Thursday, September 9, 2010

Century farms featured on NPR

Noah Adams reported on NPR yesterday under the headline "Century Farms: A Slice of History Threatened." Adams interviewed several families who own so-called Century Farms, those that have been in the same family for 100 years or more. Many of the folks he interviewed are in east Tennessee. In that state, a farm that has been in the same family for 200 years or more is designated a Pioneer Farm.

Some of the families Adams features are in Sullivan County, Tennessee, population 153,210., which is home to Johnson City, population 57,697, and Kingsport, population 47,356. Several farming families talk of their farms in relation to encroaching development, and most also talk of their creative approaches to keeping their farms viable, e.g., going organic, engaging in agritourism.

One of the featured families is headed by Jay and Ann Birdwell of Still Hollow Farm, who turned their farm into an agritourism attraction several years ago. An excerpt from that interview follows:

"We was in the Grade A dairy business just about all my life and I quit milking in '01 and was gonna raise tobacco on a few years and then the tobacco market kindly went to dwindling away, which leaves us with a whole lot of nothing," Jay Birdwell says. "And this was her dream of doing something like this and it's worked right well."

"I saw an article on agri-tourism and that's what spurred it on, but you have to realize my background is costuming and redoing," Ann says. "So I just said this is it; this is what we're going to do."

Ann Birdwell left her college theater department job and started dressing up her farm for weddings, reunions, and kids at $6 each, who come by the busload. The old granary, which dates to 1860, is now an antique store and a gift shop.

The Birdwells have three sons, only one of whom lives nearby. But all their sons have discussed what they'll ultimately do with the farm. The eldest says, "Can't sell it ... I'm sort of like, 'Mom, I'd rather cut off a left arm before I'd sell an ounce of dirt.'"

The matriarch says, "We told our boys, 'You don't inherit something when someone dies as much as you're born to it when you're born.' They inherited this land the minute they were born. They grow that inheritance. But they will have a treasure. Hopefully."

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