Fifteen years ago, when Brian Miller and Cindy Tanner moved from Old North Knoxville to the fledgling 70-acre Winged Elm Farm in Philadelphia, TN, the only experience they had in rural living was Cindy’s minor in Animal Science and Brian’s childhood memories of watching “All Creatures Great and Small.” Brian says, “I think for a lot of our friends in Knoxville it was hard to wrap their minds around us moving to the country and farming.”
Brian remembers, “With great naiveté our first day on the farm began.” Their first do-it-yourself project was building a corral for a pregnant horse Cindy had just purchased. After many hours of painstaking effort, the result was unimpressive. Brian says, “Posts leaned like drunken sailors and the fencing was already sagging. Meanwhile some dear friends from the city turned up to see our ‘idyllic country place.’ Before their arrival we had entertained hopes of boasting a healthy day of physical activity and a neat bit of fencing to show for our effort. Instead, our tempers were frayed and my sunburn had turned a nasty molten shade.”
“They could not understand why we were selling our restored Victorian home and moving to the sticks to live in a concrete-floored garage. We looked at our efforts and began to wonder the same.” Even though hard lessons were learned that first day, they did not give up on completing that corral by themselves. And, three years later, they were able to move out of the three-car garage and into a new house in the woods.
While the farm continues to provide many opportunities to improve their fence building and mending skills, over the years they have also learned how to:
Organic Meat Farming
Winged Elm Farm is also in the business of selling naturally grown and grass fed meat. Brian says they “market steers five times a year. Hogs are available twice a year, usually in the fall and spring. Lambs are available in the late fall.” Brian says, “We butcher all of our poultry ourselves. All of the other meat is processed at a facility in Crossville called H & R Custom Slaughtering. Brian and Cindy also host homesteading workshops on their farm, including how to butcher and process chickens and how raise a homestead hog. Special guest lecturers have taught classes on using horses on a farm, foraging in the wild, pruning fruit trees, and fermenting kraut and kimchi. Brian and Cindy are usually available on the weekends and are happy to give farm tours if you call in advance, be respectful of their time, and don’t bring your dog.
Brian and Cindy also breed English Shepherds for sale and for use on the farm. Brian says, “The Shepherds do a great job keeping predators at bay. Although just last week, in broad daylight, I spotted a red fox coming out of the hay barn with one of our hens. It happens. Best to take basic precautions and learn to live with a few losses instead of making war on the world, as Mr. [Wendell] Berry says.”
Brian and Cindy have managed to keep “the farm work scaled for two people to manage,” with a neighbor’s kid helping out on Saturdays. In addition to their farm work, Brian and Cindy also work full-time jobs outside of Philadelphia, TN. While it can be exhausting, Brian says farming “is simply a great life. It provides the perfect scope for oneself if you are willing to find joy in hard work and are intellectually curious enough to embrace the complexity of life on a farm. It is never dull. Fortunately, we both like the challenges, the work, and the creativity of being a farmer, although there are days…” Brian also writes “Farm Notes,” an entertaining and reflective blog about the ups and downs of farm life.
Brian’s recent blog entry about the need for mercy demonstrates a farmer’s quiet compassion and courage:
Mr. Blake says, “Mercy has a human heart.” As a quality based on compassion for those in one’s care, mercy on a farm gets a lot of experience. It is frequently exercised in dispatching an animal when butchering, mercifully killing an injured duck whose leg has been pulled off by a turtle, or any of the other seemingly endless ways of dying or being injured on a farm. Farming expands, with a clear-eyed view, the means and ways of compassion, strips the sentiment, and leaves you with choices that cannot be put off on anyone else.
To be added to Winged Elm Farm’s email notification list when they have meat coming available, send them a request by clicking email@example.com. (Of course, you can unsubscribe anytime.)
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© Debra Dylan, 2013.