Fly Me Home
by Roben Mounger
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community. âDorothy Day HereâTMs hoping that you already have an inkling of the glorious, year-round variety of local food that is available for the picking in Middle Tennessee. But dig deeper and consider the folks whose state of mind created the planting, the harvest and market day, jiggity jig. Who are they? And why, when in many cases they have nary a childhood reference, did they chose such a venture? As Andy Couturier suggested on The One You Feed, many younger farmers today are not into it as a return to the past. With the smorgasbord of lifestyle choices, for them farm life is an exploration of a best way to live, a striving for that which brings satisfaction by building sensitivity for what is sustainable. And this take on life brings along with it some old-fashioned notions that fill the soulful hole that one did not know was thereâlike getting to know your neighbor. An example of one such instance begins with Wilson Fly, the owner of the Fly General Store, located in the Fly neighborhood of Santa Fe, Tennessee. (Got that? A tiny community within a tiny community). In 2014, there appeared a stream of back-to-land types stopping by the store. Mr. Fly was there to frame the hamlet. Kerry and Jason Suits of Fly Ridge Cattle Company, who raise Wagyu cattle, hold memories of rural newness. Kerry, who also mans the oral history project flybackinhistory.com , says that during a research trip to the area, they found the Fly General Store to be the heart of the community. âI take my children for ice cream and [to see] the creek that runs nearby. The fellows there are welcoming,â she said. And then another unexpected venture opened their hearts. Her son calls it Happy Neighbor Night. ItâTMs as if the store had an otherworldly way of recruiting a remarkable bunch of folk when along wandered in the instigators of neighborly logistics, Athena and Jesse Fleisher. They had conducted a global search and selected 55 acres in Fly, Tennessee to call home. Here, Jesse could expand his incomparable background to provide the public with a range of nutritional foods, and Athena could continue her international works in public health and agriculture. They both would continue to teach. The Fleishers have an exceptional experiential base from their work with the Peace Corps in Africa. In their new home, they have been able to service two farmersâTM markets, a CSA and a few restaurants by farming a mere one and one-half acres. From the beginning, Athena was intent on bringing her particular light to the situation. She says, âI wanted to create the spaceâa consistent place in time very much like market day in Africa. This was the way that Neighbors Night was born.â  A call went out to âbring a chair and a dish to shareâ and so began the journey of a weekly Thursday night gathering at AthenaâTMs and JesseâTMs place, AthenaâTMs Harvest Farm and Training Center. âWe feel luckyâ¦like we stumbled into something great,â says Jon Giffin of Forest Gully Farm who, with wife Mandy and their two sons, relies on permaculture and good forestry techniques while harvesting from animals, bees, herbs and native plants. âEach person in attendance is working the land in different ways and we agree that of all the seeds we plant, community is the most rewarding,â he says. One farm over, Samantha Lamb and Daniel Foulks oversee the Farm and Fiddle, a CSA with specialty value-added products. Sam says, âNeighbors Night is a place that I can roll up to from a weekâTMs work, put my sun-dried tomatoes on the table, gather and relax with friends.â Up to 40 people attend Neighbors Night, which harbors multi-generations, not to mention multi-talents. Jon is thankful that his sons have the chance to hang with older musicians. âThese get-togethers give us what we have been searching forâfinally, a place where we were meant to be,â he says. Photographer and flower farmer Sarah Gilliam, her husband Patrick and their two children moved to the area from a place where they had known everyone. She touts the circle that Athena offers at the beginning of each evening when everyone tells where they live, where they came from and what they brought to eat. âThe openness feels sacred; itâTMs fellowship on a high level,â she says, citing respect as a result from the exchange. And former city folk Claire and Adam Crunk and their three girls, who have recently purchased an adjacent farm to AthenaâTMs Harvest, are beaming with the perks of rural living. Claire says, âWhether itâTMs a call to help in the form of re-trellising the tomatoes, harvesting collards or rounding up goats, we help each other and have found excellent advice as newcomers for our chickens, fruit trees and flowers on Thursday nights.â Her eighth grader, Bella Crunk, says, âEveryone is the ideal person who you want to hang out with.â Claire acknowledges that Neighbors Night is like going home for a family get-together: âItâTMs a village where we are all raising the little ones.â During Friendsgiving, the final Neighbors Night of the season, many folks had tears in their eyes from the familial vibe. âDivine intervention that we ended up here,â says Claire. Something stunning is brewing, not the least of which are the children who scatter in play and are afforded thematic lessons in the living. Athena also calls for celebration of food and cultureâGreek, African, Mexican and Ramadan so far. âInclusion is important to us,â she says. Jesse offers that the farm interns find the night a most satisfying part of their farming experience. The FleishersâTM professional city folk family members came to see what it was all about. Athena laughs and says, âMy sister-in-law said, â~YouâTMve ruined me for everyday life.âTMâ In truth, a missing piece of life is up for discovery in Fly, Tennessee. When the Korean Farmer Stephen Bailey of Kindred Farm says that the spirit of community thrives there, heâTMs not offering platitudes. He talks of supporting people who will serve you in times of trouble and rejoicing with you when awesome things happen. Like the Neighbors Night when everyone floated in the LeiperâTMs Creek Christmas Parade. âWe threw seeds, of course,â says Sarah Gilliam.