MIDDLE TENNESSEE AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Windy Acres Farm: Sam Harvey, Lyle Harvey
Eliza Spellman Taylor
Miranda Christy, TN Attorney
The Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of The Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
The Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons is working with local farmers to preserve the agrarian landscape while making farming a viable profession for the next generation of young, diverse farmers. Through holding, preserving, and giving farmers equitable access to farmland via 99-year ground leases, we can collectively help ensure the equitable transition of farmland to those historically disenfranchised from secure land access in the region.
The Agrarian Trust team began meeting with several Middle Tennessee farmers starting in 2018 to discuss forming an Agrarian Commons in their region. The two founding farms of the region’s Commons are Windy Acres Farm and Long Hungry Creek Farm. Our partners, Land Trust for Tennessee and Bells Bend Community Association, have also played integral roles in bringing the Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons to life.
Middle Tennessee Agriculture
Middle Tennessee is blessed with more than 3 million acres of green space, including forests, parks, and wetlands. A third of those acres are farmland. Of the total green space, reports show that only about 15 percent is protected using tools such as conservation easements. This is alarming, given that a 2012 Department of Agriculture Soil Survey found some of the state’s most highly productive agricultural soils in the 10-county region.
The region is home to thousands of small and mid-scale farms, as well as the fast-growing Nashville metro area. The unprecedented population growth occurring in Middle Tennessee represents a unique opportunity to connect new communities to the region’s organic and sustainably produced abundance while stewarding precious acreage and supporting the local economy.
Middle Tennessee Farm Partners
Windy Acres Farm was established by husband-and-wife team Alfred and Carney Farris more than 30 years ago in Orlinda, Tennessee. It was one of the first organic farms in Tennessee, and today is one of the few non-GMO, organic certified grain farms. With 470 acres of certified organic grain crops and pasture, Windy Acres markets grass-fed beef in the rapidly expanding metro region of Nashville. Farmland in their region of Tennessee has recently sold for as high as $13,000/acre, yet commodity prices remain very low. The Farrises are concerned that the disparity will lead to non-farmers, corporations, or foreign investors, owning more farmland in their region than local farmers have the capacity to purchase. “Today, the only way a farmer can get started in this area is by inheriting land or marrying into it,” says Carney. “We need to find a new way for young farmers to acquire land so they can work it responsibly and successfully.” The Farrises have protected their land through joining the Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons to make sure that the land “will never see a shopping mall or subdivision.”
The couple and their dedicated team haven’t always been cattle ranchers. Seeking to close the (nutrient) loop and increase soil health, they decided to take up raising cattle fairly recently. “A few years ago, we came to the conclusion that this organic farming might work for a while, like how we done it, but without livestock in the equation it really wouldn't. I couldn't really see how this could still be an organic farm in 50 years,” Alfred recalls. “What we came up with was a rotational plan where we would have three years of healing with grass, and so we got the cattle,” he explains. “The root of the reason we got the cattle and the sheep was for the land, for the soil, and so that's been great healing the land. Then after three years we take that and plant it in a cover crop and then that cover crop feeds the microbes and all the little fungi and bacteria in the soil. We don’t think so much in terms of yields here on this farm, you know, how much yield we can get out of it. We like to think more in terms of how healthy is that what we do get a healthy and to see ourselves as servants of this precious commodity that we call earth.”
One of the next generation of farmers who will be stepping up to fill the Farrises shoes is Sam Harvey. There is additional room on the farm for more farmers, and job opportunities will be promoted through Agrarian Trust and the local Agrarian Commons.
Long Hungry Creek Farm was established by Jeff Poppen, also affectionately known as “the Barefoot Farmer,” over 25 years ago in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Comprised of 280 acres, Long Hungry Creek holds the honor of being the oldest and first certified organic and biodynamic CSA farm in Tennessee. The farm raises cattle and produces vegetables for local markets.
The farm is also deeply connected to its local community and the broader community of organic and regenerative agriculture, serving as a venue for dozens of local, regional, and national events, conferences, workshops, and gatherings each year. The farm’s CSA delivers fresh produce to approximately 150 patrons in the Nashville area, but does not account for all of the food grown on the farm, much of which is shared with neighbors in the local community.
Poppen also runs a farm apprenticeship program, and when he’s away from the farm he spends his time consulting for other farms, lecturing at schools and events, and helping start new farms using organic and biodynamic methods.
For the past 15 years, he has appeared on the Nashville PBS television program Volunteer Gardener, and for over 20 years he has written a gardening column for the Macon County Chronicle. He is also the author of two books, The Best of the Barefoot Farmer Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. Jeff is eager to find and develop a partnership with the next generation of farmers who will take the helm at Long Hungry Creek.
SNAPSHOT OF TENNESSEE AGRICULTURE
The Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons is focused on Middle Tennessee within the Nashville foodshed. Middle Tennessee is home to approximately 1 million acres of farmland. As of 2019, less than 10 percent was protected. By 2016, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee, more than 120,000 acres of land in Middle Tennessee's 10 counties had been converted, largely from green, open, and agrarian landscapes to subdivisions and commercial real estate serving the growing metro population. Approximately 55,000 acres of farm and forest land have been lost to development since 1999, according to a report commissioned by Cumberland Region Tomorrow and prepared by researchers at the University of Tennessee.
Research by Ken Meter at the Crossroads Resource Center found that Metro Nashville has more than 108,000 acres of land zoned for agricultural use under the designation AR2A. More than 9,000 parcels of land inside the city are zoned AR2A, equivalent to 8 percent of the region’s farmland, according to their 2017 report.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Food Security & Hunger
According to the latest study, released in May 2018, 13 percent of Middle Tennessee residents are food insecure. This is just above the 12.9 percent national average.
Tennessee Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 10,874,238 acres (40 percent of total land area)
Number of Organic Certified or Transitioning Farms: 154
Total Number of Farms: 69,983
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 113,599
- Average Age: 58
- Beginning farmers: 30,953
- Farmers of color: 2,549
- White farmers: 111,050
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 329
- Hispanic, Latino or Spanish, Origin farmers: 1,205
- Black farmers: 1,372
- Asian farmers: 211
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 24
- Female farmers: 40,097
- Male farmers: 73,502
Farmland Loss: 55,000 acres in Middle Tennessee (1999-2016)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $3,800/acre
Farm Income: 40 percent of Tennessee farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas, cattle and calves, poultry, eggs, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod, cotton
Resources on Tennessee Agriculture
- 2018 State Agriculture Overview - Tennessee
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS - Tennessee
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center, Tennessee
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
Farm and Food Reports on Tennessee
- Metro Nashville Food System Assessment, Crossroads Resource Center, Ken Meter - Produced For Metro Nashville by Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center (Minneapolis, MN) & Megan Phillips Goldenberg New Growth Associates (Saline, MI).
- Farming & Food in Nashville and Tennessee - Presentation, Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center. Sponsor for Tennessee Data: Heifer Project International.
State of Tennessee & University of Tennessee Reports
- UT Extension: County-Level Agricultural Economic Impact Map and Reports
- State of Tennessee, Dept. of Agriculture: Tennessee Agriculture Summary Reports
Greenhorns Reports & Articles
FOUNDING FARMS, RANCHES & AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
Windy Acres Farm
Year Established: 1984
Farm Size: 470 acres
Farm Practices: Organic, Non-GMO
Products: Grain, grass-fed beef
Long Hungry Creek Farm
Year Established: 1984
Farm Size: 280 acres
Farm Practices: Organic, Biodynamic
Products: Cattle and mixed vegetable production
Website: Long Hungry Creek Farm, http://barefootfarmer.com/
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
- Articles of Incorporation
- Lease Template
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Land Trust of Tennessee
Bells Bend Community Association
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
Next Generation Farm Opportunities - Windy Acres Farm
Windy Acres Farm - a certified organic grain farm with a pastured chicken, pork and grass-fed beef operation - in Orlinda, TN (45 min North of Nashville) is a cooperative effort of several families committed to stewarding the land and animals in their care. Windy Acres is in the process of becoming a part of the Middle Tennessee Agrarian Commons and is looking to expand and initiate an intergenerational transition with the following opportunities:
- One independent farm enterprise
- One full-time employee
- One full-time intern
Website: Windy Acres Farm, http://windyacrestn.com/
Windy Acres Farm
- Cornucopia Farmer Profile
- PBS: Live Green Tennessee
- Using Multiple Community-Based Land Trusts to Save Farmland