Old School Farm produces a diverse mix of vegetables, flowers, and fruits on 1 ½ acres in the agricultural haven of Bells Bend in Nashville. It is unique amongst our River Friendly Farms in that it is a non-profit care farm with a dual mission to employ adults with disabilities and provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to families experiencing food insecurity.
Regeneratively-grown produce, meaningful employment, and community are the key tenets of this farm. The farm owners believe that all people should have access to fresh, nutritious food regardless of income or class, and that a successful farm doesn’t need to look like a typical family farm.
Nearly a decade ago, Susan Richardson and Rowan Miller—owners of the farm and founders of MillarRich, LLC– purchased a nine acre property that used to be home to the Wade School in Bells Bend. The school building was vandalized and run down after years of abandonment, but Richardson and Miller revived the building and turned it into a hub of community activity, all centered around the Old School Farm. Although not farmers themselves, they have brought in experienced farmers to manage production.
The three to six person farm crew, led by David Cloniger, grows a mix of produce and flowers that are largely distributed through The Store, a year-round free grocery store that allows customers to shop for their basic needs with dignity. Everything is grown with the health of the soil and earth in mind, with minimal inputs from outside of the Bells Bend area.
Sulphur Creek, which feeds directly into the Cumberland River, runs by Old School Farm. The location of the growing area away from the creek, the riparian buffer around the creek, and the farm’s soil health practices all have a direct impact on the health of the Cumberland River.
River Friendly Farm Certified
In 2023, Old School Farm was certified as a River Friendly Farm by the Cumberland River Compact.
“We are thrilled to be River Friendly certified by the Cumberland River Compact because as farmers who care about sustainable, regenerative farming practices, we know we must consider the waterways as part of the whole ecosystem! It is important that we protect the Cumberland River, which wraps around this beautiful land we are fortunate to be stewarding in Bells Bend. Our mission is all about providing fresh, nutritious produce to food insecure communities. Ensuring clean water for all is absolutely aligned with our mission of fresh food for all, and we will do everything we can to care for our water sources,” says Em Berkey of Old School Farm.
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, Old School Farm is ensuring cleaner water, healthier soil, and a more resilient climate for the people and creatures living in the surrounding environment.
The growing area at Old School Farm is located on a gentle slope. Maintaining topsoil can be challenging on sloped land, but the farmers at Old School have a few strategies that keep the soil fertile and in place.
Beds are prepared on contour, meaning that they run against the direction of the slope. Contour farming reduces water and soil runoff and maximizes nutrients. The direction of the beds stops rain from washing valuable topsoil down the slope. A small trench at the top of the garden, also dug on contour, directs rainwater toward an area of mulched perennials that can absorb the excess water.
David and the Old School Farm crew work hard to keep production areas covered with living plants. Living roots are key to soil health, not only because of the benefits they provide to below-ground microbial activity but also because they hold soil in place and increase the absorption of water. Even during a flood event, living roots can hold soil particles together and in place.
The production space at Old School Farm is located over 200 feet away from Sulphur Creek, which even further reduces the chance that topsoil would run into the creek. Since sediment is a top polluter in the Cumberland River Basin, this simple decision profoundly impacts the health of Bells Bend’s precious water resources.
The farm plays an important role in conserving healthy, productive farmland in Davidson County, an increasingly rare resource for the city of Nashville. Diverse crops, including vegetables, trees, flowers, and perennial herbs and shrubs, all foster a pollinator-friendly ecosystem. The farm offers food security to hungry Nashville residents and job security for the folks with disabilities employed on the farm.
How to Support Farm
Old School Farm is a 501c3 non-profit organization, so you can support their work with a donation. The Old School Farm is specifically seeking sponsorships, which will provide stable, nurturing employment for farmers with disabilities and provide food to families experiencing food insecurity. You can also support their partner organization, The Store, with a donation.