Country Wisdom is Just a Farm Class Away By Rachel P. Joiner

Green is the new black. Unlike a lot of trends, this upward swing in consciousness makes people think about their influence on the world around them. Perhaps if we use this surge in environmentalism not as a fad, but as a sincere movement toward the health of the earth, and a willingness to do for ourselves, we really can make a difference on the large scale by starting on the small.

It wasn't that long ago that Americans were fending for themselves. If they didn't grow their own food, it was purchased from neighbors or small markets, and individuals knew how to make their own soap, cheese, and even medicines. Many remember their grandmothers sewing clothes and churning butter, or canning and preserving the harvest from a small vegetable garden. To learn more about these practices, a new generation is reviving this tradition by looking to local farms and community gardens to show them the path back toward self-sufficiency.

If you're interested in becoming part of the self sufficiency movement, but don't know where to begin, here are some folks in Middle Tennessee who can get you started.

Three Creeks Farm

Steve Shafer and his wife Beth have had their farm, Three Creeks Farm, for about six years. Just north of Dickson, in Charlotte, they grow their crops naturally and breed sheep for wool. They also have highland cattle, chickens, llamas, and even peacocks.

Steve is a blacksmith by trade, and teaches about smithing. Beth teaches classes on spinning wool and hand carding, as well as knitting and crocheting. The Shafers also can explain how to set up a greenhouse and raise chickens.

"I've noticed the interest in our workshops is growing. Part of it is everyone wants to go green. They're starting to set up gardens, and we can help with that," says Steve. "I think people want to know where their food is coming from and they want to feel a little safer about what their family is eating." He adds, "People want to be able to do for themselves, especially with the economy in the shape that it is in."

Costs for workshops vary. To learn more, contact Steve or Beth at 615.789.5943, or visit their website:

LaBelle Acres

Belinda Lindroos owns LaBelle Acres, in Jamestown, on the Cumberland Plateau. There she has operated a farm and a bed and breakfast for more than ten years. She teaches classes on how to make cheese, butter, and yogurt, as well as soap-making.

"People are already concerned with what they put in their bodies through food, and are now becoming aware that they absorb as much through their skin as through their mouth," notes Belinda. "They want to find out as much as they can about what is in their cosmetics and I think that is why there is an increased interest in these kinds of activities."

LaBelle Acres workshop fees are on a sliding scale of $45-$65. Contact Belinda at 931.863.5594 or to learn more.

Pipsissewa Herbs

Pipsissewa Herbs, in Nameless, is run by Lisa Bedner, a registered nurse and one of only four certified medical herbalists in the state. She specializes in herbs and herbal products, and provides classes in herbal medicine, herbal cooking, and crafts. Classes are offered for beginners as well as advanced students, and Lisa also has internships during which students learn to grow herbs organically, propagate herbs in a greenhouse, and harvest and dry herbs for medicine.

Pipsissewa Herbs offerings range from free garden tours, to $25 classes, to $350 two-day workshops. Details are on Lisa's website,, or you can call 931.653.4402.

Mushroom People

Mushroom People offers a sublimely self-reliant how-to on The Farm. "Mushrooms are attractive because of their unique flavors and textures, high protein content, and immune-stimulating properties," says Frank Michael, one of the proprietors. He and partner Albert Bates have run Mushroom People since 1976, moving the operation from California to Summertown, Tennessee in 1990.

They produce premium spawn for mushrooms such as shiitake and oyster. Twice a year they offer classes on the inoculation of shiitake in oak logs, as well as on growing, harvesting, and cooking mushrooms. "Given the multiple challenges of surviving economic and climate chaos, people are increasingly interested in growing their own food organically and easily," Frank says.

Classes cost approximately $30. Write to Frank and Albert to set up a workshop at, or visit the website for more information:

Standing Stone Nubians In Gallatin, Paula Butler runs Standing Stone Nubians, an American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) registered Nubian Goat Breeding farm that also offers raw goat milk shares, Rhode Island Red free range eggs, and cheese making workshops. Paula has owned her farm for five years, and has been providing workshops for the last three years. Once a month, from October to May, Paula teaches a class that includes a full gourmet artisan cheese, bread, and charcuterie luncheon, along with a beginner cheese making kit.

The class fee is $120. Visit or call 615.461.8339. 

Timbertop Farm

Jim Day has been operating Timbertop Farm, in Ashland City, for ten years. He practices organic production and sustainable farming, specializing in a variety of greens such as arugula, rocket, and little gem lettuce, plus mushrooms, pak choy, tomatoes, nasturtium, sweet peppers, baby squash, and fava beans. He offers classes on a number of topics, including the ins and outs of shiitake production.

Class fee is $50; demonstrations are available for groups in the fall or spring seasons. Call 615.792.9306 to request a workshop with Jim.

Diann's Greenhouse

Focusing on culinary, medicinal, and ornamental herbs as well as edible flowers, Diann Nance runs Diann's Greenhouse in Clarksville, and sells products via mail order and her website. Diann's classes explore how to propagate and grow herbs, and cover the basics for using herbs and spices for health and food, making herbal teas, desserts, oils, and vinegars, and using herbs on your skin.

Workshops cost $35 and are limited to ten participants. More information is available at

Hidden Springs Farms

Hidden Springs Farms, in Springfield, Tennessee, features African Boer goats, registered Colored Angora Goats, free-range chickens and eggs, and naturally grown vegetables and herbs. Located on 100 acres of beautiful rolling pastures and woods, the sustainable farm is owned by Ken and Karen Wortman, who offer workshops on subjects such as container gardening, culinary herbs, starting a vegetable garden, raising goats and chickens, and herbs as holidays gifts. They also offer special programs for home-schooled children.

Workshop and class costs vary. Find the listings on the website:, or 615.210.7525.

Shelby Park Discovery Garden

If you want a farm experience right in Nashville, check out the Shelby Park Discovery Garden, located on South 20th Street in East Nashville. Christie Wiser runs the organic community garden that features perennials, herbs, flowers, fruit trees, berries, cotton, and seasonal vegetables. She and other employees teach children's cooking classes and raw food classes, and will offer a canning class this summer. They also hold a Local Food and Organics Festival at the Center, with chefs providing cooking demonstrations.

Christie finds that films like The Future of Food and Food Inc. have created awareness in the community. "I believe that people are concerned now more than ever due to diseases and health condition such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The interest in learning these types of activities and being active in this movement is made easier due to networks such as Grow Nashville, Food Security Partners, Earth Matters, and farmers' markets."

Classes are free. Write to Christie for more information: or call 615.862.8539.


In addition to the opportunities described in this article, some farms welcome volunteers for a variety of tasks. One of the best ways to learn about any subject is through a hands-on approach. Attending an on-farm workshop or volunteering at a local farm may not only provides much-needed income and help to the farmers, but will also give you new skills, along with an appreciation for the hard work that goes into producing the food we eat. And it puts you one step closer to self-reliance.

Rachel P. Joiner is a freelance writer and publicist and a drummer for the local band the Joiners. She lives in East Nashville with her husband Taylor and their great white wolf dog Gonzie.