Spindly snowcapped branches in winter, brilliant redbud blooms in spring, vibrant green foliage in summer—Middle Tennessee is a sight to behold year-round. But nothing quite compares to the views from your window as you wind along Franklin’s country roads in the fall.
Changing leaves float down from rolling hillsides toward sprawling pastures, home to horses, cows, goats, alpacas, and even a lone bison.*
From Leiper’s Fork to College Grove, Thompson’s Station to Nolensville, farms cover our county, growing apples and pumpkins, producing eggs and milk, and hosting locals and visitors alike for bucolic, themed events.
It only makes sense that we’d flock to these very farms in search of their fresh ingredients as we enter the time of year best known for gathering around the table with family and friends.
One such farm is Hatcher Family Dairy. Follow the hodge-podge of College Grove’s roadside fences—many of them wooden, some wire, some freshly constructed, others missing a post or two—past a tractor-crossing sign and more than a few fluttering American flags to reach its postage-stamp store. Tempting as it may be to immediately park yourself on its porch to play a game of checkers or Connect Four, take a moment to grab a cup of coffee and explore its wares first.
Inside is kryptonite for the lactose-intolerant traveler, but even they’ll be able to find something on the shelves along the far wall. Jars of blackberry preserves sit alongside apple butter, yellow grits, and biscuit mix. Latch hook pillows featuring close-ups of cows are propped throughout, along with hand towels proclaiming, “Let’s party til the cows come home.”
And, of course, there’s a wall of glass-fronted refrigerators filled with bottles of Brownie’s Best Chocolate Milk, assorted cheeses, eggs, and sandwiches in brown boxes. Not to mention the miniature freezer holding ice cream that’ll ruin box-store desserts for you forever. Grab a pint of speckled Brown Sugar Cinnamon and dig your spoon into the firm, flavorful frozen treat, which manages to taste warm—even when you’re giving yourself a brain freeze.
Before you hit the road, leaving behind the framed blue ribbons from the county fair, the decorative milk jugs, and the unmistakable smell of fresh-cut grass and cow patties behind, wander over to wave goodbye to the dairy’s doe-eyed calves.
As you head over yonder (otherwise known as Nolensville), past historical markers and tilting barns, you might just sail past a sign announcing Morning Glory Orchard. Make sure you don’t. Pull off onto the lawn bordering Apple Blossom Lane and trudge up the driveway toward a tractor-topped weathervane. Around back, you’ll find people meandering around a large metal barn, picking out mums, sitting at a picnic table enjoying a patch of shade, or peeking out at the orchard.
Inside the barn is arguably just as charming—from the wooden beams and wagon wheel overhead to the astonishing array of farm-fresh items for sale. The sounds of shoppers’ excited chatter, the clicking of slushie machines, and a cross breeze wash over you as you peruse.
Stuffed toys in the shape of peaches sit among fragrant apple and peach bath bombs. Kids run underfoot, excitedly plucking bumpy gourds from bushel baskets. Pumpkin Butter is on display along with large jars of Peach Pie Filling. Candied apples sit in a fridge beside branded glass bottles of Blueberry Birch Beer. And, unsurprisingly, there’s tiered shelving holding pecks and half bushels of Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and more.
At the checkout counter, add a pack of cinnamon-sugar-dusted Apple Cider Donuts and a tart Apple Cider Slushie (brandished with, what else, a candy-apple red straw) to your order. They’ll tide you over until you’ve pulled the apple pie you’re sure to be inspired to bake out of the oven.
Bet you were wondering when we’d dig into this requisite autumnal dessert. Everyone’s got a favorite filling. In my family, we buy three pies each Thanksgiving—pumpkin for my sister, pecan for me, and chocolate chess for my mom. (My brother and dad can fend for themselves.) If you’re firmly in the Pumpkin Pie or Bust camp, you’ll want to make your way to Gentry’s Farm.
Open seasonally; the popular pastoral property is the place to go for gourds—and a good time. Its activity area is filled with the classics: a nature trail, tire swings, wagon rides, barnyard animals, and a cornfield maze. But visitors will also find thematic activities, such as Mini-Farm Putt-Putt and a Farm Arcade.
With a self-proclaimed focus on “creating fun educational opportunities,” Gentry’s Farm lives up to its promise, even providing lesson plans that you can download for your little ones to learn from pre-visit. (Or, you know, just for you.) Their Tennessee Farmers lesson is how I found out there are roughly 66,000 farms in the state. It’s no wonder we had so many options to choose from for this article—or that we have so many farmer’s markets stocked to the brim.
For example, the Tuesday night Thompson’s Station Farmers Market. Located on the property of 1819 Coffee (a stately coffee shop that’s everything you want a coffee shop to be), this small market is a soothing place to shop local on a cool, autumnal evening.
Purchase a caffeinated beverage, maybe one flavored with bourbon, brown sugar, and sea salt, and crunch across the gravel lot, quiet save for the chirping of birds and the scampering of chipmunks along the tree line. In a clearing, you’ll find a semi-rectangle of tents selling kettle corn, squash, eggs, and meats, as well as household items, such as teacup candles and paintings.
If you’re more of a stroll-through-the-booths-on-Saturday-morning shopper, you’ll want to visit the Nolensville Farmers Market. Backed up to a baseball field, this market’s got small-town charm, and it’s popular with the locals, even on a drizzly, gray day (and I’m not even talking about the ones who were shopping inside the gym).
On my recent visit, among snippets of conversation about whether the storms would hold off for the day’s ball games, a voice rang out with, “I’m going to start coming back here—I like this place.” It’s understandable, as local honey, fresh-baked bread, hummus, and hot sauces can all be found within its line of tents, as can piles of pastel and bright orange pumpkins that are stacked and spilling out of a hay-filled trailer bed.
And could we forget the beloved Franklin Farmers Market? If we did, we’d be the only ones! People turn up in droves every Saturday. You’ll see couples of all ages chatting with vendors and picking through produce, kids holding bundles of flowers high as they proudly lead their parents out of the crowd, and lines forming to hand over deposits for Thanksgiving turkeys.
The sweet smell of dough from a food truck meets you as you approach the tents seemingly springing out of the asphalt and a large, open structure standing at the heart of the lot. As you amble around the market’s many booths—some covered with checkered tablecloths, others simple, weathered wooden tables—you’ll pass samples galore, rounded loaves of bread being stuffed into reusable totes, sunflowers in metal buckets, little pots of goat milk lotion, and cucumbers in wire baskets, as well as foods ready to be consumed as soon as you get home.
Oh yes, ready-to-be-consumed, no-need-to-cook-it-yourself, farm-to-table fare is totally acceptable in this article. That’s where restaurants like Herban Market come into play. The clean eatery’s focus on natural elements and ingredients is hard to deny—from its crisp décor and the potted plants scatted about to the salads being crafted behind a glass bar and the grass-fed-beef burgers covered in fun toppings, such as house-made pickled jalapeños and goat cheese.
Be sure to check out Herban Market’s full menu, as you’ll find a page dedicated to where your food came from and where your scraps are going—in the unlikely event you don’t clean your plate.
Those looking for an environment that feels down-home—and a menu fit for a high-end evening—will want to visit 1892 Leiper’s Fork. With its warm-toned décor, marked by paneled walls, floral wallpaper, and tea lights, and its oft artfully plated dishes, made from seasonal ingredients, 1892 will have you happier than a pig in mud (a fancy pig, wearing a monocle and pearls).
Say you’re in the mood for some seafood… you’re too landlocked to find anything fresh, right? Wrong. We’ve got 55 South, a funky spot in downtown Franklin just waiting to serve you a plate of oysters straight from the southern waters of the Gulf.
And while the restaurant’s overarching theme may be more Cajun than country—a subtle New Orleans vibe weaves its way through the restaurant (a moose head hangs over the door, his antlers draped with beads; a fleur-de-lis is found on a painting situated between flat screens; and a Vieux Carré is tucked onto the cocktail menu)—its beef is hyperlocal. In fact, it’s sourced from the same farm stocking 1892 Leiper’s Fork’s menu. Yep, even when you’re branching out, you’re taking advantage of our agriculture. And you’re not alone.
As the sun sets on your farm-focused jaunt through Franklin—the room darkening, the mason jar lights over the bar, and the lamp in the corner (placed under Guy Fieri’s signature), seeming to grow brighter—you’ll find yourself paying closer attention to the food in front of you and the companionship felt throughout the room.
You’ll root for the pair on their first date who stood in line in front of you, and you’ll smile as the bartender shouts out, “Guys, happy anniversary!” to the couple walking out the door.
That’s what indulging in good food, especially locally grown food does. It invites us to lean in, give thanks for each other and another fruitful season, and look forward to what’s to come.
*Yes, I’m talking about the bison who lives alongside I-65, of whom I’m enamored and would love to know more about.