The farm we grew up on was a commercial chicken operation and even though I don’t particularly like that model for raising chickens, I am thankful for the lessons I learned and for the experience that it gave me. The farm was a chick raising facility that raised newly hatched chicks up to pullet size. They were all supposed to be sexed to be pullets, but a few hundred cockerels would get mixed in. They were supposed to be destroyed, but I would buy them for 10 cents apiece and raise them to butchering size. I got the feed by sweeping between the cages in the commercial house where the feed spilled out of the automatic feeders. It was a great learning experience.
Some of my best memories in life are times I spent with my dad at the hog barn and even hog killing times. I never could stand the killing part of it, still don’t like it. However, once the hog was dead I had no problem jumping in there and butchering and it is something (minus the slaughter part) that I still enjoy. The memories of sitting in an old milking parlor converted into a hog house waiting for pigs to be born are indelible in my memory.
Dad would also help out on the dairy farm next to us. While I wasn’t old enough to actually do anything, the sights and smells of the dairy barn and the cows giving milk is something I will never forget.
My wife, Kellie was raised on a farm in Dayton, Tennessee where her dad still farms, running about 200 head of cows. She was driving tractors and the hay truck long before she could even reach the peddles. I couldn’t imagine doing what we do in the produce business or radio business without her. I love working with my wife, especially around our farm. She gives me motivation, encouragement and support and even if I don’t admit enough…a lot of good ideas.
Today, my wife and I have the privilege of working the land that once belonged to my great uncles and great grandfather. The old “home” place where my dad and his brothers and sisters were raised. Sometimes walking across the field picking up the rocks that seem to “grow” on Lookout Mountain makes me think about how many times my kin folks have done the exact same thing for the past eighty years or so.
Lookout Mountain is an unusual place. Geologists say that it isn’t really a “mountain” but rather a “plateau.” The land is rocky in many places, but there are ridges on the mountain that have excellent sandy soil. We are blessed to have some very good sandy soil that is excellent for raising many different things. I have talked with geologist from the University of Georgia and Auburn University that say that Lookout Mountain and her “sister” Mountain – Sand Mountain - can not really be explained or classified neatly like the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Cumberland Plateau.
The two parallel mountains run about ninety miles through Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Sand Mountain is probably more suited for agriculture on a larger scale than Lookout Mountain, but over the years everything from orchards and cotton fields along with potatoes and corn have been grown on Lookout Mountain. Sadly, there aren’t many working “farms” left on Lookout Mountain.
We have about 35 acres, of which only about 12-15 is tillable. We have a few cows and keep pigs – mainly for our own use and raise a good many chickens. We plant about five acres of produce every year which we market through our own produce store in Summerville, Georgia – the county seat about 18 miles away. We also purchase produce from other people in the area and from Chattanooga. We strive to get as locally grown products as we can.
The idea for the produce store came about a couple of years ago when I got on the local radio station that we own and told people we had extra green beans and potatoes for sale. The response was good, so we took half of the building that our radio station is in and converted it into a small produce store. We have had a learning curve about the produce business and we still have a lot to learn, but both of us really enjoy the business.
Even if we didn’t have the produce store, we would still raise a large garden. There is something that is “bred” into a person who was raised the way we were that gives great satisfaction knowing that the food you put on the table is food you raised. There is no satisfaction that is any greater than cabinets full of canned produce and meat in the freezer raised in a human and safe way.
I am always amazed to hear people say “it cost so much more to raise a garden than it does to just go the store and buy it.” Yes, seed is expensive and there is a lot of time and back breaking work involved, but the return is great on so many levels. I know of people who plant gardens and still spend hundreds of dollars a month on groceries. We average maybe $25 per week at the grocery store, and that is sometimes every two weeks. If a person is planting a garden and not saving money then something is wrong somewhere.
Our goal is to someday be able to be totally self-sufficient, but with running a radio station, tractor business and the produce store, time is sometimes, somewhat limited.
Willie Nelson had a song called “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”….well being a history lover my heroes have always been farmers. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee and Harry Truman are just of few of America’s greatest that had a love for farming. These are some of my favorite quotes and one short story:
“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman's cares.” – George Washington
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Thomas Jefferson
“I shall devote my life now to training young men to do their duty in life” Robert E. Lee in his inaugural address to Washington University (now Washington and Lee University). Lee helped to develop one of the first colleges of agriculture in the United States and is responsible for the semester hour system being introduced.
“Happiness is a state of mind. A farmhand, if he has an ample living, can be just as happy as a millionaire with homes in Maine and Florida.” Harry S. Truman
There is a story that when Harry Truman was speaking at a Grange convention in Kansas City, Mrs. Truman and a friend were in the audience. Truman in his speech said, “I grew up on a farm and one thing I know—farming means manure, manure, manure, and more manure.”
At this, Mrs. Truman’s friend whispered to her, “Bess, why on earth don’t you get Harry to say fertilizer?”
“Good Lord, Helen,” replied Mrs. Truman, “You have no idea how many years it has taken me to get him to say manure.”
One final thought. God created man to till the ground and to be a good steward of this earth. The highest praise a man could be given is that he did the best with what God gave him. That is my prayer for my life and for my place here on Lookout Mountain.
Lookout Mountain grown watermelons.