By Melissa Burniston
For Andy and Ellie Holt, the name of the game is thinking outside of the box. This traditional farm family raises, as they say it, the “three p’s: pigs, pines and pumpkins” in Dresden … something a bit out of the ordinary for West Tennessee row crop country.
Q: How has your farm branched out from traditional agriculture?
A: We knew we would have to be diversified if we wanted to start farming from scratch. So when we had the opportunity to buy an existing hog operation, we went for it. Pigs have been a great opportunity for us as a young couple to get started in agriculture, and they remain the central commodity in our farm.
We bought an old dairy farm with 57 acres of planted pine. We thought it was a waste of land when we bought it, but now we recognize what an integral part the pines are (sold as fresh-cut trees during the Christmas season). Continuing to think outside the box, we began to experiment with pumpkins. These few acres of pumpkins turned into Holt Family Farms, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and agritourism attraction.
We also put up our own hay, raise beef cattle, mums and have a Christmas event with a live nativity during the holidays. By far, our favorite thing to raise on our farm are our three kids! Josie, Andrew and Libby live, work and play with us on the farm, and we feel very blessed to have that opportunity. It is important to us because so many of life’s lessons can be learned through the hard work, responsibility and dedication this lifestyle offers.
Q: What challenges or opportunities does a diversified farm present?
A: Well, yeah, we aren’t very normal … in a lot of ways, but that’s OK. As a kid, I (Andy) remember my dad telling me there’s really only two ways to make money in life: You had to do something nobody else could or something nobody else wanted to do. Not everybody can or wants to do what we do, but it works for us. The difficulties associated with being so diverse is we spend lots of time researching other operations for tips and advice since we don’t have neighbors to ask most of the time. It also gives us the ability and confidence to try new things, and we think that is the key to modern agriculture. Diversity is not just a goal, it is a necessity.
Q: How important is Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R)?
A: YF&R for us is like a family. It’s something we’ve spent several years of our life investing in. The rewards of YF&R are both direct and indirect, but like all important things in life, they boil down to a few basic foundations. YF&R isn’t just a special program for young farmers; it’s a chance to meet people who are kindred spirits. People who love the same things we do, who struggle with the same things we do and who hold many of the same goals and ideals we do for life. As a further endangered species each year, we farmers must do what we can to help one another to remain committed to our goals – feeding a world of folks dependent on the most basic form of supply and demand – we call it our food supply.
Q: Andy, you have a pretty unique off-the-farm job. What led you to run for a public office?
A: I always knew agriculture had significant obstacles, but not until I got involved with leadership opportunities in Farm Bureau did I realize how many and how significant that opposition really was. I am a firm believer in limited government and saw further expansion of both state and federal government in agriculture was actually one of the biggest obstacles. I felt so motivated that the only logical response was to enter the process myself. I was overwhelmed with motivation from one of the discussion-meet questions the year I won the state discussion meet (competition). The question was posed, “How can we become a more influential voice in the political structure for agriculture?” I recognized in that moment that for me, the answer was to get involved and to do it immediately – so I did.
Q: What was it like growing up on a farm?
A: (Andy) I actually grew up in the city of Knoxville until my parents were able to buy a house in Knox County. I always knew I wanted to live on a farm, and I started working on that goal early on in life. I got involved in 4-H and FFA, where I raised sheep, had chickens and was involved with multiple agricultural activities, but never had the experience of living on a farm. Between high school and college, I had such a desire to experience the agricultural lifestyle that I moved to Wyoming to work for three consecutive summers. I worked on a ranch as a cowboy in north-central Wyoming, and that experience not only helped me grow up and become a man, it also convinced me of my love for agriculture.
(Ellie) I grew up in West Tennessee on a row crop farm where we raised corn, soybeans, cattle and hay. My earliest memories are of taking trips to the local grainery during harvest, feeding hay [to cattle] with our blue Ford tractor, and assisting my dad in delivering a calf. The life skills I learned and the character this lifestyle built within me is immeasurable, and I’m grateful for it. An animal lover from a young age, the farm was the happiest place for me to grow up, and I’m so glad to now be able to share it with my children.