By Jenny Cupero

On my drive to Lucky Ladd Farms, just 30 minutes south of downtown Nashville, the bustling city skyline quiets into a winding road through the countryside. Barns and fields replace cranes and construction. Apartment towers transform into ranch homes sitting atop vast acres of land.

After a picturesque ride, I emerge from my car feeling transported to a calmer, simpler way of life. I take a deep breath of hot July air, ready to explore Tennesseeâ€TMs largest petting farm, owned by Jason and Amy Ladd. As I make my way toward the big red barn at the head of the 60-acre property, a small baby goat waddles out to welcome me.

“Her name is Jewel and she thinks sheâ€TMs a human,” Gina, the greeter behind the counter, explains as she scoops up Jewel to cuddle her like a small pup. “Jason is out by the Splash Pad starting up the foam box, but he will be up here to meet you in just a minute.”

While I wait, I peruse the homegrown country store, a welcoming stop on a farm that features over 100 animals, inventive attractions, fresh produce and friendly faces at every turn. The open barn is stocked with a snack bar and an array of produce, and showcases local sauces, treats and products. This year, baby Jewel will waddle outside these walls to greet an estimated 65,000 visitors during the 2015 season from April to November.

Just as I am debating which local honey to bring home, Jason appears from the back of the barn, dressed in coveralls and a big smile. After exchanging introductions, he leads me to a shaded area of picnic tables to retreat from the sun and unearth the story behind Lucky Ladd Farms. I quickly learn that despite what the name implies, a lot more than luck was at play to launch this incredible venture.

Jason grew up on his familyâ€TMs farm in Williamson County, working hard, raising what they ate and living off the land. After meeting his wife, Amy, the two purchased a small farm in Franklin, Tennessee. That land was plenty for Jason, who knew all too well the sweat and labor put into a sunup-to-sundown day on the farm. But Amy had other plans.

“It all started when Amy asked for a pot belly pig. I kept telling her, â€~you donâ€TMt really want a pig.â€TM A few weeks later, we had a pig that would get on the couch and watch TV with us. A few days after that, Amy asked for some goats, and I said, â€~you donâ€TMt want goats!â€TM I grew up with them, so I saw it all as work, whereas Amy saw the animals as pets.”

Next up on her wish list was sheep, so the Ladds took a road trip to Atlanta to add to their growing “family.” When they arrived at the farm to meet their new babies, Jason noticed the owner hosting a childrenâ€TMs birthday party.

“While I was on that farm and saw those kids—the way they were interacting with the animals—a light switch went off in my head that there is a need for more farms that focus on educating children. The lifestyle I was taking for granted, the children were loving.”

It was on the drive back from Atlanta to Franklin that the idea for Lucky Ladd Farms was born. After months of research, traveling to farmsteads all over the Southeast, the Ladds purchased the 60-acre farm in Eagleville, Tennessee, populated it with animals and crops, constructed the attractions and opened to the public in 2008.

As Jason and I sit together, the farmâ€TMs animal activities buzz around us. Families prance between the diverse petting yard, Henny Pennyâ€TMs chicken coop and the “Goat-A-Coaster” where Jasonâ€TMs favorite animal, the baby goat, bounces and jumps overtop the old barn—the only structure on the land prior to the Ladds moving in.

I begin to ask my next question but before I finish, Jasonâ€TMs eyes light up as he remembers more work to be done. I follow close behind, passing children feeding llamas as their parents snap photos, weaving through colorful playgrounds and admiring the farmâ€TMs “most popular” slides that seem to start in the clouds.

We arrive at the summer Splash Pad, and I canâ€TMt help but envy the children dancing among the fountains and playing in the foam box, cooling off from the summer heat. Attractions like this make Lucky Ladd Farms truly unique.

“I am always trying to expand the trend of â€~fall family fun on the farmâ€TM by creating reasons for people to visit during all three of our seasons. It is why we have a much broader selection of animals,” Jason explains as he turns off the foam so it doesnâ€TMt pile too high.

“A lot of other farms in this business only do the fall season, so it does not make sense for them to house, feed and care for all the animals year-round. We keep over 100 animals and care for them 365 days a year. The animals that are here today will almost all live and die on this farm.”

Despite wanting to increase visitation during the spring and summer, Lucky Laddâ€TMs event board is peppered with classic and creative fall fun. From tons of Halloween-centric events like the Sweet Corn Jubilee, the Corn Maze Adventure and a fully stocked Pumpkin Patch with 10 varieties of pumpkins, I realize my October will be incomplete without a return visit. For those a bit more adventurous, there are even after-dark activities like the Flashlight Corn Maze and Lighted Pumpkin Hollar, a wooded trail featuring hundreds of hand-carved glowing pumpkins, fun scenes, music and more. While the variety of animals and pumpkins certainly makes Lucky Ladd special, Jason canâ€TMt help but reiterate the main reason he opened the farm: “It really is all about the kids.”

Lucky Ladd has one of the best field trip programs in the state, covering a broad range of topics to provide real-world context to what children are learning in school. “When you get a bus of children that are not accustomed to farm life, they are amazed at everything from the wool on the backs of sheep, that makes their clothes, to the process of planting the seed. They learn it in a book, sure, but when they get to run their hands through that wool, it sinks in for them.”

Jason and Amy are also passionate about giving back to the community through partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank and Ronald McDonald House, among others. “The national farming community is made up of great people and partners. Other farmers will tell you anything you want to know and are generous with pointers. Kroger and the Ford Dealerships are great partners, as well the local Rutherford County Farmers Co-op. We have built strong relationships over the years and we would not be where we are today without them.”

But the greatest partner of all? Jasonâ€TMs wife, Amy. “Amy is the brains and I am the back. Together we make a good team. She is the one who convinced me that people would pay to pet animals and see our farm. She is the one who talked me into going on this adventure with her.”

And together, they are constantly educating themselves to offer the best experience to families for years to come.

“I want our farm to continue to be a fun place for families to make memories, enjoy the scenery—the park and farm-like setting. Visitors eating lunch under the pavilion might hear the peacock holler out in the yard. They have never heard that sound before, so they have to get up and go check it out. It is moments like those that make all the hard work worthwhile.”

But beyond just the family-fun experience, Jason wants his legacy to be educating children and instilling in them the greatest lesson of farm life: “The most rewarding part is being in a position to take in the earth and let it provide. If you understand how it works, it will always find a way to give you what you need to survive.”

And with that, our time together comes to a close. I firmly shake his hand, admiring his diligent work ethic and approachable disposition. As I drive back to the city, I canâ€TMt help but plan my next visit, when the air turns crisp and the seed planted in the flat field raises into a maze of corn. Lucky Ladd Farms is open April–November (Wednesday–Sunday), and is located halfway between Franklin and Murfreesboro, 30 minutes south of Nashville.

Lucky Ladd Farms
(615) 274-3786

4374 Rocky Glade Road
Eagleville, Tennessee 37060

Jenny Cupero moved to Nashville from North Carolina five years ago after falling in love with the city during a summer internship. Currently the director of business development for 5by5, a marketing and digital agency in Nashville.