Each week, Tracy Burks and Ashleigh Newnes deliver a selection of produce grown on a 10-acre farm on Homestead Manor in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, to local restaurants, like Deacon’s New South, where Executive Chef Travis Sparks turns this produce into creative dishes showcasing seasonal fare. Motivated by making fresh food accessible, Tracy and Ashleigh dedicate their days to tending to the 75+ types of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits at Homestead. They put their heart and soul into everything they grow, which makes it all the more meaningful when local chefs put their produce to good use. Tracy is Homestead Farm’s lead farmhand, and Ashleigh the farm manager. Today, these ladies give us a look at daily life on the farm, what they are growing and where you can find it on local menus. Welcome Tracy Burks and Ashleigh Newnes as today’s FACES of Nashville!
Tell us about your backgrounds. When did you start farming?
Tracy: I have been farming on a small scale since 2004 and have been at Homestead since 2010. I started small with my family. We moved out to the country and entered with a lady who had goats, and she taught me a lot. I got my own goats, then chickens and a cow. We had family who worked at Homestead, so we volunteered at the farm and fell in love with the whole concept.
Ashleigh: I am from England, and after I left school I decided I wanted to travel America. I did it through a system where you work on different farms in return for food and board. I worked in Washington state, then in California, then on Tracy’s farm, with dairy goats. I have been at Homestead since November, and in January, I took over as farm manager and hired Tracy — she has so much knowledge and experience with plants. Now, we have a team of seven, including Tracy’s sons, Will and Benjamin. It works well, with my managerial skills and Tracy’s knowledge. We work well as a team.
What is your farming philosophy?
T: Keep it simple.
Describe your typical day. Does this change by the season?
A: It changes by season and by the day of the week. First, everything is watered and harvested, then we work on farm projects. We also do the landscaping. We could be preparing beds or we could be trimming bushes at the house. There are also days we deliver to restaurants — Deacon’s New South, Homestead Manor, Puckett’s Boat House, Puckett’s Grocery and Scout’s Pub.
T: We try to vary our schedules so that someone is always here in the morning and someone is here in the evening.
A: It is a balance of managing this farm and our own farms. This job is wonderful because it is flexible, but someone needs to be here at all times to take care of the farm.
What is the greatest reward in being a small farmer?
T: My favorite part is carrying vegetables into restaurants and seeing the chefs’ eyes light up and see how much they appreciate it. It matters that we know they are excited and care about what we are doing. Our love and heart and soul go into those vegetables.
What produce are you especially excited about this season?
A: I am excited about pumpkins! They aren’t here yet, but they are coming. They take a long time to grow, so we have been working on them for a bit, and they are growing bigger and bigger every day. I have never grown pumpkins before!
T: Melons and pumpkins are challenging but very fun. For me, I am most excited about herbal things. I work closely with Loke (Lokelani Alabanza, Deacon’s executive pastry chef and the creative genius at Hattie Jane’s Creamery) and recently shared some hibiscus with her, and now she is using it in some great new creations.
A: Recently, we harvested mulberries together, and she created a mulberry swirl ice cream. We have also given her some mint for her mint chocolate chip ice cream. It is really awesome that we grow these plants and we care for them and we know what their final destination is — on a salad at Homestead or a special at Deacon’s or in ice cream at Hattie Jane’s.
Does partnering with local restaurants to provide produce influence the way you farm?
A: It does influence how we farm. We meet with the chefs, and they tell us what they would like for us to grow, but we also grow what we want to grow, which means we can take some of our knowledge and create things the restaurants wouldn’t have thought of using. It is a nice balance.
What are you growing for Deacon’s right now?
T: Chef Travis has given us seeds for heirloom tomatoes, so we have a lot of those coming into season right now.
How has your produce been incorporated into the Deacon’s menu?
A: On his menu, he has a Homestead Harvest Salad. He uses our produce and creates something based on what is available — which I think is beautiful. That is true for a lot of our restaurants, as well.
Why is farm-to-fork such an important movement? Where do you see this trend going?
T: The movement has been beautiful for pulling communities together. People begin to understand where their food is coming from and that they can grow things themselves. It is beautiful to see people sharing information and food. Life is about food. I think the movement will continue and will become accessible to more people.
When you aren’t farming, where can we find you?
T: I am farming!
A: I am a photographer at The Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro, a community theater. I take show and promo pictures, and I also do some dialect coaching for British accents. Teaching Southerners to sing in a British accent is fun. Right now, I am working on “Jekyll and Hyde,” which Tracy’s youngest son is in. [But] mainly, I am at the farm with the goats and chickens.
T: All four of my sons do theater at The Center for the Arts. We are very family-centered. Wherever the family is, we try to be. Everything we do is all together. We have five children, two work on the farm and the youngest is a volunteer. Or we can be found foraging in the woods (looking for mushrooms) and eating seasonally. We cook farm to table!
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
A: This is buck standard but true: Never give up.
T: She doesn’t ever give up!
A: My mom told me that and she is very much like that — she doesn’t ever give up being strong and fighting.
T: My mom taught me that everything is always about the food. There is so much depth in that. You are not just eating. Family meals gather people together and slow you down for half a second. Food is medicine – food is everything. So thanks, Mom! When she told me that, so many things were opened in my eyes.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
A: My camera, fruit and cats
T: The woods, cheese (specifically goat cheese) and coffee (not for the caffeine, I just love the taste)
Thank you, Tracy and Ashleigh! Thanks to Ashley Hylbert for the photos!
We’re excited to introduce you to Star Sellers, a nurse who has been with TriStar Health for 46 years. Though she’s newly retired, we wanted to let everyone get to know this amazing caregiver and wish her all the best in her retirement. It is our honor to introduce you to our newest FACE of TriStar, Star Sellers. CLICK HERE to read her delightful interview!