Young Farmer Spreads the Gospel of Holistic Pasture Management by Lee Morgan

The son of a lawyer and a college professor, Sam Kennedy hadnâ€TMt exactly envisioned a career on the farm. Thatâ€TMs not to say he wasnâ€TMt familiar with the lifestyle. His parents moved to the family farm in Glendale, near Columbia, Tennessee, the year he was born. And that farm is one of two Middle Tennessee farms where he lives and works today at age 30.

While farming has been in Kennedyâ€TMs bloodline for generations, the farming Sam is doing today is nothing like the methods practiced by those who came before him. It was aboard a frigate called the U.S.S. Halyburton that he had time to re-imagine what direction his life would take.

When Sam left for the University of North Carolina to study business, he looked to take a different path. “I loved working on the land,” Kennedy notes. “But all of the old-timers, my uncle included, said thereâ€TMs no future in this and you need to go do something else.”

Samâ€TMs pursuit of a business degree and his enrollment in the Navy ROTC program might have seemed like a step away from the farm where he grew up, but when he began to read literature sent to him by his father, Delk, aboard the ship, he slowly began to change course.

“When I was younger, my great uncle ran the farm as just a conventional cattle operation,” Kennedy remembers. “I loved working for him as a kid and he was a great guy—but all of the bad things you can do in conventional agriculture, he was doing them. Not that he knew any better. The land was just sort of being abused and the farm was constantly overgrazed. There was no wildlife and it had soil loss and erosion issues.”

Aboard the ship Sam had time to think. That time, combined with the reading materials he was receiving in the mail, made him begin to take a different look at farming.

“While I was on the ship, my dad started sending me books on farming. He had learned about guys like Joel Salatin and, most importantly, a guy named Allan Savory, who wrote the book Holistic Management.”

Salatin practices the holistic livestock management originated by the Zimbabwean biologist, farmer, and author Allan Savory. Savoryâ€TMs methods are often challenged by conventional farmers, but Sam decided his ideas made a lot of sense.

“It was Salatin who inspired me and made me start to think maybe I can come home and go back to the farm,” Kennedy recalls. “I decided thatâ€TMs what Iâ€TMm going to do when my time is up.”

Sam decided that his accessibility to family land on both his motherâ€TMs and fatherâ€TMs sides eliminated one of the biggest hurdles farmers face. There was no bank note to worry about, and he had ample land to try these unusual new practices for himself. He says he felt it was simply what he was supposed to do with his life. “So I moved down there in 2010 and Iâ€TMm still plugging away.”

But what is holistic livestock management?

“Itâ€TMs all about managing the ecosystem,” Kennedy explains. “He [Savory] figured out that the key to the health of the grass and the ecosystem is the animalsâ€TM being there. Itâ€TMs the way that they move through the grasslands. The grass needs the animals and the animals need the grass. And by â€~grass,â€TM I mean soil.”

He goes on to say, “In nature there are these large herds and they are all bunched together, and predators keep them moving so they are never overgrazing. And youâ€TMll also see in nature that there are other species of animals following the herds of larger herbivores, and they eat different things within the ecosystem and play a different role. There are also birds. They are always eating parasites and spreading manure as they follow the herd. The question became, how do we get this to happen on a Middle Tennessee farm?”

Sam figured out how to do it. On the 200-acre Glendale Farm near Columbia, he divided the land into 22 “paddocks” where the herds stay for a short time—generally no more than a day. On the Berry Farm near Franklin, he is doing similar work.

“We move them every day to fresh grass,” he notes. “And we never let them stay in the same spot for more than 48 hours.”

He goes on, “When you start to do these things right, amazing things start to happen. Because of the animal impact and the nutrient cycle, diversity of plant life has exploded and we have wildlife like weâ€TMve never had before. You also donâ€TMt have to use chemicals anymore or worm them as much, and fertility increases. All these things just start to work when you get the rotation right.”

Samâ€TMs rotational grazing consists of 100+ head of Angus and South Poll cattle that he can move with a simple call and a quick rearrangement of electrical fencing. In the ideal setup, his herd of sheep and goats follow the cattle herd. And despite being tough to wrangle, chickens are sometimes hot on their trail.

The farm never looks worn down or depleted of plant life. The birds that follow the herd each time they move are proof that something is happening—a controlled, but seemingly natural movement of animals in nature. There is no tractor bailing hay; there are no devices for spraying the fields with pesticide to control flies or other parasites. Itâ€TMs as if everything is just…working naturally.

While Samâ€TMs efforts are not reflective of your typical farming practices in this area—or any other, for that matter—he keeps working at it and has managed to produce a living selling products he feels are farmed the “right way.”

“When I give speeches about this stuff, there are always people who look at me funny and wonder what this crazy guy is talking about,” he remarks.

But whether everyone agrees or understands, itâ€TMs hard to argue with the idea that letting nature take its course is a good thing, even if you have to help it along.

Glendale Farm produces beef, lamb, and chicken for public purchase. Those interested in finding out for themselves how holistic management affects the quality of meat can try out Glendaleâ€TMs products by purchasing from the farm store at 1551 John Finney Road in Columbia, Bear Creek Farm in Leiperâ€TMs Fork, and the Franklin and Columbia Farmersâ€TM Markets. The pasture-fresh chickens from Glendale Farm can be found on the menu at Merchants, the 404 Kitchen, and Flyte. The farm also hopes to have online sales available by the end of 2014.

[use spring bio]