willing to be led back and forth each day.) “It’s a bigger commitment than marriage,” Samantha laughs. “You’re the sole caretaker!”
She definitely has the magic touch. How else to explain how a fallow field in the middle of nowhere transformed in just a thousand days into a growing farm with 35 CSA members and an expanding list of restaurant partnerships? A place where you can go to learn about organic gardening or milk and cheese-making, or even mushroom growing? A place where, in October, you can visit for an Italian-themed farm dinner?
The Farm and Fiddle is, above all, a place where the soil sings and the food is that much better for it. “I always like to say ‘love life,’” Samantha comments, “because if you look around, it’s obvious how life aches to love you. Why not bring more joy into the world if you have the talent to do it?”
Farm and Fiddle | Thefarmandfiddle.Com
Even petite parcels can pack a productive punch. That is certainly the case with Sounding Stone Farm. Under the green thumb of Nashville native Caroline McDonald, this ⅓-acre market garden in Joelton bursts forth with a mix of lettuces, beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips, and lots and lots of edible flowers.
It’s Caroline’s third season of farming, but the first on her own land. “It’s very intensive,” she says. “I’m doing semi-permanent raised beds with an eighteen inch path between them. It’s a French style.”
One technique that Caroline has picked up and now implements is stale seed bedding. This practice places silage tarps over the semi-permanent beds to encourage the germination of weed seeds in the top two to three inches of soil. Bad news for them—once germinated and the tarp removed, “I’ll flame ’em,” Caroline says with a grin, referring to the fiery fate that awaits any weed with the temerity to try and grow in her garden.
With Caroline’s growing success, she has been able to receive grants to improve her farm, including the recent addition of a hoop house, future home of a bountiful mix of winter greens. The hoop house will join her caterpillar tunnel greenhouse already in service growing good things like shishito peppers.
With thirteen hour days not uncommon, it is clearly a lot of work. “I once fell asleep on the floor,” Caroline admits, recalling her first taste of life as a full-time farmer. So why do it? “I’m working on my elevator speech for that question,” she says. “The answer is enormous. I could wax poetic. It’s a job that allows me to be present in my life. It’s a political stance. I found farming and loved it. I quit my hobbies. It’s the only job I’ve had that I really loved.”
As for help, Caroline has the support network of the Women Farmers of Middle Tennessee. “It’s a really tight-knit community,” she comments. “My mentor is Tallahassee May of Turnbull Creek Farm. Tally is one of the most extraordinary humans I know, so generous with her time and knowledge.”
Sounding Stone Farm | soundingstonefarm.com
HARPETH MOON FARM
With a degree in sustainable agriculture from Warren Wilson and her love of hard work, Hayley Roberts has what it takes to be a great farmer. Along with her partner, Max VanderBroek, and her father, Bruce Roberts, Haley runs Harpeth Moon Farm, thirtyeight acres of land in Kingston Springs that grows plenitudes of produce and fountains of flowers, all certified organic.
One of the recent additions to the farm is a large hoop house, built over the winter with a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service, a USDA agency.
Intended for intensive farming, the hoop house will help ensure that there is never a gap in production. “It’s very valuable real estate on the farm,” Hayley says. “It allows us to use ‘lower and lean,’ a trellising system for tomatoes. Max and I joked that we’re like puppeteers. Once the plants grow up to the trusses, we lower them on the twine they’re tied to.”
Now into their third year of farming and their second year of offering a CSA, Hayley and Max are getting into the rhythm of farming life and the joy of providing food for their surrounding community. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Hayley,” Max shares. “She IS Harpeth Moon Farm. She knows way more about farming than I do!”
But regardless of Hayley’s greater knowledge about growing organically-certified produce and flowers, the couple certainly have in common a desire to cultivate relationships with the folks of Kingston Springs. “They’re our friends and neighbors,” Hayley says, many of whom bought shares in Harpeth Moon’s CSA. “It’s important for us to feed our own community. We want to cultivate relationships with our food. We’re all about quality.”
Harpeth Moon Farm | harpethmoonfarm.com