The first guidebook of its kind for the Volunteer State, Farm Fresh Tennessee: The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Wineries, Breweries, Distilleries, Festivals, and More leads food lovers, families, locals, and tourists on a lively tour of more than 360 farms and farm-related attractions, all open to the public and all visited by Memphis natives Paul and Angela Knipple. Here are the perfect opportunities to browse a farmers’ market, pick blueberries, tour a small-batch distillery, stay at an elegant inn, send the kids to a camp where they’ll eat snacks of homemade biscuits with farm-fresh honey—and so much more. Arranged by the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee (East, Middle, and West) and nine categories of interest, the listings invite readers to connect with Tennessee’s farms, emphasizing establishments that are independent, sustainable, and active in public education and conservation.
Paul and Angela Knipple, authors of Farm Fresh Tennessee, discuss their adventures in writing an agritourism book on their state.
Q: What inspired you to write Farm Fresh Tennessee? How would you describe your experience of creating a guide to the best culinary finds of your state?
A: We saw an advance copy of Diane Daniel’s Farm Fresh North Carolina, also by UNC Press, and thought it seemed like it would be a good idea for a Tennessee book as well. It was a wonderful adventure. We met so many amazing people who are making a difference in the way people relate to their food and to nature.
Q: Your previous book, The World in a Skillet, explored global food traditions in the stories of immigrants in the New American South. In what ways did your work on that book inform the research for Farm Fresh Tennessee?
A: At heart, the two books are very similar. Initially, there was a great deal of research in order to find a lot of potential subjects. And from there, we went into the field and through word of mouth, found even more. Once we found our subjects, the key was the storytelling, just as it was in The World in a Skillet.
Q: How did you choose the places that you feature in this guide?
A: We began by doing a lot of internet research. Some places have a strong internet presence; other places we found via farmers market website listings of vendors. There are several organizations across the state that promote agritourism. The state Department of Agriculture’s Pick Tennessee Products program was particularly helpful. But the most fun sources were our subjects. Many of them were eager to share suggestions even about their competitors.
Q: Did you discover any surprises in your home state during your research?
A: Cranberries. There are cranberry bogs in northeast Tennessee. They’re very small and protected, and we had no idea they were there before this. We were driving through Shady Valley strictly to get from one place to another when we saw their water tower advertising the local cranberry festival. We promptly made plans to return for that.
Q: What are some of the book’s highlights, and how is it organized?
A: It’s impossible for us to identify specific highlights. We left so many places saying, “Wow. That was just cool.” There were so many people who were eager to share their knowledge and were so generous with their time. The book is divided into three sections based on the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee. Within each section, locations are listed by the type of attraction. And then within each type of attraction locations are sorted alphabetically by county. The idea is that you can pick up the book and, based on the experience you want to have, find a place to go or plan a trip. Or if you find yourself somewhere looking for something to do, we’ve also included a list of places sorted by county, so you can easily find out what’s close by.
Q: In your introduction you talk about threats to American farm life in the late twentieth century and the gradual reversal of this trend that we are now seeing in Tennessee and elsewhere. Why is this a particularly good time to explore the farm movement and local food cultures?
A: For us, this is an exciting time because we’re seeing gardening and fresh produce unlike anything since our childhoods. For readers, we think the key is to create critical mass. The more people who are out there wanting these things—wanting to eat fresh and local, wanting to have these experiences—the more people there will be growing these products and opening their farms. Not to be too political, but this is an important opportunity to turn the tide against industrialization and monopoly.
Q: Tell us about “century farms” and the juxtaposition of the old and new in Tennessee farm life. What does this designation mean, and why are century farms important?
A: Century farms are those that have been continuously farmed by one family for at least 100 years. The recognition of century farms is important because it encourages these farmers who are the backbone of Tennessee agriculture to continue the work and the tradition. The existence of century farms is important to new farmers because the century farms signify the importance of farming. We think this speaks to new farmers and shows them their potential to have a far-reaching impact in Tennessee. And century farms aren’t stuck in time. The current generation of farmers on them are planting sustainably or organically. Some are raising meat animals humanely all on pasture grass. They’re taking the same concepts that new farmers are bringing in and applying them to their land as well.
Q: Farm Fresh Tennessee is part of UNC Press’s Farm Fresh series of state guides for locavores, and the book will no doubt give readers a fresh view of the state. What is special about Tennessee, and what kind of impact do you hope to have on its agritourism?
A: We love the geographic diversity of Tennessee. From the rich soils and rolling hills of West Tennessee to the lakes and rivers of Middle Tennessee to the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee, there are microclimates that make many different things possible. We definitely want to be tour guides for Tennessee agritourism. If you’re looking for information on a destination or just looking to find a destination, we hope Farm Fresh Tennessee will give you exactly what you need. More importantly though, we want to be cheerleaders. We want people to flip through the book and think, “Wow. This is great. Look how much Tennessee has to offer.”
Q: What suggestions would you offer to those looking to explore Tennessee foodways on a budget?
A: One good thing is that most places are inexpensive or even free to visit. The trick is in what you spend getting there. Much of the time we stayed at campgrounds rather than hotels. For the price of a few nights in a hotel, we were able to equip ourselves for comfortable camping. And there’s nothing better than returning to your campsite after a trip to the farmers market to make your meal. Another thing to keep in mind is that there are farms and bed and breakfasts that will let you earn credit against your stay by working on the farm. And we also made sure to include restaurants in each region that will fit any budget.
Q: Sidebars in your book address topics like the use of SNAP cards at farmers markets and farms working collaboratively with food banks to alleviate hunger. Why did you choose to include such issues in a travel guide?
A: We believe that the readers of this book are as interested in the why as much as the where. They already want to know where to go to learn about the source of their food. We thought that with curiosity like that, they would be interested in topics beyond just the functions of farming.
Q: You offer Facebook and Twitter information, in addition to website URLs, for many of the locations presented in the book. What opportunities and challenges do social media bring to farmers and local food producers?
A: There are tremendous opportunities. For farmers markets, farm stands, and U-picks, Facebook and Twitter can let people know what’s available daily or weekly, whenever they want people there. For other farms, Facebook especially can be a window into farm life with pictures of newborn calves and chicks or the first sprouts of radishes to keep people involved with the farm during the off season and get them excited for spring. For farms only open in the fall, Facebook is a great way to share hours or special events. For them, Twitter can be a good way to get people in by sending out a broadcast on a slow day. There are three challenges though. One is having time and remembering to update. The second challenge is having the technical know-how and comfort level to get online. Finally, lack of access for many rural areas is still a problem.
Q: Farm Fresh Tennessee includes thirteen recipes that feature Tennessee produce, from Memphis Summer Time Tomato Salad to Country Ham and Sorghum Caramel Popcorn. Did all of the recipes come from folks you met during research for the book? How did you choose what to include?
A: Country Ham and Sorghum Caramel Popcorn is an Angela creation inspired by one particularly yummy research trip. The rest of the recipes were contributed by people in the book. We made our choices based on personality as much as anything because Dr. Fox and his story of Lazy Wife Pie was such a grand tale. We also chose recipes that take just minutes to put together and others that take much longer. The artistry and passion of Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen needed to be expressed, and we did so even though the recipe for Pecorino Sformato with Cauliflower Puree and Bacon Salad may seem daunting.
Q: What can visitors to your website, From the Southern Table, expect to find there?
A: You can find out what’s up with us in our crazy daily lives. You’ll also find an archive of recipes as well as links to the websites for The World in a Skillet and Farm Fresh Tennessee.
Q: What is it like to work as a husband-and-wife writing team? How did you schedule and research the book together?
A: We haven’t killed each other. Yet. Just joking. We love it. When one of us is less inspired, the other usually picks up the slack. And when one of us writes something, we pass it back and forth through a series of edits until it becomes “our” voice. Angela did a lot of the research before we left home, and once we were on the road, she navigated while Paul drove. Paul did a lot of writing at night and made sure no one fell off of any mountainsides.
Q: What’s your next culinary adventure, and do you have new writing projects in the works?
A: We’re currently writing the Catfish volume of UNC’s Savor the South series. We’ve always been good cooks, and now we’re trying our hands at baking.
Paul and Angela Knipple, natives of Memphis, are long-time members of the Southern Foodways Alliance and coauthors of The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover’s Tour of the New American South. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulKnipple and keep up with the Knipples on Facebook.