Dana York’s family farm has been around longer than Tennessee has been a state. Since 1778, now in its 10th generation as Grand Oak Farm, Dana continues with tradition while providing space for new farmers with hopes of restoring Northeast Tennessee’s longstanding reputation with local agriculture.
Dana grew up moving around the country with her family as an “army brat,” but her summers were spent in Tennessee with her grandparents.
“I retired with 34 years of service from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and returned to my family farm in 2013, Dana said. “When I retired, I started a consulting company called Green Earth Connection, and currently work with Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council to teach beginning farmer courses.”
Dana’s passion for the agriculture industry is evident in her work, as she currently maintains 130 acres of Grand Oak Farm, as well as an incubation section for young farmers. She recently graduated a couple that were vegetable producers, and now hosts a veteran farmer who raises hair sheep. Since Dana runs the majority of the farm’s organic vegetable and flower operation, most of the produce is sold wholesale to local restaurants and florists. She also donates to local area banks.
“Our farm was a revolutionary land grant to Shadrack Hale, and the original farm was 1,000 acres. My grandson Oliver, is the 10th generation to live on the farm, which has been in many enterprises over the years including homesteading, tobacco, mule, pork and dairy production.” Dana said. “In the last three years, it has also become an incubator where young farmers without land come and use my equipment and land until they can build up enough capital to purchase their own.”
Farming is not for the faint of heart, or considered easy. Dana recalls 200 dairies in her community when she was a child. That number has now shrunk to less than five. In many cases, the cost of today’s inputs has tripled, with the producer receiving very little of the money in rising food costs. Other factors include urbanization and the price of land for new farms, among other startup costs.
“Many children do not wish to continue the tradition due to the hardships their parents may have faced,” Dana said. “However, farmers are some of the most satisfied individuals I know. Joy of seasons, planting of crops, watching the birth of livestock, and the satisfaction of your hard work resulting in food that is locally available can far outweigh the hardships.”
Get to Know Your Farmers and Support Your Local Food System
Supporting local agriculture systems help maintain an entire ecosystem from root to the dinner table. Purchasing food grown by someone you know is a great way to get started. Local farming also provides green space for wildlife and maintains water quality that comes from conservation provided by farming. It also helps with carbon sequestration through the woodlands, and green cover provided by farming practices.
More About Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council
ARCD provides awareness about Northeast Tennessee’s farming communities, as well as education assistance to beginning farmers. The nonprofit organization creates a community of those who are new to farming, promotes those who have been farming for many years, provides planning assistance for land, and preservation of farms for the future. ARCD oversees a variety of programs including Farm Fresh Appalachia, Field School, Build It Up East TN, Appalachian Quilt Trail, and a variety of conservation efforts. Find out more at arcd.org.