Tim Ammons and his wife Betty love to drive through the countryside to find “neat old farms” to investigate - the kind that still look the way family farms used to, with crops, pig pens, chicken yards, and maybe an old log structure. But five years ago, after zigzagging the backroads of Tennessee for days, Tim was depressed. He had not found a thing.
Yet as he sat in the shade of woodlands he had planted and gazed around at his smokehouse from the 1800s, his reclaimed barn, sorghum mill, heirloom crops, pig pens and chickens, it occurred to Tim that his own old farm was in fact pretty “neat.” That epiphany led to the decision in 2008 to open Oleo Acres to the public, and it’s been growing steadily in popularity ever since.
Belgian mares replace tractors
“My ultimate goal,” says Tim, “is to have no automation on the farm. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have electricity. My interests date back to the time before electricity.”
No automation means that Tim uses a mule to press his sorghum and two Belgian mares in full harness to plow his land.
“They were donated to us instead of being doomed to pulling buggies on Beale Street. The former owner told us, if you will work them you can have them,” Tim explains. “I love them to death.”
The animals and heirloom or open-pollinated crops that Tim and Betty grow are all part of his lifelong desire to keep a part of history alive. As a young man, Tim would spend his vacation time talking to the elderly, collecting their knowledge of little-known practices for growing and preserving food without electricity.
For example, the trick of packing root crops and cabbage in wooden crates with damp sand preserves them, keeping them cool without freezing all winter long.
“A lot of people don’t know this anymore, and I want to preserve this knowledge.”
From barren wasteland to garden bounty
Located at 269 McDonald Road in Stanton,TN on the Tipton/Haywood County line, Oleo Acres is about 30 minutes from Memphis. The Ammons purchased the farm in 1973. It has been a sustained labor of love to bring what had been a barren wasteland into its current state of productivity.
Their methods eschew all store-bought fertilizers and herbicides with minimal use of pesticides; the majority of their crops are totally organic, with absolutely no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) allowed.
“Right now I sell my produce cheaper than conventional,” says Tim. “My goal is to keep costs low so I can offer affordable organic to anyone who wants it. And it should be cheaper. It’s a little more trouble to do, but once you have a good thriving ecosystem, everything works together.”
Tim has calculated that it’s actually less expensive to maintain draft horses than a tractor.
Field trips and visitors from Memphis and west Tennessee
Tim and Betty will now host any school group that wants to visit for a field trip, but make no mistake: this is no glorified playground. Visiting students participate in farm life, often by assisting with spring gardening and soil conservation activities. Tim tries to keep lettuce and greens growing year-round, so the kids can pick their lunch.
“A lot of them are amazed at how differently it tastes from what they normally get,” Tim enthuses. “Fresh-picked flavor intensity is so much greater. Then we explain to them how 24 hours after being picked, most produce loses 50% of its nutrition. Multiply that by the days spent on trucks and store shelves, and you can just imagine the loss of flavor.”
Oleo Acres also offers a variety of events to the general public, such as heirloom seed swaps, festivals and Farm to Table events. More information is available at oleoacresfarm.webs.com and the Oleo Acres Facebook page.