F or most of the last decade, Middle Tennessee—and Nashville in particular—has experienced a massive growth spurt that has resulted in a population explosion pushing the number of residents to around two million people in the metro area, an economic boom and a tourism boost that shows no sign of slowing any time soon.
But the influx of tourists and the throngs of new people calling Middle Tennessee home has led to more than increases in pedal tavern rentals, bachelorette party bar tabs and Airbnb rates. It has been an opportunity for niche tourism markets to enjoy more success, as well.
Agritourism is one sector reaping the benefits of having a major increase in visitors and newcomers to the area who are looking for less Broadway and more family-oriented fun that focuses on the things that have been in our back yard far longer than Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk.
While the urban landscape is growing, so are the opportunities to get out of the city and experience agricultural tourist destinations that provide educational and enjoyable activities away from the hustle and bustle. Here are a few examples to help you get started:
Photo Credit Martin Cherry
Dustin and Justyne Noble’s dairy farm on Blazer Road in Franklin is home to a population of goats and other farm animals, and is a popular destination for those who really want a “hands on” experience with some of the cutest kids around. Throughout the spring, the farm hosts Kid Cuddling days where visitors can come in, get in a pen with baby goats and snuggle, pet and cuddle to their hearts’ content. Dustin Noble says the cuddle day idea emerged from a totally different experience they hosted in the past.
“Kid cuddling kind of spawned from goat yoga,” Noble said.
Goat yoga, in the event you’ve not been paying attention in recent years, is a yoga class where baby goats roam freely around you as you stretch and twist your way into a Zen-like state, often climbing on your back and nibbling at your hair. “We were doing the yoga a couple of years ago and we started to realize people just wanted to cuddle with baby goats,” Noble said. “Doing yoga was only reaching a certain demographic. It was usually 30-something people who do yoga. Kid cuddling allows people from toddlers all the way up to elderly people to come out and interact with the animals.
“I remember growing up we would go to Opryland [USA theme park] and they had an area where you could bottle-feed baby goats and that was always one of my favorite things to do when I’d go there,” Noble said.
So, no need to be a yogi to enjoy snuggling up with a furry buddy anymore; just purchase a ticket online or contact the farm directly for information on cuddling days.
In addition, Noble Springs offers educational farm tours that teach visitors about the products the farm offers and how they are made.
“They can learn how we make our products and learn about agriculture. Being able to get out on a farm is becoming less and less prevalent in the area, so this gives people a chance to learn about what we do. People moving in from much more urban areas are just amazed when they are able to get out on a farm and have some green space around them and get up close and personal with farm animals.”
Photo Credit Martin Cherry
For 40 years the building housing Smithville’s new taproom and venue, the Burlap Room, was home to a drive-in movie theater’s concession stand. While the drive-in has gone the way of the…well, drive-in, the nursery on the property is bigger and better than ever. For the last 20 or so years, the Bert Driver Nursery has been providing the Upper Cumberland region with shrubs, perennials, Japanese maples and a whole lot more, carrying on a family agricultural tradition spanning more than 100 years on the seven-acre spread in DeKalb County.
In 2012, Bert Driver decided to host an Earth Day celebration. He brought in local musical talent from an area rich in bluegrass and roots traditions, and featured Sparta brewery Calfkiller, for those who wanted to partake. The event was a rousing success and it continued each April until the nursery decided to take it a step farther.
“We wanted to introduce people to Calfkiller beer and other local things and it started as an Earth Day celebration in 2012,” Driver said. “We had that theme going in an annual event and last year during the winter we met Alex Von Seitz of Theorteic Ales here in Smithville who grows his own wild yeast, and we decided we should just make this into a tasting room for Theoretic, Calfkiller and other local things. I’m trying to promote anything local and show we don’t have to go anywhere else.”
The result was the Burlap Room, a fully functioning music venue and taproom right in the middle of the nursery. Everywhere you look in the Burlap Room you will find connections to the local area. There is local art on the walls, music being performed by area musicians, local food trucks providing snacks outside and, of course, local craft beer.
“We have a cool thing going on here in the Upper Cumberland that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a great culture and that’s what we’re trying to promote.”
Even the name of the place has a connection to home for Driver. “When I was a kid, growing up at a nursery, my dad built this area at the end of the barn where he’d stack up burlap,” Driver said. “He’d buy semitrailer loads of it because you can get a discount. I remember the smell of it. And when I’d be looking for something and ask, ‘Where did you put it?’ ‘Well, it’s in the burlap room.’ That’s where the name came from.”
The concept appeals to locals who find it easier to get their entertainment close to home, as well as those passing through as visitors.
Photo Credit Martin Cherry
Those looking to do more than just choose a container of fresh fruit from the farmers’ market may enjoy visiting Amazin’ Acres in Sparta for some hands-on gathering.
In the spring, the farm opens up its big strawberry patch to the public, allowing adults and children to come by and pick their own pint of fresh strawberries right off the plant for a truly hands-on agricultural experience. While those of us who grew up picking berries and eating them as a matter of routine may not think it’s unusual to get the freshest fruit possible in this way, there are plenty of folks who will find the novelty of it quite exciting. Karen and Jimmy McCulley are the owners of the farm.
“Any time our patch is open, people are welcome to come out and pick their own pints of strawberries. It’s a lot of fun,” Karen said. “We get a lot of kids, and some of them have never eaten a strawberry and have never picked a strawberry, so it’s educational and fun for the whole family.”
Throughout the spring, berry picking is an option at Amazin’ Acres, as well as other activities for the whole family, including petting and feeding farm animals, milking cows and a honeybee zip line for kids. “They can pet and feed animals like baby sheep, goats, chicks and rabbits. For the smaller kids, there is a farm-to-work experience called Little Farmersville with a tractor and orchard, a farmers’ market…it’s really fun.”
In the fall, the scene changes a bit, but there is still plenty to do. Come and pick your own pumpkins from the patch, take a hayride, decorate a gourd or experience one of three corn mazes, each with a different theme and story.
Photo Credit Martin Cherry
Just a few minutes from downtown, visitors can get away from it all on the 350-acre farm at Green Door Gourmet. This agritourism destination offers a variety of options for people who find it important to know where their food comes from. The farm offers a wide variety of its fruits, vegetables and herbs for sale in its co-operative market, as well as high quality, locally sourced products that include grass-fed meats, bakery items, dairy and more.
Green Door Gourmet offers the ultimate farm-to-table experience for its customers with what is known as the LFB, or Local Farm Box. This subscription service sends people home with a box of fresh, local fruits, vegetables and more. The farm also offers a flower share subscription, summer day camps for people of all ages, berry picking, the opportunity to grow your own mushrooms, how-to classes and much more.