Meet Dairy Farmer Jennifer Hatcher
The Dirt on the Farm
Farm Legacy: Jennifer represents the fifth generation of Hatcher family farmers, and her infant son will be the sixth.
Farm Location: College Grove in Williamson County
Crops & Livestock: Dairy cows (Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss), beef cattle, sheep (Hampshire and Suffolk crosses) and laying hens, plus hay and seasonal grasses for the cows’ intensive rotational grazing.
Farm Bureau Membership: Three years
What’s your farm history?
It was started in 1831 by my great-great grandfather. He was fighting in the Civil War for the Confederates and being so close, they let him go home for the night. He completely missed the Battle of Franklin, and we probably wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t come home. We’ve had dairy cattle on the farm off and on since then. Back in the ’80s, my grandfather divvied up the 500 acres between all five kids. They stopped milking cows temporarily when Dad went to vet school, and in 1992 they reestablished the dairy with my Uncle Jim and Dad becoming business partners.
The house I was raised in used to be a goat barn, and my parents converted it to living quarters. My husband, Chuck, and I live there now, so both me and my son were born in the hospital and brought home to the goat barn.
The entire family – grandparents, four of my dad’s siblings and their children and children’s children – live on the farm. Our mantra is that your farm is important. But your faith should be No. 1, your family second and then your farm. Because without your faith and your family, you don’t have anything.
How did your family manage to keep farming in an urban area so close to Franklin and Nashville?
In 2006, we decided we either needed to sell out so we could keep the business going and do beef cattle or something like that, find a niche market or do something completely different. We decided we wanted to be more sustainable and began retaining ownership of our milk. We built our creamery in 2008, and currently produce and sell all our milk. We sell whole, 2 percent, skim, half-and-half, cream, butter and gelato. We sell our own meat from keeping our steers (male cows) and lambs. We also sell eggs from our hens. We sell to just under 50 vendors in the greater Nashville area – everything from grocery stores to coffee shops. My uncle and brother farm full-time, and everyone else in the family pitches in when needed.
We have always had good husbandry and farming practices, but agriculture in general has a negative perception, and we want people to know agriculture is a positive thing. We have absolutely nothing to hide, and our doors are open for people to come and see what we do on a daily basis.
We are blessed to live in this area, because the local food movement is huge and people want to know where their food comes from. By having a relationship with them, people are extremely supportive of us and know what farming is.
Are you Farm Bureau proud?
Absolutely. The biggest reason Chuck and I have been involved is not only because of the support Farm Bureau gives to young people in agriculture, but also because we can’t find an organization that is any more dedicated or devoted to us. It makes me so proud to have the voice we have in agriculture. Not only are we Farm Bureau proud, but we are Tennessee Farm Bureau proud, because their delegation is so supportive, especially to young farmers.
Why did you and Chuck help start the Young Farmers & Ranchers group in your county?
Farms are dwindling by the moment, and it is very difficult for us and future generations to continue with all the growth and development. Having others that share the same commonality and want agriculture to be their livelihood, you need that network and support.
What are some of your challenges/blessings on the farm?
One common blessing and challenge is our location – we’ve got this niche market of people who want to know where their food comes from. Being so close to a metropolitan area is wonderful to get your product and sell it to a diverse group. However, it can be a challenge because we have some urban encroachment.
You just have to embrace it, which can sometimes be difficult, especially when you are driving down Arno Road in your tractor, and there are cars all behind you or you can’t cross the road! It is a challenge when you have livestock living around urban areas, and there is all this growth around us, but we are trying to adapt and be more sustainable by producing more products.
Being a vet, you have a unique perspective to see both sides of several agricultural issues. How important is it talk about how you care for your animals?
Most people are now at least four generations removed from farms and don’t realize you have to have farms in order to eat. Even people coming to the clinic with their small animals still ask me questions about agriculture (the vet practice is on the farm). I think it’s really important to show a positive outlook on agriculture and answer those tough questions that sometimes we may get defensive with. Educating people and letting them know what we do and the sacrifices we make and the food we put on the table is really important. Because if you don’t have farms, you don’t have food.
Even more than with the vet clinic, at farmers markets people ask you questions about how you do this and how you raise that or what your growing practices are. It is our job to step in their shoes and answer the questions they are asking and answer them in a way that is positive and truthful toward agriculture.