Journal of 100 Miles

Celebrating the communities and culture along the 100 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee.

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Bonnie Blue Farm

A warm Natchez breeze gently rustles the leaves, as a field of goats grace the landscape below.  Stoically poised amongst the peaceful flock lies Mya, one of three Great Pyrenees who watches over Bonnie Blue Farm.  Amongst her, are Nubian and Saanens, goats and kids, frolicking full of delight in a field warmed and nourished by the summer sun. All of this peace is entrusted to the wise beyond her two years, Mya.  There is something heartwarming about this sweet farm scene, as well as the couple who owns and runs it.

Jim and Gayle Tanner are the proud owners of Bonnie Blue Farm (, located in Waynesboro, Tennessee.  As you make your way through the establishment, the grassy green scenery is scattered with rustic wood buildings built by the couple.  A combination of hard work and knowledge helped established the farm three years ago, and most recently the fruits of their labor has yielded a 28 foot deep underground cheese-aging cave, that boasts 1,000 square feet, currently the only one in Tennessee.  The goats provide the milk and then the Tanners begin the age-old process of making cheese.  The cave is used to allow the cheese to cure, build, and ripen the flavor and texture that goat cheese is highly regarded for.

Although the farm is relatively new, Gayle has been in the cheese making industry since the early 1970’s and studied at the renowned Culinary Institute of Nappa Valley, California.  Goat cheese is healthier and more easily digestible, making it a tasty choice, and a health savvy alternative to dairy based cheeses.  The Tanners sell the farmstead cheese at local farmers’ markets as well as directly from the farm.  When asking Jim why it is important or even necessary to buy locally produced cheese, Jim says, “You know where it comes from, when buying cheese in stores you don’t always know that.  A lot of times it comes from a long ways away and it’s not fresh.”

After enjoying a piece of Bonnie Blue’s goat cheese, you too will see the difference in freshness and smile as kids play in the sunny field while Mya tirelessly looks on.  There is something simple and romantic about the relationship between land, animal, and person, all of which is explored and utilized right near you and me. Who knows, you might even see Mya catching an afternoon nap under the cool shade of a tree.

June 2009

By Rebecca Marquis

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Nett’s Grocery – Southern Authenticity

Barbara Annette Beard Dodson, better known as ‘Nett,’ is the friendly face behind the counter at Nett’s Grocery in Bethel.  This quaint community is actually part of Sante Fe just off Highway 7 and the Natchez Trace Parkway and is home to a good share of Tennessee natives and city transplants, bluegrass pickers and country music videos. Her father, Grover Cleveland Beard, 82 years old, loves to ride his four-wheeler to the store for some good fried catfish.

The building is nearly 100 years old and has always stood as the local general store. As a child, Nett would go in for a cold drink bottle and potato chips.  She lived on Beard Ridge, aptly named for the large, family-owned property, and because where you were from was identified more by land than by zip code.  On the farm she claims, “We pretty much did it all.”  They had cows, grew corn, stripped tobacco, picked up hay and the kids went to the barn every morning before school to milk cows. Children’s spending money was mostly from milking cows, whether their own or someone else’s.  She rode the tractor as a young girl and recalls the worry of not running over something, “I just knew I was going to get in trouble,” she laughs.  Farming was about helping each other out, and Nett remembers, “If you needed help, there’d be twenty people lined up.”

Home was three miles down a gravel drive hidden in the woods.  They never thought much about it, and when asked about the influx of more people in the area and development, she can’t complain when it has patched the potholes and paved the roads including the one to their house.

Her father is from what they called Blackjack Ridge.  He walked to school with his sweetheart, who later became his wife, Nett’s mother.  In addition to farming, he worked in a nearby plant which gave the family a mostly comfortable life.  Nett has always been happy here and says, “I never really wanted to go anywhere.” And, she adds, “We had pretty much everything we needed.”  They had the first of many amenities like phone service which often led to visitors.  “The constables would be chasing somebody and would use our phone to call back to the station,” says Nett.  They were typically coming from one of the local country taverns which were always full, some of which still stand today.

While sitting on the bench just outside the store, the air is fresh and quiet, Mr. Beard says to me, “I went through life with everything I did, I took pride in accomplishing something.” He talks about the hardworking people here, the friendliness of the south, and when I agree with him, he humbly replies, “Well, that’s what we’re here fer.”

June 2009

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Carl and Rachel Russell – Walking Sticks and Simple Ways

Rachel Russell’s tale is one commonly heard in songs by Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, or the assumptions urban types tend to make when describing people of rural Tennessee.  Rachel will even say so herself, in a self-assured manner, when talking about how she grew up.  “People laugh, don’t matter to me, I laugh with them,” she says.  She grew up in a log cabin in ‘the holler,’ which is really a beautiful valley surrounded by hillsides of pastures and woods and a gorgeous, winding creek home to rarely seen cranes and other wildlife.  Mrs. Russell is a sweet lady with gray hair pulled to a bun and a lovely smile.  She loves to laugh, and when we reciprocate, she laughs even more.  It was 1931 when she was born inside the cabin; the doctor arrived by horse and buggy.  “Whether he was licensed or not, I couldn’t tell you,” says Rachel.  She spent most of her childhood in the rustic home with no electricity, no running water and no bathroom, not even an outhouse.  She likes to joke, “Young people today wouldn’t know what to do or where to go first.”   As a young girl growing up in Tennessee, life was about few luxuries.  Their lives were sustained from living off the land.  In larger towns, people were struggling through the Depression. Her family farmed for a living, as did most people in those days in the country.  There were hogs and cows and chickens, and all the vegetables they needed to eat. The only groceries they needed from town were flour, sugar and coffee.  Summertime was about swimming holes and running barefoot, making playhouses out of rocks and plates out of Mason jar lids.  “We went to school barefoot in the summer, ‘course, we had shoes in the winter,” states Rachel.  School was eight grades in a one room building.

The cabin was already considered old then, making it nearly 200 years old now claims her husband Carl.    Mr. Russell is from the other side of the ‘holler’, just over the county line.  A pleasant and slender man, he sits with his leg hanging over the chair, sharply dressed in his plaid shirt and John Deere hat, color coded right down to the stitching in his like-new overalls (I suppose he put the good overalls on for our visit?).  When I ask what it was like for him growing up, he gives me the simple and witty answer of, “What she said.”   They met at a church just around the bend, married in 1959 when she was 19 and he was 23.

We take a ride up to the old cabin, a couple of miles from where they live now, that still stands wary looking and surrounded by overgrown shrubs and weeds with a few peony flowers peeking out here and there.  Visiting the place brings fond memories back to Rachel of living in the cabin with her parents and sister, like her mother wallpapering the walls with pages torn from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. They carried buckets of water from the spring, milked cows and took care of the crops.  If someone were sick, Rachel explains, “We didn’t go to the doctor, the ladies had home remedies.  Castor oil – that was our gettin’ well and we’re still here!”

Franklin D. Roosevelt had come into office initiating the WPA (Works Progress Administration) giving people jobs to build roads and outhouses.  That finally brought an outhouse to the property and that same program provided food assistance to the public.  However, Rachel is quick to utter, “We never got any of that free food. The town’s people were starving, but the country people weren’t affected by it so much, we grew our own food.”

Miss Rachel can remember one day playing outside and seeing workers from the railroad being transported by and hearing one say, “I bet those people don’t even know the war is over.”  She laughs, “But, we did.”

When I ask how much her and Carl have travelled in their years they haven’t seen but a handful of states, mainly the southeast.  And, Rachel will declare, “The best place I’d seen was home.”

The Russells live in a modest home comfortable enough with the necessities needed by today’s standards. Rachel talks of current affairs she’s read in the daily paper.  Carl shows off his fine walking sticks he’s made out of wood pulled right from their property.  He’s retired after 30 years with the county, that being their retirement source.  They have a small garden and mounds of old photographs and newspaper clippings at arm’s reach to share with friends and family.

People like the Russells make me wonder what it is that makes their lives not only completely unpretentious, but they themselves so complacent.  Mrs. Russell tells me happily, “That’s just the way it was, we didn’t know any better.”  There’s something to be said for living simple and sustainable.

June 2009
(Pictured: Carl and Rachel by the cabin’s front door)