Sequatchie Cove Farm lies on 300-acres in the shadow of the Cumberland Plateau. As I stand in a small gravel parking lot with a wary-looking milk cow on my right, vegetable crops on my left and rural Tennessee spread out before me, I cannot help but think that this looks like ideal farm land.
The four families who have lived on and worked the farm for over a decade have produced and sold organic produce and heritage pigs. Their free-range chicken eggs and Westmoreland beef sells well. But, like most farmers in recent years, the team still operated in the red. Padgett Arnold and her husband Nathan, part of a new generation of farmers, are changing this with a crop that, until recently, was never made in the American South.
What year did you say you decide to try making cheese?
2007. And then by 2010, the building was built and we made our first batch of Cumberland. Sort of the gateway cheese and how to get our hands into the process and from there, get a little more diversified and Dancing Fern came after we had some time practicing. We didn’t start making Dancing fern at all actually until 2011 and then we didn’t start selling it until 2012.
2012 is when it won [the American Cheese Society gold medal]? That was fast.
It was Nathan, all Nathan. His effort was just tremendous. He knew what he wanted.
Did y’all meet at Crabtree Farms?
We met while I was still in college. Mutual friends were having a party.
Where’d you go to college?
Georgia. I was a horticulture major and was into organic farming. I had done an internship the previous summer in ’97 so we just started talking at this Christmas party and he was interested in farming and horticulture and had actually done and internship the same summer at a different farm and we were just on the same path.
Is it hard for work to be so intertwined in your life?
We’ve always had, not only, the mutual life path, but definitely work has always been at the front of all things with us. Now more than ever. I thought working at the garden was hard, but this is definitely more. He’s the cheese maker; I do a lot of the talking. And I’m sort of the contact person and I’m the marketing person and I go out and do markets and maintain all the customers and payroll.
Are you happy?
This is totally awesome that we’re even able to do this. It’s a big, you know. We own it together and make a lot of sacrifices to have this thing that we’re doing. It’s not easy at all. But I love it. We love living here.
Good place to raise a child.
Yeah, will be really nice. Exactly. And we’ve been married almost 14 years and just sort of finally arrived at the place in life where, “okay. It’s time to have kids.” Two years ago, I was like, ‘maybe we just won’t have kids.’ Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’ll just be the two of us for the rest of our lives.