FFA Restores Old Hickory Barn for Andrew Jackson Descendant
Hunter’s Hill Farm in Nashville benefits from FFA and Campbell’s partnership to restore historic barns. Watch the video here, or read on for the story.
With long blonde hair and a slow Southern drawl, 52-year-old Karen Guy is not your typical cattle farmer. Then again, her 178-acre Davidson County farm isn’t exactly your typical cattle farm.
Located just outside Nashville along Old Hickory Lake, Hunter’s Hill Farm is a country paradise tucked away in an urban area once owned by Andrew Jackson before he became president. Guy is a descendent of Jackson’s wife, Rachel.
“They would have been my fifth-great-grandparents,” says Guy, whose great-grandfather was raised by Little Rachel, the Jacksons’ granddaughter. “They lived on this land from 1797 until 1804, but their original home burned. When they left this property, they moved to The Hermitage.”
Protecting the Family Farm
A single mother of one, Guy spends her time farming the land that’s been in her family for ages. Any given day, you might find her tending to the beef cattle, rolling hay, riding her horse or weeding her flower garden.
She’s been working on the farm since her college years, when she regularly pitched in to help her great-uncle and great-aunt, Aubrey and Louise Maxwell, who previously owned the property. The childless couple left it to her when they died.
“I love this land, and I couldn’t bear to see it developed. This area is developing so fast,” she says. “And this is such a beautiful old farm.”
For years, Guy was losing sleep over what would become of her beloved farm once she’s gone, but now she’s resting easily. In 2007, she placed the property into a conservation easement with the Land Trust for Tennessee, a legally binding agreement attached to the deed that requires the land stay green and undeveloped forever.
“Neither my daughter or my nephews have interest in farming, so this was a perfect way for me to protect this land,” Guy says.
Campbell’s Program Restores Old Barns
In 2009, Hunter’s Hill Farm’s unique history caught the eye of Lucy Whitehead and the National FFA Alumni Association, who, along with the Campbell’s Soup Co., are working to restore old barns across the nation.
“Campbell’s Soup has an initiative of educating people about where their food comes from – they’re trying to get rid of the stigma that food comes from a store and soup comes from a can,” says Whitehead, program manager for the National FFA Alumni Association. “FFA is also about educating people about agriculture, so we came together as two organizations with a similar goal. Reviving barns across the nation is one way we can give back to the people who grow our food, and the project provides a service opportunity for our students.”
When FFA contacted the Tennessee Agricultural Museum looking for a barn of historical significance to restore in Tennessee, a centuries-old barn at Hunter’s Hill Farm fit the bill.
“We were interested in the Land Trust aspect of the farm and Karen Guy’s amazing story,” Whitehead says.
Guy was shocked to receive a call from FFA offering to restore her barn at no cost to her. The project is funded completely by Campbell’s.
“I was very pleased,” Guy says, still in disbelief.
Volunteering in the Volunteer State
Roughly 60 volunteers made their way to the farm in March 2009 for three workdays that transformed the barn into a whole new structure. The work crew consisted of students belonging to FFA chapters in Portland, Mt. Juliet and Gallatin, as well as a chapter from Illinois and about 15 FFA alumni.
Mother Nature didn’t exactly cooperate, but not even rain and sleet could dampen the volunteer spirit in the air.
“We had the worst weather, and there was mud up to your knees, but I didn’t hear any whining from the kids,” Guy recalls. “They got in there and just amazed me.”
Volunteers replaced the barn’s rotted boards, stabilized support beams, rebuilt doors and put on a fresh coat of red paint with white trim. Guy’s barn was one of five barns restored by FFA and Campbell’s Soup during the project’s first year, and five additional barns will be selected for restoration again this year.
Though not familiar with FFA before the barn restoration, Guy is now proud to be a lifetime member of the organization.
“She was so impressed with FFA that she turned in her application for membership immediately,” Whitehead says. “FFA members are always willing to step up and take the lead, and they really take ownership of projects like these.”
Since then, Guy has struck up a friendship with the Portland FFA chapter, and several of its members have come back to her farm to do additional work on the barn. She also plans to hire some of the students to help with farm work in the future.
“I was so in awe of their hard work and their great attitude,” she says.
In the end, the students restored more than just the barn. “They restored my faith in future generations,” Guy says. “I was very moved.”
And grandfather Andrew Jackson’s old barn, with its classic Americana red and white paint, is a daily reminder of that faith.