Daniel Allen of Allenbrooke Farms says his business benefited from â€œa perfect stormâ€ of circumstances that make his familyâ€™s business model ideal for selling farm fresh produce in Spring Hill.
Daniel Allen of Allenbrooke Farms believes that his business has benefited from â€œa perfect stormâ€ of circumstances that make his familyâ€™s business model ideal for selling farm fresh produce in Spring Hill.
â€œWhen I was growing up here, Spring Hill was nothing but farm land everywhere,â€ said Allen, 30.
That meant that selling commodity crops was the dominant model for farms.
â€œAnd since everyone had family gardens of their own, you couldnâ€™t sell fruits and vegetables because there was no one to sell them to,â€ he added.
But with all of the cityâ€™s huge recent growth, â€œall the clientele we need are right here. Itâ€™s unlike anything my dad or grandfather ever saw while farming here.â€
About the near future of farming in Spring Hill, Allen said he would â€œlove to see a trend toward small farms and actually feeding people, instead of feeding the masses poison.â€ But he doubts whether such a trend will really take hold here.
His wife Stephanie agrees.
â€œWe decided to farm full time four years ago,â€ Stephanie said. â€œBut even though we were already living on a farm, we couldnâ€™t launch right into feeding 200 families right away. So it took us a good solid year of preparation and pouring our money into the operation, getting equipment and supplies ready.â€
In addition to supplying weekly food packages to 250 families through their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Allenbrooke Farms sells at the weekly Franklin Farmers Market. Some families pick up their packages at the market, and the rest get their food on Mondays and Wednesdays at the farm on Doctor Robertson Road in Spring Hill. Produce is also available through the farmâ€™s online store at their website, allenbrookefarms.com.
â€œI donâ€™t see local farming improving and developing in Spring Hill,â€ Stephanie said. â€œWeâ€™re proud to be doing it, but most farms in Spring Hill are turning into neighborhoods. Houses are growing here, not food. Thatâ€™s part of why we feel so strongly about what we do. Somebody has to feed the local community. The alternative is to buy imported produce. But people need local food, whether they know it or not. The way food is produced and shipped from all over the world, you lose a lot of nutrients that can only be had when the food is coming to you locally.â€
Allen is pleased that so many people want to buy and eat locally produced food, and heâ€™s happy that Allenbrooke Farms can be Spring Hillâ€™s local supplier.
â€œI just wish there were 12 or 15 other families who wanted to do it to, and could pursue it,â€ he said. â€œThe demand for this is unlimited. With the [community supported agriculture] model that has emerged in the last few years, and the movement toward locally grown, organic food along with the emphasis on knowing your farmer, itâ€™s finally possible to make a good living on a farm like ours. But until now itâ€™s never been like this here.â€
The popularity of local food and the enormous growth in Spring Hill have allowed the Allenbrooke Farms to prosper quickly, in spite of the backbreaking effort it takes to run the farm without any outside labor.
â€œI would love it if my granddad were still alive and could see whatâ€™s happening here,â€ Allen said, â€œand how weâ€™re succeeding. Heâ€™d see that weâ€™re doing what he did, but weâ€™re able to do even more because of how the city has changed. In his time with this property, farming 10 acres of produce would have never been a sustainable way to make a living. Because who are you going to sell it to? Everyone around you has a garden, and they already grow their own food.â€
Allenâ€™s grandmother was â€œa penny pincherâ€ who often told him stories about the sacrifices that she and her husband made â€œjust to maintain the property.”
“They put their blood, sweat and tears into this place,” Allen said. “My dad did the same thing. And now itâ€™s what Iâ€™m doing. So the last thing I would ever want to do would be to sell it. Just the thought of this farm [going out of the family] makes me tear up.â€
He doesnâ€™t see any trend toward more small farms in Spring Hill doing what Allenbrooke Farms is doing.
â€œThere are just so few young farmers here, and very few who will be able to replace the older farmers that are holding the land around here,” Allen said. “Those farmers are mainly using their land for commodity crops like cattle, corn and soybeans. Land being what itâ€™s worth in Williamson County, I see a lot of these next generation owners inheriting the land and just selling it and turning it into subdivisions.â€
Allen thinks that the transformation of so much farmland in Spring Hill to subdivisions is a shame.
â€œWeâ€™ve taken this place, which was an old cattle farm, and turned it into a property that is turning a profit on [a very different model] from what my grandfather was doing,” he said. “He raised cattle and goats and livestock here, and then they also had their family garden to grow their own food. That old model is the one that today remains profitable. But itâ€™s an approach that so few people know how to do anymore, and even fewer are willing to put in the hard work to accomplish it. It requires 100-hour work weeks, and hauling thousands of pounds of food from the ground every week.
â€œThereâ€™s literally just a handful of farms in the Middle Tennessee area doing it the way we are,â€ Allen added. â€œThe demand for what we do is endless, which is great for the farmers, but not so great for consumers.”
Allen said he can only provide food for about 250 families, or possibly 300.
“But that is a really small percentage of the population of Spring Hill, and the demand is far higher. I wish more farmers were doing what we do, but itâ€™s still a new brand of farming. And even if you are interested in doing it that way, few can afford it.”
The good fortune of taking on a piece of family property played a large role in Allenbrooke Farms’ initial success, according to Allen.
“Getting a piece of property in Williamson County is not likely to happen for a young person unless itâ€™s family land,” he said. “Most people my age who would inherit a place like this are naturally going to think â€˜Well I can sell this land to a developer, make a million, and go on about my business.â€™ Few are going to want to keep it, work on it, and make that million yourself by developing the property.â€
Keeping that kind of property in family hands and teaching future generations about its value is something Allen learned early on from his grandparents and parents.
â€œMy grandmother always emphasized the importance of keeping land in the family,” Allen said. “She always said that they donâ€™t make more of it, and you never know when youâ€™re going to need it. Coming out of the Great Depression, she knew firsthand that no matter how bad things got, you could always feed your family if you had land. She would never have sold it, my dad wouldnâ€™t, and I never will. My hope is that our [nine-month-old] son will get the same values, and keep it himself.â€
Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for BrentWord Communications. Contact him at email@example.com.