Saturday, February 11, 2017

A visit to Peaceful Pastures

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Peaceful Pastures in Hickman (Smith County), Tennessee. Owned and operated by Darrin and Jenny Drake, Peaceful Pastures raises all natural, pastured, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey. As a resident of the Tampa Bay area in Florida, I am lucky that a number of times a year, Peaceful Pastures makes a delivery trip through select locations in Georgia and Florida, and I have the opportunity to have my freezer stocked with some of the best meat I have ever tasted.

As a photographer, I have been struck with the beauty of the farm in the photos that I have seen over the years. Last week I had a chance to visit the farm with my ever-present camera. As the day that Jenny (a friend whom I have known for a while) and I scheduled approached, the weather forecast looked like it might not be cooperating at all. Severe thunderstorms were predicted, which could seriously impact my ability to get around and see the farm. 

However, when the morning came, and I left my hotel, not only was it not raining, but there was sun to be seen. The storms were still in the forecast, but I was beginning to have some hope. As I drove west towards the farm, I was able to see a beautiful sunrise in my rear view mirror. How long this would last, I didn’t know. 

What I did know however, was that once I left the interstate highway and started traveling along local roads, I realized that I could very easily spend a whole day photographing the scenery along the road itself. Between the natural beauty of the area and the local scenery, it is a photographer’s dream. As I drove over the dam and continued to the farm, I did get my camera out, but not wanting to waste the nice weather and not knowing when the rain might actually come, I continued to my destination, taking only a shot or two along the way.

My car’s navigation system, which had been acting a bit flakey since the night before, did not fail me this morning, and soon I came upon a signpost with a Peaceful Pastures sign - letting me know I had reached the turn which would lead me to Darrin and Jenny’s house - which also serves as the office and focal point for the farm. As I come on to the farm, I am greeted by the sight of sheep grazing on a hill, and two guard dogs come down to the road to see who is stopping and taking pictures. 

I continue along the road until I get to the house. As I get out of my car, I hear Jenny call my name.

Jenny is accompanied - as she often is - by a trio of dogs, including Wendy, who often even travels with her on the road. We enter the house and Darrin greets me before Jenny and I quickly head out to see the farm while it is still a bit sunny and not raining.

First we are off to get some feed to bring to the sheep that I passed on the hill on my way in. Not only are we accompanied by the dogs (who would not allow themselves to be left behind), but by Wilma and Goslin (geese). It seems that Goslin and Wendy have become buddies recently. Naturally the geese want a bit to eat as well, and Jenny sees that they are taken care of before we head out to the sheep.

Jenny is hoping that when she arrives with a bucket, that the sheep will come on down the hill and gather around her. We are joined by Lucy, Luke and Ren, the guard dogs, as we get to the hill where the sheep and lambs are at the moment. As we approach the sheep, they do start coming over to get a share of what’s in the bucket. Soon we are surrounded and what was a filled bucket on the way goes back empty. It was fun to watch - and to see the young lambs among the flock.

Jenny continues giving me the tour of the farm as we pass behind the area currently occupied by her herd of eleven horses - some of whom I was already a bit familiar with parts of their history and was even able to recognize a few. I know the special relationship that Jenny has with her horses. We will be returning to them shortly. I stop for some photos (and to surreptitiously catch my breath from the uphill walk) and then we continue on. 

We head through an old barn on the way now to visit with the pigs. Baby pigs have been arriving, and since at Peaceful Pastures, the animals live in a totally natural way, the mothers and their newborn babies are there in the pasture as nature intended. They don’t seem to mind us being there, and baby pigs make such cute photo subjects. As with the sheep, the pigs are out and about, as animals should be - as opposed to being housed in a confined space.

In fact, the only animals that have been somewhat confined are the chickens - and this is more for their protection than anything else. There are predatory critters out and about here and the chickens’ confinement has been a rather recent occurrence. Jenny mentioned that as much as she hates the necessity, there is no choice at this time.

Continuing along, we encounter cows … or is it the cows who encounter the humans? As with the sheep, the cows are in a pasture where they have plenty of room, and groups and individuals can be seen in all areas - some close and some off on the hill. There used to be an ad slogan for a condensed milk product that claimed it came from contented cows. I think these would have qualified. However, it seems as if we are the objects of interest for the cows near us … I think they wanted to know if we brought them anything. While here I got to meet MaryBelle - a rescue cow for lack of a better term. A senior cow among the herd, who is a permanent part of the farm family. 

By this point it was clear that although these animals are being raised for meat, they are all more than just numbers to Jenny, Darrin and the rest of the farm employees. At the top of the homepage of the Peaceful Pastures website you will see the words, “All Natural, Humanely Raised Meats”. While they are on the farm, they are truly cared for (and about) and given the opportunity to live their lives in a very natural manner. A number of times I have heard Jenny and the others talk about individual animals and their personalities and behaviors. Not what one might expect on the average farm commercially raising animals for meat. And in the end - having tasted the meat that comes from Peaceful Pastures at home - the results are definitely a top quality product. 

Next up on the agenda is moving horses to another location. This is also my chance to meet Jenny’s horses up close and personal, something she knows I had been waiting for. At first they didn’t show any inclination to follow the plan, but after leading Tess in the proper direction, the others eventually took the hint and followed her lead. And for the record … the two donkeys came along as well.

Amazingly, despite initial reports of all day storms, the morning weather has cooperated and we return to the house (mostly) dry. Lunch time is fast approaching and the farm staff will want lunch soon, so Jenny goes into full on meal preparation mode. Now this was no surprise to me how well she can cook, but knowing it and seeing it happen are two different things. I’ve always considered myself a pretty good cook, but I am certainly not in the same league. Needless to say, when those of us who were around sat down at the table - nobody got up hungry!!

After lunch Jenny was going to take me to the Ice House but she received word that one of the ewes had been attacked - predator unknown at that point - so she left me in the capable hands of Miss Tina … administrative assistant extraordinaire! She is involved in just about every aspect of the farm, and at the moment was preparing/packaging Country Girl soap. In addition to everything else she does, Jenny makes homemade soap. While the two of us talked a bit, Jenny took care of the animal, making sure she was okay and safe for the time being. Once again it was obvious the love for animals that everyone on the farm shares. (This is not a surprise as I have seen Jenny get upset and reprimand a group of children for chasing a mother duck with her ducklings, yet turn the situation around and talk to the children about ducks and ducklings. I was able to see the look of wonder on the children’s faces as they listened and asked questions.)

The day wore down with another move for the horses, and a relocation for MaryBelle before everyone had a chance to relax. Way too soon it was time to say good-bye (at least for now) and start my trip home. 

So what did I take away from this visit? I saw the absolute beauty of the land upon which the farm sits. Although I saw but a small portion in winter - it was easy to see how one can come to love this small corner of the world. I cannot wait to visit the farm again when there can be green grass and blue skies added to the undeniable beauty that is this piece of land all year round. 

And while it came as no surprise to me, it was obvious how much everyone on the farm cares for the animals while they are here. Of course, there are the animals themselves … being able to be out on pastures enjoying the openness and natural food sources. 

Yes, I have long known about Peaceful Pastures and how it operates, but seeing it in person brings it all into focus. Thank you Darrin and Jenny Drake for being my hosts for the day.

Jenny with Chewbacca


  1. Thank you Mark and Jenny! When we go to Tennessee, I know what our first stop is going to be.

  2. Absolutely stunning photographs, Mark! Beautiful work.

  3. Love seeing pasture raised animals, and horses with burrs and windblown manes. I'm a meat eater, but I believe that the animals should be happy and healthy and enjoy life while they can. Grain fed beef...that became popular in restaurants, and no one wanted Grass fed - luckily people are turning back, but photos and stories like this let more people know what it is about, and reminds them what normal is. I'm pretty sure a generation of people think animals should be grain fed, which means cooped up in a large group in a small yard and given grain to fatten up, due to the stress levels there are lots of illness and as a preventative they will feed antibiotics as well. When you think that a cow with space, campanionship, and that feels safe will make it's own good health it makes more sense.