My name is Amy Davis, and I serve the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council through AmeriCorps VISTA as the Tennessee Farm Link Coordinator.
Let me break it down a bit.
My name is Amy Davis. I grew up in the woods of Grainger County, Tennessee (see charming photo of young me with carrot) and was socialized in Knoxville, Tennessee. I went to King College because it was pretty and studied English because I had a great English teacher who once got Wendell Berry to come give a talk in the chapel. I enjoy casually mentioning that I’ve met Wendell Berry. I got my Master’s in English from ETSU in 2013 and fell into a career in business management, which I fell out of in late 2016. I spent 2017 nannying the perfect baby girl and her spunky special needs cousin in the evenings while apprenticing in the mornings at TnT Farm ‘n Greenhouse in Meadowview, VA under Tony Barrett and Tamara McNaughton—a position I lucked into and which has been a true honor. Something clicked for me there. Near the end of summer, I ran into an old friend who asked me how things were going on the farm, and I told him that I really loved it and that I had finally figured out where I belonged and what I wanted to do with my life: farm, watch things grow, something about agriculture. As I said it aloud, I realized it was true. Soon after, the Appalachian RC&D Council offered me a job as the coordinator for the brand new TN Farm Link program: a learning opportunity that I was thrilled to accept.
I serve the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council, which is a nonprofit organization chartered in 1994. More information about ARC&D can be found on this very website! Our mission is to conserve natural resources and improve rural economies through education, outreach, and volunteering. Under the ARC&D umbrella is the Quilt Trail, the Field School, which offers beginning famer training and support; Appalachian Farmacy, which is a free healthy eating initiative that supports SNAP recipients and their families; Build it Up, which is a backyard garden program that aims at reclaiming local food culture and strengthening the local food system; TN Farm Link, which we’ll get to in a minute, as well as farmer’s market promotion, CSA fairs, and all sorts of fun stuff.
I work at the ARC&D as an AmeriCorps VISTA (which stands for Volunteers in Service to America). VISTA was founded in 1965 by President Kennedy as the domestic version of the Peace Corps, and the program’s goal is to fight poverty in low-income and rural areas through educational programs and vocational training. VISTAs sign a one-year service contract and are provided with a stipend at the poverty line and benefits, including an education award, health care and childcare allowances, and professional development opportunities. AmeriCorps is about community and public service, and there thousands of AmeriCorps members across the country spending a year volunteering their service to bolster local economies and help folks get out of poverty.
So…what is TN Farm Link?
As the average age of American farmers nears 60, concern over the future of farmland has also risen. Farm Link programs have been popping up across the country for the past several years as an effort to help farmers and farm landholders find young and beginning farmers to steward, lease, and/or purchase their land—and keep farming it. Land access is a major hurdle for many (if not most) young and beginning farmers, and Farm Link programs endeavor to help them find affordable land to work, even if they are not eligible for traditional bank financing for purchases.
TN Farm Link is centered on its website, which functions something like a matchmaker. Farmers and farmland holders can post detailed listings about their properties, including equipment, housing, infrastructure, water sources, fencing, and beyond. Farmland seekers can post what they are looking for in just as much detail for the counties they select. We have a Certified Farm Seeker program, which requires farmland seekers to have a business plan and some farm experience or training that will help ensure successful and sustainable land matches. After a farmland owner and a farmer make their match, TN Farm Link lets nature take its course (and by that I mean: we don’t offer legal advice or services).
Farm Link programs are an answer to a very real need in the agricultural community that will only grow over the next decade. I drive back through Grainger County on occasion, just to keep an eye on the place, and I’ve watched property change hands in many ways. Some parcels are sold for development, and new houses stud the hilltops; other farms have been quietly slipping into crisis and overgrowth; and a few old tobacco fields are finding new life in the hands of farmers dedicated to farming the land sustainably and making farming a sustainable lifestyle. I’m thrilled to be part of this good work in Tennessee, and I am looking forward to the rest of my service year as TN Farm Link coordinator.