It often seems that farmers must concoct a magic formula for creating and sustaining a successful family farm today. Some farms succeed by specializing in unique produce; having a dynamite farmers market stand; or raising the best grass-fed beef in town....the Gentry family has created a farm that produces experiences and learning for families and groups visiting their Franklin farm.
But more and more farmers are discovering that capitalizing on the nostalgic experiences of visiting a family farm can be the magic ingredient to keep their farm alive. "We were like many farmers - both working day jobs and trying to keep the farm going" says Gentry Farm owner Harold Gentry from the swing on his modest front porch in Williamson County. Starting with a few local Girl Scout field trips and birthday parties for friends 15 years ago, a fall visit to the Gentry Farm has become a family tradition for many in Middle Tennessee and recipe for success for the Gentry family.
"We prayed for a long time over what we could do to save this farm," chimes in Cindy Gentry, nestled next to her husband on the swing. "Then we realized that we were so blessed to have this farm," says Harold surveying his family"s 400 acres of corn and pumpkin fields, barns and cow pastures. "Why shouldn"t we share it?"
Transitioning from row crops like wheat, straw and tobacco, the Gentry family has created a farm that produces experiences and learning for families and groups visiting their Franklin farm. During the spring and fall the farm, with hayrides, historic antebellum home, pick-your own pumpkin patches, corn maze and farm play centers, is available as a day camp and school field trips and open to the public every weekend from the last weekend of September to the weekend before Halloween.
"People come and think they might spend an hour," says Harold of the 20,000 yearly weekend visitors to their farm, "But the next thing they know, they have been for two or three hours and the kids still cry when it"s time to leave."
Harold and Cindy, who have three grown children - including 23 year old Jayce who has returned home to work on the farm- have always put children at the center of all of the farms activities. "Every generation of kids (who visit the farm) gets farther and farther away from farm life," says Cindy. "We plan everything " from when our calves will be born to what kind of pumpkins to grow " around making sure kids have a great time and really learn about a farm."
As Highway 96 winds west from downtown Franklin, the Gentry Farm is an open space to breathe hemmed between gleaming subdivisions that have become a new staple in Williamson County. "Some people around here sell their land and they get rich," says Harold with a grin. "But we already feel like we are millionaires."