In the southern part of the Lower Cumberland watershed, thousands of Christmas trees, blueberries, prairie grasses, and wildflowers adorn the hills of Erin’s Farm. This idyllic farm is located on just under 250 acres in Cunningham, Tennessee, about thirty minutes south of Clarksville. Linda and Gary Hamm own the farm and tend it with their children and grandchildren.
Conservation is of the utmost importance to the Hamms, who won Montgomery County NRCS “Conservation Farmer of the Year” Award in 2021. The award was well-deserved, as everything the Hamm family does on their farm is centered around connection, conservation, and restoration.
For example, the Hamms grow blueberries as part of a U-pick operation, in part, because they are easy to grow without chemical pesticides or fungicides. Similarly, they grow Christmas trees on their hilly land to help absorb and clean rainwater and minimize erosion. A half-acre Butterfly Field attracts endangered and migrating monarch butterflies and feeds a multitude of other insects and birds.
Not to be overlooked are the humble prairie grasses that abound at Erin’s Farm.
We often associate prairies with the Great Plains, but Tennessee also had an abundance of prairie land before European colonization. The important ecosystem functions of these lands were diminished as the native prairie grasses were replaced with invasive European forage grasses in the 19th century.
Erin’s Farm is doing its part to restore the prairie grasses by taking out fields of invasive fescue and lespedeza and replacing them with native, warm-season grasses such as Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Switchgrass.
These native grasses control soil erosion and aid in water purification. They are drought-tolerant and do not require chemical inputs. Growing as tall as eight feet, they provide food sources, good nesting cover, and brood areas for birds. The grasses encourage native wildflowers, which have room to grow in the spaces between the clumps of grasses.
Other River Friendly Practices
The rolling land on which Erin’s Farm is located would be prone to erosion if the Hamms did not take many careful measures to protect the stability of the soil. For instance, they hand-plant their Christmas trees so as to not have freshly turned-up dirt wash down the hill. Their one hundred and sixty acres of forest serve to filter and clean rainwater before it runs into Sullivan Branch that starts on their property.
If a pest or fungal outbreak occurs on their trees or berries, they opt for natural controls instead of chemical ones. Natural pesticides and fungicides cause little if any harm to pollinators, water quality, and soil biology. A healthy, balanced ecosystem leads to fewer outbreaks overall and more resilient plants.
A forestry management plan helps the Hamm’s maintain their forest. Forested land with mature tree canopies is crucial to healthy waterways. Tree canopies slow down rainwater as it falls, allowing for more groundwater absorption. They shade creeks and keep water temperatures cool, allowing more oxygen to dissolve in the water, which in turn is beneficial for aquatic life. Their root systems also absorb rainwater and filter pollutants.
River Friendly Farm Certified
In 2023, Erin’s Farm was certified as a River Friendly Farm by the Cumberland River Compact.
“Having this certification is a great reminder for us to make meaningful choices. When we are reminded that the water is connected and that we are all connected, we will be reminded to be kind, caring and just in how we tend the land,” says Mariel Newkirk, daughter of Linda and Gary Hamm.
The River Friendly Farm certification program with Cumberland River Compact recognizes farmers who are good stewards of water and land resources, connecting them with consumers who value a healthy environment. As a River Friendly Farm, Erin’s Farm is ensuring cleaner water, healthier soil, and a more resilient climate for the people and creatures living in the surrounding environment.
How to Support Erin’s Farm
You can support Erin’s Farm during the winter holiday months, when the public is welcomed to select and cut down a Christmas tree. White, Scotch, and Virgina pines in all shapes and sizes mean you’ll find the perfect tree for your home. And you can rest assured the Hamm’s natural farming practices mean you’re not bringing home any unwanted chemicals. While you’re there, enjoy a steaming mug of cocoa around a fire while your kids bundle up and hop on a hayride.
In the warmer months, visit the farm to pick their organically grown blueberries or to enjoy the pollinator habitat. The rolling landscape, pollinator fields, and Christmas trees make for an ideal locale for professional photography. Photographers who want to use the space can reach out to the Hamms through Erin’s Farm’s website.