After working in the corporate world for more than 20 years, Jeremy Tolley has found his soul seems more enriched through the soil.
He and his wife, Amy Tolley, started a small business named Red Thread Farm about three years ago and built a customer base of people seeking fresh produce as well as other local from-the-farm items such as eggs and honey. As director of human resources for a health care company in Brentwood, Tolley could only tend to his farm on a limited, part-time basis. He decided in February to step down from his office job and give his undivided attention to the needs of his growing farm business.
“After helping [the company] make a transition, I left, so in the interim I’m doing this full-time,” Tolley said from his farm on Parker Branch Road near Leiper’s Fork. “This is my year to find out if I want to keep doing this as a side gig or to do this as a full-time thing. Right now I’m liking the full-time part of it.
“Some guys golf, some guys watch football, some guys garden. I was the gardener. It started as a hobby, and the more people took an interest in the food I was producing, the more I liked doing it.”
Tolley has been gardening since he was around 10 years old and growing up in West Tennessee, where his grandparents grew their own food.
“I’ve always enjoyed nature and having my hands in the dirt,” he said. “I appreciate that connection with God’s nature and being able to grow things and nurture things. There’s a solace to it. It’s cathartic.”
Jeremy and Amy moved to their current home in Franklin in 2013, and together they’ve worked to expand Red Thread Farm from a word-of-mouth operation to a full-fledged business offering weekly supplies of fresh produce throughout the year. Jeremy oversees the farm and gardens, while Amy manages the store and creates new ideas for additional farm-related items to offer customers. They get help from their 12-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
Though it’s not organic-certified, Red Thread Farm practices sustainable, regenerative farming methods and is constantly learning new and better ways to produce nutrient-dense, healthy, clean food, according to Tolley. He uses hand tools and does very limited tilling in the soil, which is free of any toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers.
“We try to do as little damage to the earth as we can,” Tolley said.
Tolley grows a wide array of produce, from summer classics such as heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers to winter vegetables and herbs out of the farm’s greenhouse to spring favorites such as sweet carrots, radishes and lettuces of every kind. In addition, Red Thread Farm sells eggs from 35 laying hens and honey from five beehives.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Tolleys saw a significant increase in customers soon after the outbreak of COVID-19.
“For small farmers selling locally, it was really a boon,” Tolley said of the impact from the pandemic. “So many people would go to the grocery stores and the shelves were empty. A lot of people turned to the local growers.
“It seems to me that people really felt the instability with food security. I think it shook people up a little bit and it’s got a lot more people interested in the local food movement.”