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Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Barefoot Farmer

Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer, is a bit hard to explain. Some people, who ought to know, claim he's the best organic farmer in Tennessee. Seems like organic farming is more of a team sport-- cooperative, rather than competitive, so I'm not sure exactly how we would decide, but a few things are known for sure.

Jeff's been farming at Long Hungry Creek in Red Boiling Springs for 30 years, and currently feeds a large CSA membership here in Nashville, plus whoever else seems to need feeding. His five acres under cultivation produce more than 50,000 pounds of produce each year, with Jeff and a couple of part time workers plus whatever volunteers show up. I'm sure he'd list as co-workers the cows that are pastured on the rest of his 300 acres, since it's that manure that fuels the garden.

There are a few other pertinent facts about Jeff: he's certainly what used to be known as a hippie, with flying hair and a twisty long beard, he is certainly barefoot, and is known as much for his celebratory shindigs ("Poppenstock") as for his farming. Music and laughter and a crazy good time seem to follow him around, even while he is laying out the finer points of compost, which varieties of corn and tomatoes produce best, why a disk plow doesn't work well for clay soils, and on and on.

It's all about the dirt, for Jeff--"If you take care of the earth, it will take care of you". Seems to have worked quite well, so far.

Jeff's darker side: well, you pretty much don't know exactly when he'll show up, driving his rattletrap Mercedes, or when he'll go home. Or who exactly he'll bring along. Which pretty much doesn't seem to matter. Or, if you are a groundhog, he would be pretty much all dark side, a roaring god of garden revenge and sudden death.

I ran into a neighbor last week--a lady, like some of us (not me, of course), of an age where most people are considering retirement. She's pretty remarkable in many ways, but I had no idea that she even knew Jeff. "Oh, yes," she laughed, " I went up there to his place and that's when I decided to quit being a military wife and become a hippie!".

Jeff's quite excited about farm property down in Bells Bend--lush, accessible, compost nearby, old hay, and a young farmer. He sketched out his plans: party farm farm vegetables party farm hay cows farm farm party music party. This is resonating very favorably with our pack of young workers.

It doesn't sound all that bad even to us old puritanical fundamentalists.

1 comment:

  1. OK somehow my comment got under the post about your dog, so I am moving it here:

    We met some of you guys at Jeff's last weekend. You're right, it's hard to describe Jeff. You did him justice though. You guys are doing a great work over there. Heartfelt congratulations on the council's decision to keep the bend rural.