Franklin resident Dan Parkey received a rather special Christmas gift from his wife a few years ago.

It wasn’t a new car, a set of golf clubs or season tickets to Titans games. It wasn’t even wrapped — how, after all, do you wrap fresh air?

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Leigh and Olin Funderburk stand before the corn that's growing at their Stoney Creek Farms.

Parkey was out enjoying that gift one recent morning as one of the garden tenants at Stoney Creek Farms, a sustainable farm in Franklin that emphasizes eco-friendly and all-natural practices in the production of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Founded in 2005 by Olin and Leigh Funderburk, Stoney Creek Farms offers you-pick-it produce, classes and seminars, and other special events. And as Parkey discovered one Christmas morning, the farm also has garden plots for rent

“Several years ago we moved to Berry Farms, where you don’t have to maintain your yard because it’s done for you,” Parkey explained. “My wife gave me this plot three years ago for Christmas so I could get my yard and gardening fix.

“I’ve learned a few things as I go along, and hopefully we get better each year.”

Much of that learning comes from Leigh Funderburk, who helps the tenants with all aspects of their individual garden plots while also giving them the space for self-tending so they can grow their knowledge. She oversees 20 rented garden spots of three different dimensions, and tenants vary from beginners to experienced gardeners, from retirees to young families.

The Funderburks till the soil and provide fencing for an extra fee, but tenants are responsible for purchasing their own seeds or plants for growing.

“Everything we have here we provide if they need it,” Leigh Funderburk said. “For instance, if they don’t have tomato cages or stakes and we do have some on hand, we’ll let them use them. 

“We help them with garden design, and companion planting [practices]. ... We show them which plants would work best in what area of the plot.”

The mentoring has certainly been beneficial, according to Terry Humphrey, an executive consultant who is a first-year garden tenant at Stoney Creek with her husband, Roald Humphrey. 

“We’ve always had a garden, but haven’t always had success,” she said. “It’s been hit or miss, so we finally decided we needed to find somebody who knows what they’re doing. 

“It’s just fun to come out here. In the kind of work I do, one of the things I love is getting away and being out in nature and being with other people who find that important, too.”

Such as Katie England, who recently moved to Franklin from northern Illinois with her husband, Eric, and daughters Isla and Lark. They had been members of a community garden for a number of years at their previous home, so the concept at Stoney Creek Farms fit what they were seeking.

“We’re out here about three times a week and my husband usually comes out on weekends,” England said. “It’s really nice to just get out of town and get in the dirt and get some fresh air, and to let the girls play out in nature.”

The overcast morning also brought out Mike Meulemans to tend his garden. The setup is ideal for him, and a big improvement over trying to grow much in his shady backyard.

“I just like the idea of planting, nurturing, harvesting,” Meulemans said. “This whole setup is great. You couldn’t ask for more — all the tools, the implements, the water, the advice, the knowledge. It’s pretty hard to beat it.”

Stoney Creek Farms will begin taking reservations for next year’s garden rentals in early January. Its  u-pick-it days will begin the week after Father’s Day. Visit the website for more information.

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