By Growing Together Intern, Julia Bridgforth
Last month the Growing Together program hit the road on a research mission, AKA, a field trip! We arrived at the Rocky Glade Farm in Eagleville, Tennessee on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning. The operation is 50 acres and even in February, it was a bustling place! Rocky Glade Farm is an interesting facility because instead of focusing on the summer growing season, the Vaughn family does the majority of its business during the winter months. The diverse array of vegetables were flourishing during a time when the trees were bare.
Julie Vaughn was our tour guide. When Chandra, a Growing Together Farmer, asked her why her family focused on winter growing, she answered in two parts. Six years ago, Julie became pregnant with twins, and since she is such an asset to the farm, the Vaughns decided to take it easy that year and not participate in the summer markets. What they thought would be a one year hiatus turned into an idea. Since most farms grew in the summer, there was a bounty of competition at markets which made selling produce a bit more challenging. However, in the winter, restaurants and families still wanted fresh produce but found it much more difficult to find. So, the Vaughns decided to switch gears and make winter their cornerstone season. They spend summers growing storage crops like winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes and other vegetables in preparation for fall and winter CSA customers. About 70% of their customer base is restaurants in and around Nashville who are dedicated to serving farm fresh produce all year round. While they also do CSAs and online markets, Rocky Glade Farms has stopped going to traditional farmers markets, since the winter markets are far less popular.
Julie and her husband started the farm together and have kept it a family business ever since. Their only employees are themselves and their four hard-working children, ages 14, 11 and the 6 year-old twins. Since she homeschools her children, they are able to have traditional lessons in the mornings with plenty of time for farm work in the afternoons, which is also incredibly knowledge enriching.
On top of their impressive vegetable production, Rocky Glade Farm also has cows and chickens. The chickens, which are the oldest two sons’ business, provide farm fresh eggs and eat leftover produce as well as incredible lessons for the boys such as business management and animal husbandry. The cows are not a typical production. Rocky Glade Farm Beef is 100% grass-fed. Through rotational grazing, the cows have fresh grass all the time and are never fed or given supplemental antibiotics or growth hormones. Instead of selling packaged meat to customers, families purchase entire cows while they are alive. The Vaughs raise the cows until they are full grown, bring them to the processor and then the family picks up the assorted meat cuts to enjoy. The Rocky Glade Beef method is most useful to families who generally eat meals at home three or more times per week and who are able to use and enjoy different cuts of beef. Also, it is advisable to have an entire freezer or two dedicated to storing the meat, which takes up about 7 square ft of space.
The tour of Rocky Glade Farms was an incredible experience. We owe so much thanks to the Vaughn family for giving us such a wonderful tour of their facilities. As we walked through the hoop houses filled with the fresh smell of greens, a meditative feeling befell the entire group. The hoop houses were a warm sanctuary, an oasis of life that energized the Growing Together Farmers in a time of winter trainings and planning that can seem underwhelming in comparison to rooting around in the dirt in the sunshine-filled spring. Many of the farmers left even more inspired to pursue their dream of having their own lands where they can farm with their family.