Local Farms and Food Artisans at The Market This Summer
Rafting Goat Cheese
Old Fort, TN
“Goat, goat, goat,” yells George Haynes as he walks down the road that divides his 200-acre family farm. A response comes quickly as his goats answer in the only way they know how. Mahhs in different pitches reverberate across the pasture as he nears, the excitement of the goats clearly evident as the herd walks as one toward him.
“This is Camille,” he says as he pets her, the goat clearly loving it. “She was my first goat, and I’ve never made goat cheese without her milk.” Haynes knows he shouldn’t get so close to the animals. “I do the thing I’m not supposed to do. I name them.”
There’s Yoda Girl and Sunny, Oreo and twin sisters Lola and Cherry Cola. And the list goes on. Twenty-eight of them in all, not counting the new goats born this spring. “We should have 15 to 20 more females,” Haynes says.
Haynes keeps four billy goats on hand, but sells the other males. “I will only sell the males to people who want to breed them,” he says. “When someone comes to buy one and tells me it’s bound for slaughter, I just tell them I don’t have any goats for sale.”
Haynes, 31, is a farmer, part-time raft guide on the Ocoee River and a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in animal science, having grown up on the farm his grandfather bought in the 1940s. Hayne’s grandad’s home is now one he shares with wife, Anna, and baby daughter Eliza June. He began goat farming four years ago. Prior to adding goats to the farm population, the Haynes family raised chickens and cows.
“I wanted to raise goats because I had an obsession with goat cheese,” Haynes says. “I was thinking ‘how cool it would be to be a raft guide, make goat cheese and go to farmer’s markets to sell it.’ That’s what I wanted to do. And naturally, I just followed my interest and built a small creamery where I could craft my own line of artisan cheeses.”
His cheeses are produced in a small four-room building that houses a milking parlor, cheese-making room, lab for testing for antibiotics—though none are used in Rafting Goat cheeses.
“That’s just a state requirement of all milk,” Haynes says. Cheese making is a two-day process that starts with milking the “Nellies,” pasteurizing their milk, setting cultures, hanging in cheesecloth, then packaging. “We produce about 30 gallons at a time,” Haynes says. “We’re definitely small-batch—a micro dairy.”
The line of cheeses includes feta and 10 flavors of chevre cheese. Haynes’ two favorites: spicy curry chevre and garlic herb chevre. And he’s now working on a goat cheese mozzarella and plans to offer goat’s milk soaps in the future, all under the name Rafting Goat Cheese. “I named it that because the baby goats kept playing on a raft in my yard,” Haynes says. “I would joke and call them rafting goats!”
WHERE TO BUY: Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion; Signal Mountain Farmer’s Market (Thursdays), Pruett’s Grocery, and Old Sawmill Market.
Positiffitea Tea Lab
Like a scientist in her lab, Tiffany Malapanes opens a large cabinet and regards its contents. After some thought, she takes up a small spoonful of Valerian root, adds it to a cup of hot water, followed by a little lavender and some chamomile, some St. John’s Wort for anxiety, some white willow for restless legs and other herbs. She knows what goes into making a good cup of herbal tea—one that will taste good using herbs that work together to target a specific ailment.
Malapanes, a college graduate who has studied holistic medicine for more than a decade, is the owner of Positiffitea, a tea blending company headquartered in the Scenic City.
As a teenager, Malapanes became interested in learning all she could about traditional Chinese medicine and herbal remedies. Along this journey, she discovered she was lactose intolerant, something doctors had misdiagnosed for years.
“If the doctors had told me to stop consuming dairy, I would have been fine long ago,” she says. So she started researching new blends of herbs and teas to help with dairy-induced congestion— mullein, marshmallow root and horehound among them. She found it challenging to find quality herbal teas.
“Common store-bought herbal teas were poor quality and most likely sitting on store shelves for a long time,” Malapanes says. “So the health properties of that herb or tea would be really low.”
That’s when her experimentation began in earnest during the summer of 2011. Using money she’d saved as a server in Nashville, she opened Positiffitea, where she created her own proprietary herbal tea blends. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, she decided to open The Tiny Tea Factory right in the heart of Murfreesboro. Then two years later her heart was drawn to Chattanooga, so she moved Positiffitea to the Southside and created The Tea Lab where she continued to make her tasty tea blends.
Malapanes designed her shop with the future in mind—a storefront where she could display and sell her teas—more than two dozen blends. She incorporated a commercial kitchen, purposed as a lab in which to create her teas. Had she only had the ability to read tea leaves, however, she might have known that her business would burn to the ground on Thanksgiving night, 2016. Malapanes lost everything.
“They don’t know what happened,” she says. “I still go over there most every day and look around.”
Now, Malapanes blends her teas at Chattanooga Kitchen, a “business incubator” for food entrepreneurs and producers funded by a grant from the Benwood Foundation. She predicts that by summer, her inventory will be built back up to the point it was pre-fire.
“Every time I make a cup of tea, I make a new blend. And now I have some new ideas and new blends that I’m going to try this year,” she notes. “But I’ve decided to take things slow and keep things simple so that the business is solid and can grow in the right direction.”
When she started creating herbal blends, “no one understood my obsession,” she says. “Blending teas takes a lot of knowledge and passion. Tea is just amazing on so many different levels. It’s meditative, warm, relaxing—overall, just beautiful.”
WHERE TO BUY: Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion and The Weekly Fig.
Flat Top Farm
Holding a coffee cup, his hands weathered from years working the soil on Flat Top Mountain, Terry Hughes says the success of this year’s crop of strawberries, the first local crop to hit area farmer’s markets, depends solely on the weather.
“You just never can tell,” he says. “The first year we planted strawberries—that was 13 years ago —we had the prettiest strawberries and then a hail storm came and wiped them out. It was a beautiful crop. A devastating loss.”
“Just shredded them like lettuce,” his wife, Diane, interjects. “As farmers, you like to put out a pretty crop. We just couldn’t that year.”
Terry Hughes grew up on the farm. It’s been the family’s bread and butter for generations.
“My dad was a farmer. And both sets of grandparents were farmers, and my great-grandparents, too. My grandpa Welch, he done a little bit of everything. He was a truck farmer—sold what he grew out of the back of his truck. My great-grandpa Hughes, he grew mostly green beans. Had some cattle, too.”
The Hughes lives on land that’s been in the family since 1820. “All of my farm was Hughes land,” Terry says. “I didn’t inherit it, though. I worked and paid for it through farming.” There is no time for rest. Farming is a full-time business. When they’re not planting the crop or picking the harvest, feeding the chickens or tending the cattle, there’s tidying up to do around the farm, field preparation and planning.
“Terry also does logging, cuts pulpwood and sawmills hardwood,” Diane says. “There is no downtime for us.” Strawberries, picked fresh every morning when in season, are grown on seven of the 100 acres “in crop.”
Farming is ingrained in Terry Hughes. He can tell just by looking at a strawberry if the sugar content is right. Morning is the best time to pick them. Any later, the heat gets to the berries and gives them a “wilted” appearance. “A berry that’s picked fresh in the morning when it’s cooler has a glow to it,” he says.
The season is a short one for the luscious red berries, but the season doesn’t end when berries disappear. The farm also produces blackberries, peaches, apples, peppers, squash, cucumbers, corn, pumpkins and three varieties of green beans: Dade, Malibu and White half runner, making the farm stand located on the property a busy place when the harvest arrives.
The farm is located directly off Highway 111 at the crest of the mountaintop, making it easy to spot fat, juicy strawberries or plump pumpkins in the field. Diane says people have stopped from as far away as Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and Kansas as they pass by.
WHERE TO BUY: The farm stand, Flat Top Mountain and Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion.
Wally Bee’s Honey
It’s during the spring of the year that Wally Batchelor stays as busy as a bee tending his hives, and it will stay that way into early summer as blossoms appear on flowering trees and plants, providing the sweet nectar needed to produce honey.
“I have about 100 hives located on three different farms, but that changes throughout the year because in late spring, that number may increase by about 20 or so hives with swarms and splits,” he says, adding that splits happen when one hive splits to make two hives with different queen bees.
After growing unhappy year after year working as a forklift driver in the confines of a four-walled warehouse that was, as he puts it, “a dead-end job,” Batchelor appreciates the path he’s chosen producing honey, a hobby-turned-career taught to him by an elderly uncle. “It’s nice working for myself,” he adds.
He didn’t know if it would be a success or a big buzz kill. Nonetheless, he gave it a go in 1997, starting with just five hives— enough for a small operation as each hive produces about 150 pounds of honey per year—nothing like what he produces now with 100 hives. It’s enough to keep his business stocked with honey as he and wife, Lynn, travel the roads from Atlanta to Chattanooga hawking their honey, as well as providing enough for internet sales.
When he first became interested in beekeeping, Batchelor says there were just a handful of apiaries in the Noonan area. Now there are almost 75—the increase in numbers due, in part, to media attention surrounding Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that occurs when many of the worker bees in a colony simply disappear.
“I’ve never had that happen. I’ve had bees die, but that happens. That’s natural. But Colony Collapse Disorder is a growing problem, so I think more people are interested in saving the bees,” Batchelor says.
And many are members of one of several beekeeping organizations. Batchelor is a member of three: Coweta Beekeepers and has served as its president; Tara Beekeepers; and he is a vice president of Georgia Beekeepers. Among other accolades, he was nominated as Beekeeper of the Year by both the Tara and Coweta associations.
Wally Bee’s, which was voted the best honey in Georgia in 2006, comes in two varieties: Wildflower and blackberry. The former is made with nectar from tree blossoms familiar in the South—tulip poplar, maple and the like, as well as blossoms from berry vines and the hundreds of wildflowers that color our hills and roadsides. Blackberry honey, with its delicate, though distinct flavor, is a favorite seller and adds just the right amount of sweetness drizzled on a bagel with cream cheese, pancakes or ice cream.
The apiary also produces creamed honey, honey straws, and beeswax lip balm and candles left over from honey extraction. New this year is cinnamon creamed honey, too.
But to get just one teaspoon of the deliciously sweet nectar takes 12 bees their entire lives to produce. “So if you see a bee working, please leave him alone and let him do his job!” the beekeeper pleads.
WHERE TO BUY: Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion, Chattanooga Market at Erlanger and www.wallybeeshoney.com.
Brown Dirt Farm
A mushroom is really nothing more than the fruit of a fungus, but what fascinates Brooke and Scott Brown are the many varieties and strains that can be grown during different seasons. For Scott, the love of mushrooms began in the fifth grade. “I remember learning about fungus,” he recalls. “We were told it was like a plant in that it made spores like pollen and grew underground like roots. But the way fungus consumed food—with enzymes—and reproduced sexually, it was more animal-like. No matter how much time I spend working with it or watching it grow, I continue to be fascinated by the mystery of what the fungi really is.”
Unlike the other produce grown on their farm, such as tomatoes, strawberries, okra, garlic and onions, all of which are strictly seasonal, mushrooms can be farmed year round, allowing the Browns to have at least one crop coming in 12 months out of the year.
Brooke’s interest in mushroom cultivation was piqued years before the couple started farming. After meeting another mushroom grower and reading a book he recommended, she gained more know-how by helping her mushroom-growing friend until, only recently, realizing a dream of growing them herself.
“We grew our first mushrooms last spring and have expanded slowly to a small production,” she says. “As long as we’ve been farming, we’ve wanted to grow mushrooms.”
Both Scott and Brooke worked on farms before buying their own land and tilling their own soil. Brooke worked at a certified organic farm in Chickamauga, Georgia. “The farmer showed me everything I needed to know to start my own farm someday,” she says.
Scott apprenticed at a farm in North Carolina, and when his apprenticeship was over, he began working at the same farm as Brooke. The rest, as they say, is history. The couple married in 2008 and opened Brown Dirt Farm in Dunlap, Tennesssee, in 2012. But just a year later the Sequatchie River flooded their farm and forced a move. The new location, nestled against Anderson Mill Creek in the shadow of the Cumberland Plateau, makes for ideal conditions to grow mushrooms: water and shade. No matter the perfect conditions, however, a lot of work goes in to turn a spore into a mushroom.
“Mushrooms are very labor-intensive to farm and demand an extreme amount of cleanliness and sterilization in order to achieve maximum yields,” Brooke says. “They are very sensitive to pests and mold, and require much attention to the processes required to produce them.”
The Brown’s are currently growing two varieties of mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms are grown on logs set out in one of the fields on the eight-acres under cultivation on the farm. The oyster mushrooms—pearl, blue, pink, gold and gray—are grown in a greenhouse. As demand for their mushrooms increases, the Brown’s hope to add Lion’s Mane and Wine Cap mushrooms to their inventory.
WHERE TO BUY: Chattanooga Market, Signal Mountain Market, Chattanooga Market at Erlanger, Market Square Farmers Market (Knoxville). Also, the farm’s oyster mushrooms are being served at St. John’s Restaurant and Easy Bistro.