Out to Pasture

Out to Pasture

By Chandra Harris-McCray

Plan B for Phil Baggett (Knoxville ’70, ’72) was always to go back to the Montgomery County family farm he frolicked on as a boy.

“I remember growing up in this house,” Baggett, an only child, says as he points to a stone house on the Baggett family farm that a young family now rents.
Across the street sits a picturesque black-and-white barn—the interior walls of which are clad with UT football memorabilia—that “once was a dairy farm. This is where cows were milked,” Baggett says. “And where the pasture is now, there was tobacco and other row crops, such as soybeans, wheat, and corn.”

After listening to UT Extension Agent Don Malone in 4-H meetings as a fourth-grader at Fredonia, the tiny four-teacher elementary school Baggett attended, the deal was sealed. “I was going to UT and I was majoring in agriculture,” he says.

His educational ambitions were further confirmed after a road trip to the National 4-H Congress in Chicago to present a project about gardening. By the time he was a freshman at UT he was a state officer in the Future Farmers of America.

But he took a long career detour into finance and manufacturing and built a successful foreign language software enterprise with retired UT language professor Martin Rice. Still, his farming dreams were never far from his mind.

After inheriting 400-plus acres of rolling meadows near Clarksville, Tennessee—land that happens to adjoin the birthplace of legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt—Baggett knew it was time to go back to the homestead.

At 63, when most are thinking about retirement, he and his wife, Kathy, are building a home and a business—Tennessee Grass Fed—in a patch of rural America rich in their family’s history dating back to 1837.

Five years ago, Baggett started the transformation to grass-fed farming by creating smaller pastures of nutrient grasses and building a fresh water source for his first herd of 15 heifers. He’s partnered with Greg Mathews and Jimmy Allen, who operate one of the largest cattle farms in Middle Tennessee, to oversee the cattle operation. And to take the family farm into the 21st century, Baggett called upon his friend and former business partner Martin Rice to build the website, which is already producing sales for the new venture.

In its effort to help other Tennessee farmers, UT Extension is working closely with Baggett in developing an educational program that will explore the best business practices for making a farm economically and environmentally sustainable.

“We not only want to be good stewards of the land and cattle, we want to help other enterprising local farmers, as well as consumers who wonder where and how their food is produced,” says Baggett, who was named Tennessee’s Outstanding 4-H Alumnus in 2009.

“The land is not a gift from our parents, but a loan from our children,” he says, paraphrasing an ancient proverb.

For more information about Baggett’s farm, visit www.tennesseegrassfed.com