Photos by Brison Leach
“I t takes a farm to feed a community, and a community to support a farm.”
So says James Gardner, owner and operator of Maury County-based Gardner Grove Family Farms. Gardner Grove sits on part of what was once 1,000 acres of an antebellum plantation originally held by Tennessee’s Collier family.
Although his family had been farmers for generations, James’s parents stepped away from the family craft, raising James off of the farm. When James began his own career, he was thriving as a business owner and living in a historic house on the beach in Florida. Inevitably, the family tradition started pulling at him, and after some farming in Florida, he finally landed in Maury County, Tennessee.
Today, Gardner Grove is in full force, with James at the helm. He’s the first to admit, though, that farming is a collective effort, and you won’t go five minutes in a conversation with James in which he doesn’t thank and praise the members of his farming community.
“The interaction between the producer and the consumer is a relationship,” James said. “You don’t really have a relationship with your grocery store, but you do with your farmer.” James calls this the “anti-mart” approach, and this philosophy permeates all of his endeavors.
For an example of the kind of grower James is, examine his philosophy of farming. “Most food only has about 30% of the nutritional value it could because of the low mineral values of the depleted soils.”
According to James, food grown in more trace mineral-balanced soil is better for you, and it tastes better too. “Some call it superfood; I call it ‘what it’s supposed to be,'” he quipped. James wants to grow healthy, delicious food in a responsible, community-focused way. He calls his method “morganic farming.”
For an example of the kind of man James is, consider his longstanding relationship with Franklin-based Bridges Domestic Violence Center. Bridges serves women, men and their children affected by domestic violence in Tennessee through education, intervention and case management. In addition to the day-to-day good work done at Bridges, survivors grow lavender and make satchels, bouquets and oils to help raise funds.
“I hate bullies,” James said, and he participates in Bridges’ ongoing efforts by providing an outlet for them to sell their goods. All proceeds go directly to Bridges.
He sells those goods, along with his own, at various local markets (follow Gardner Grove Family Farms on Facebook). Speaking of which, Franklin residents have, in part, James to thank for the creation of the Franklin Farmer's Market. He was part of the original group of growers who helped organize and grow the market.
James has his hands in several other things, too. For instance, starting in May, he’ll be partnering with the Red Pony/McConnell House in downtown Franklin to facilitate regular farm-to-table dining events. He’s even starting an online cooking show that will feature ingredients from his garden and tasty recipes. Also new this year is his line of Morganics jarred goods, available at several local retailers, including Franklin's Bagbey House. Consumers can also participate in the Gardner Grove CSA, or place a pre-order for the year-round, weekly Franklin produce drop-off. In addition to produce, the Gardner Grove Family Farms also features a complete line of the farms' own all natural meats and free-range eggs.
By now, you’re getting the picture: James Gardner is a man who cares about his community. His priority is to use locally grown food to nourish the community in more ways than simple caloric intake.