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Purchase property in
Middle Tennessee

We grew up in Tennessee and had a desire to move closer to family, having spent the previous two and a half decades in Michigan. So we focused our farm search within the beautiful rolling hills of middle Tennessee. We purchased our property in 2016, several years sooner than we expected to be landowners. Our time and attention to building the farm were limited at first, as we were still working full time jobs in Michigan. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate a remote work-from-home arrangement for a portion of each year. No one said we could not work from our home in Tennessee! 


Develop our farm plan

During our first year, we spent our weekends and evenings on the farm mostly walking around or sitting on hillsides. Observing, listening, and pondering the question, “what does this land want to be?” With no television and very little furniture in the house, our distractions were minimized. We were surprised at how noisy nature can be. It has a lot to say.

Our research suggested that our farm wanted to be a savanna with grassy hillsides, scattered trees and bushes, dotted with ponds. All of these elements would capture sunlight and produce food for people and wildlife. Livestock would manage the grasslands and find shelter under the trees. 

We would be a part of this system. We would try to contribute to it and occasionally nudge it in ways that are mutually beneficial. We would harvest food while fostering soil regeneration and encouraging the natural cycles of a healthy, resilient and diverse ecosystem.


Some of the details were still fuzzy, but our plan reflected our goals to align with nature and to grow healthy food for ourselves and others. It also recognized our limitations in terms of age (mid-fifties) and our limited availability during the first several years. We would set the plan in motion and then let nature move it forward when we could not be there to assist.


Build swales and ponds

By taking walks during heavy rain events, it became clear that we were losing a lot of soil and water from the farm. The deepening erosion ditches and muddy streams were hard to miss. Our goals of growing nutrient-rich food and building a resilient ecosystem were washing away into the nearby streams and rivers. We needed to slow the flow of water on the hillsides to give it more time to soak into the ground, feeding the soil and replenishing the aquifer. We also needed to capture as much excess rain water as possible, storing it on the farm to be used when needed for plants and animals.


Our mentor and friend, Mark Shepard and his team at Restoration Agriculture Development (Johann, Karen and Eric), helped us to design and implement four miles of swales and several new ponds to create a farm water management system. Swales are shallow trenches that approximately follow the contour of the land. They collect the water that runs down the hill above and distribute it around the farm. After a heavy rainfall, swales look like very long and skinny pools that curve around the hills. They are quite beautiful. When the soil cannot absorb any more, swales redirect extra water to ponds for storage and for growing more food – fish! 

Plant chestnut trees


We wanted the trees in our savanna to produce lots of food, so we chose chestnuts to be the foundational crop on the farm. Chestnuts are high in energy and low in fat, and they are delicious for people and wildlife. 

We planted the trees along the swales on the downhill side. The water collected in the swales feeds the roots of the trees, accelerating growth and increasing resilience to drought. The widely spaced rows of trees and swales creates alleys for grazing animals or growing other crops. This design provides many options both now and in the future. 

We had a lot of help planting our 1200 trees. An energetic group of young people from the community and a generous neighbor with a tractor worked with us for several days to get the job done. What a blessing!

Chestnut trees begin to produce in 4-5 years, with production increasing each year after that until full maturity. Perfect timing for us. We could retire from our jobs and be available on the farm just in time to manage the first real harvest. Nature was growing our retirement plan. 


Plant elderberries

We chose elderberries as one of our secondary crops. These small berries are packed with a huge amount of nutritional value, and they naturally grow well in our climate. They are harvested in the July-August timeframe, giving us a short break before the chestnut harvest in September-October. 

A great thing about perennial crops is that most of the work is done one time during the planting and establishment phase. This initial effort yields harvests for many years.


Fortunately, another fine group of young people in our community helped with this planting.

Farming revenue loves diversity almost as much as nature does. Having multiple products and enterprises makes our farm business less vulnerable to variations in weather, pests and markets. It also makes the farm more beautiful. 


Start our flock of hair sheep

Our first flock of twelve sheep arrived on the farm just a few weeks after we retired from our Michigan jobs. We were anxious to get the animals started on their jobs –  land regeneration and management. 

As our flock grows, they will help mow the fields, fertilize the trees and pastures, and provide meat and income to the farm. And each spring we will be blessed with lambs bouncing through the tall grass and flowers. 

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