By Dan Conway
Things grow in Hardeman County.
Crops, livestock, husbandry in all its forms—and relationship grows there, too, between the wild and the tame, between an abundance of resources and their conservation, between awe and understanding. The University of Tennessee is planting something new there in fertile ground.
In a place as natural as mist on morning meadows, the sound of water over rocks, stillness in a forest—as the restless ripples of a breeze over sunny lakes, secluded ponds and shrouded brooks, through grass and wildflowers.
In a place called Lone Oaks Farm, a 1,200-acre landscape painting, all the nuances of its personality revealed as you move through its forests and elds like moving through rooms in a gallery, paths in a sculpture garden.
The roads weren’t laid out to crisscross at right angles, dividing everything into just-so squares and rectangles: They were designed to bend and wander, to reveal and surprise, each turn carefully considered to complement just getting from here to there.
The structures are more than barns and buildings. The spaces more than fields and forest. Each appears to be exactly where it should be. Each a unique statement of its place and purpose. Each to be admired, all to work together.
Tomorrow is being planted at Lone Oaks Farm, and tomorrow is looking good.
Two years ago, Ben West, western regional director of UT Extension, and Kathy and Scott Ledbetter showed me the land and Ledbetter love story that is Lone Oaks Farm and shared an exciting idea to turn that world-class farm into even more than that, a UT initiative to grow a world-class youth center, executive conference center, and retreat in West Tennessee. That idea is becoming reality. The harvest will be bountiful.
The 4-H Center at Lone Oaks Farm will provide Tennessee’s largest youth development program plenty of room to stretch, broadening horizons for the 180,000 young Tennesseans enrolled in 4-H, part of the university’s commitment to youth development.
And beyond that part, Lone Oaks Farm will serve the whole of that commitment—Future Farmers of America, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownies, schools, school districts and the homeschooled—youth groups of all kinds, shapes and sizes—dreams without limit.
Adult conferences and retreats will afford different views and prompt deeper response. Strolls become walks and walks become adventures. Stress fades in sunsets, pressure drops over every hill, worry is lost in waterfalls.
Seconds, minutes and hours are definitive, but where they’re spent defines their passage and the length and breadth of them.
Time in lines, in meeting after meeting, drags. Time in stories, with friends, flies. Time in cramped space, in tight situations, in small thoughts is uncomfortable, restrictive. Time in open space—under sky, on water, across vistas—is expansive, expecting more. Time in chosen space—in the woods, in that swing, by that fire—is personally tailored to wear better, to last in memory.
Time at Lone Oaks Farm will matter.
Dan Conaway (Knoxville, ’71) lives in Memphis and is a communication consultant, columnist and author. This article is excerpted and edited from his new coffee table book, The Plural of One, Lone Oaks Farm (Nautilus Publishing, 2016). Visit him at www.wakesomebodyup.com.