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F eature Story

Gentry's FARM

A FARM FOR THE CENTURIES AND FOR THE COMMUNITY

By Ursula King
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E ach fall, Gentry’s Farm, in the gently rolling hills beside Gentry Lake and the Harpeth River in Franklin, Tennessee, celebrates all the harvest has to offer by inviting the public to visit. This invitation is both the culmination of the growing season and an annual renewal of commitment to running this Tennessee Century Farm* by Allen and Cindy Gentry and their son, Jase, and it allows the family to share with the community the land they are blessed to responsibly work.

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quote DEDICATION TO THE LAND HAS BENEFITED BOTH THE FARM’S PRODUCTIVITY AND THE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PEOPLE WHO LIVE NEARBY...

Although the products and management of the land have changed over the centuries—e.g. it has gone from a dairy to a beef herd and from the family growing cotton crops to them renting to tenant farmers for about 75 years—Gentry’s Farm has remained a productive open space since 1812. In 1975, the Gentry family moved back to the main house and returned to working the land. In recent years the farm has diversified to include pick-your-own pumpkins and growing hay, as well as raising beef cattle. Everything grown and raised is sold directly to consumers and is in demand. Decisions are made based on “what the family can handle…keeping it simple and out of debt,” says Allen. It’s a bustling and rewarding life, and by opening their land in a few different ways throughout the year, they can provide a way for people to “make a memory of a lifetime,” says Cindy.

In summer, Gentry’s Farm welcomes children to learn and have fun on a working farm. A down-to-earth day camp runs four weeks each summer with the help of local teens. The camp was started for children in grades three through six in 1970 by Allen’s father, Jimmy Gentry, after he retired from 50 years of teaching biology and coaching football at three local schools. The camp’s “main focus is for future generations to understand about farming and where their food truly comes from and to help people stay connected to the land,” says Cindy.

Jimmy’s grandchildren, Jase Gentry and Laura Gentry DeFatta, now run that “Senior Camp.” In 1990, a Junior Camp, for youths in kindergarten through second grade, was added, led by Cindy and Allen. Campers rotate through farm chores, including caring for chickens (and their freshly laid eggs), the cattle herd and the vegetable gardens. Afternoons are full of fun after a morning’s work—fishing, mazes, crafts, bug hunting, archery, hayrides, paddle boats, splashing in the river and much more. And as if the camps weren’t enough, school field trips are offered in fall and spring, bringing many more children and their teachers to the farm to learn important lessons from the land and water and the people who work with it every day.

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Fall brings a well-loved community tradition, the opening of Gentry Farm to the public for a month-long celebration in gratitude for the harvest season. Pumpkins and gourds fill 12 acres with glowing beauty. Searching the field rows or pre-picked market proves a delightful way to spend a day. For active little ones, an abundance of fun awaits: a mini maze, wooden tractor playground, a hands-on barn, tire swings, a log cabin, chickens, sheep, cows and more. Or, get “lost” in the four-acre cornfield maze, freshly designed by Jase for each of the last 17 years, or walk the nature trail. A highlight, though, is to sit for a spell on the hay wagon ride with seventh-generation farmer Allen. The wisdom he shares about the 25 years of measures he has implemented to ensure that this farm will be inheritable and alive for generations to come will make you smile as big as a jack-o-lantern. You’ll leave with a beautiful pumpkin (or many) for your fall porch and a deeper understanding about where your food comes from, and about farming methods that will keep land, water and people healthy.

The Gentry family has invested much time, treasure and effort in using ecologically sound land and water management practices in conjunction with the Natural Resources Conservation Services. The pumpkin fields alone provide some insight. Field borders of grass are present between every five rows of crops. This method allows the Gentrys to forego irrigation (big downpours recharge ground water), and discourages soil erosion. Pumpkin land is rotated with corn, soybeans and milo, all of which benefit soil biology in their own ways. A winter cover crop of crimson clover and wheat is plowed under in spring for fertilization and weed control. Gentry’s Farm was named a Conservation Farm of the Year for Williamson County; this dedication to the land has benefited both the farm’s productivity and the natural resources and people who live nearby.

For nearly two decades, this gem of a family farm has been open to the public October weekends and Monday mornings. There is free parking and no charge to enter the retail area or the pumpkin patch. There is a general admission fee of $7 (kids under two and adults over 65 are admitted free) that includes everything in the activity area. Come and enjoy the harvest and this wonderful family. They’ll be waiting with smiles, pumpkins and the gentle and loving lessons of a blessed expanse of pasture and fields.

* A Century Farm is a farm that has been officially recognized by a regional program as having been continuously owned by a single family for 100 years or more, and is currently a working farm or ranch.

Conservation Measures at Gentry’s Farm
Information supplied by Trent Cash, NRCS District Conservationist

In 2004, the farm enrolled 9.4 acres in a CRP program for 10 years to install filter strips to help absorb erosion/sediment and filter pesticides and provide wildlife cover.

In 2005, the farm enrolled nine acres into a CRP program for 10 years to install native grass field buffers to help absorb erosion/ sediment and filter pesticides/runoff and provide wildlife cover.

In 2007, the farm enrolled in a short-term Environment Conservation Incentives Program (EQIP) to implement conservation crop rotation on 5.8 acres to promote perennial grass planting to rest active cropland.

In 2013, the farm enrolled in a short-term Tennessee Department of Agriculture ARCF program to exclude livestock from a stream with fencing along 4,079 feet of a tributary of West Harpeth River. Also in the same project, it installed an armored 20-foot-wide, hard-bottom stream crossing to allow for animal access to cross the stream and also provide a protected access point for watering.

Most recently in 2016, the farm enrolled in a short-term Tennessee Department of Agriculture ARCF program to install a heavy use area for limited animal access to its lake to reduce sediment from going into the lake while livestock use the lake for water. Also with this application, the farm installed heavy use areas around three pasture gates and installed a small heavy use area for hay feeding during the winter time to reduce amounts of soil erosion and nutrient runoff into downslope stream.

Note—All of these projects were performed solely or in conjunction with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The CRP program is administered by NRCS and Farm Service Agency.

Ursula King has an MSc in Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the owner of Regenerative Community, providing consulting services on developing ecological food systems and food justice. She lives in Nashville, TN and on Chebeague Island, ME and can be reached at ursula.king@gmail.com
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