When Lori Birkhead and her husband bought their 96-acre farm in Joelton, TN, they had to start the restoration of their property from the ground up, literally. They were drawn to the land’s immense beauty, including the quiet tributary to Long Creek that meanders through the farm’s woods.
The farm’s land, fallow and overrun by sagebrush, clay, and enough rocks “to build a house with,” made the regeneration of soil health By Faith Farm’s first priority. Old ponds were in need of repair, and cattle had unlimited access to the farm’s water resources. With no prior experience farming, Lori was faced with a mountain of challenges that oftentimes felt like learning a new language. Still, her calling to start a farm and vision that it would be “abundantly fruitful and helpful to many” drove her to face these challenges with curiosity and faith.
Since buying the property 10 years ago, Lori and her husband, Jim, have worked toward this vision of abundance and fruitfulness by building a strong community around the farm and installing conservation practices that give back to the land, the wildlife, and people the farm benefits through its donation gardens.
“This was intended to be a community of people giving back to the community. And when I finally clued into that, the people just started coming. It wasn’t even that I asked; they just started coming,” says Lori. Her strong base of “Farm Angels,” volunteers who oftentimes happen to show up just at the right time to tend to By Faith’s donation gardens and operations, have no doubt helped create a network of love and compassion for helping the community that surrounds them.
When thinking of the community that has formed around her farm, Lori recalls a scripture: “They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” ~ Psalms 1:3
This network of Farm Angels and their uncanny ability to appear at the right time is only part of their story, though. Lori has leaned into resources like fellow farmers and conservation programs to help advance conservation on the farm. Through resources such as her local Soil Conservation District, USDA, the local UT Ag Extension Agency, and new partners like the Cumberland River Compact that By Faith Farm has been able to improve the health of the land and the water that By Faith Farm stewards.
Both Lori and Jim feel strongly that healthy soil is key to healthier food. Lori has always used organic practices, “baptizing” her fields with compost tea (on-farm compost and water from the creek) and harboring creative methods to combat the never-ending threats of pests that seem to change every year. In addition to their organic practices, By Faith Farm has received support from NRCS, USDA, and Ag Extension to pioneer other conservation efforts that help enhance soil health and protect water quality.
Some key management practices By Faith Farm uses are:
- Reduced tillage
- Planting cover crops
- Practicing rotational cattle grazing
- Fencing cattle out of the ponds and streams
- The installation of a high tunnel to extend the growing season
- The recent addition of a large rain garden
The farm also utilizes grid-tied solar power on the main barn, which includes a community space on the ground level, and a modern loft apartment on top where visitors can enjoy a beautiful and relaxing Farm Stay retreat. Learn more here.
River Friendly Farm Certified
In the summer of 2021, By Faith Farm became one of the first farms to become certified River Friendly with the Cumberland River Compact. The certification followed the well-deserved accolade of Conservation Farmer of the Year from the Davidson County Soil Conservation District.
The decision to become a certified River Friendly Farm was an easy one; it fit in naturally with the conservation efforts By Faith Farm had already been practicing.
“I guess it’s just an extension of everything else that we’re doing,” Lori says. “Becoming a River-Friendly Farm opens up people’s minds to conservation in general and how we all can be better conservators of what we have here.”
The River Friendly Farm certification program with Cumberland River Compact recognizes farmers who are good stewards of land and water resources, connecting them with consumers who value a healthy environment. By becoming a River Friendly Farm, By Faith Farm is ensuring cleaner water, healthier soil, and a more resilient climate for the people and creatures living in the surrounding environment.