by Kasey Jones
The back of Phillip Ottinger’s pick-up truck is packed with corn as he prepares for the weekly farmers market in Jonesborough, Tenn. Customers line up at his tent to purchase his sweet corn, squash, raspberries and cucumbers as the market begins. Before noon, he has sold all his corn and many of his other products, as well.
Ottinger’s success is the fruit of his hard work and passion for farming. The Greene County native spent 30 years of his life working as an engineer to earn enough money to become a farmer. After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering, he spent 30 years working in Nashville, Oak Ridge and Greeneville so that he could eventually begin farming.
“I always planned to come back to the farm,” he says. “It’s something that I always planned to do, but I had to work as an engineer for 30 years to be able to farm. You don’t make a lot of money farming, so you have to inherit a farm or you do something else to earn the money to be able to farm.”
His hard work reaped a harvest. Ottinger and his wife were able to return to Greene County, where they purchased his wife’s parents’ farm after her parents had passed away. The farm, which has been in his wife’s family for years, was originally purchased by one of her family members in 1890 and now qualifies as a Tennessee Century Farm.
The farm is packed with a variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and animals. Ottinger grows and sells blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, pumpkins, fall squash, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelons and beef cattle. He also has an orchard in which he grows 16 different varieties of apples that include Gala, Honey Crisp, Fuji, Pink Lady, and William’s Pride.
While Ottinger brings his produce to customers at the farmers market, he believes that picking fruit is a special experience to which many young people no longer have access. Because of this, he invites customers to visit his farm – Buffalo Trail Orchard – in Greeneville where this year visitors may pick berries, pumpkins, gourds and squash. To enhance the experience, Ottinger also gives hayrides.
“I really enjoy having families with small kids come out to the farm,” he says. “It’s exciting to see the little kids – especially if you take them out into the pumpkin patch and they see these huge pumpkins that they can sit on and take pictures.”
Ottinger, his wife and his daughter do the majority of the work. After his daughter, who he says has been a big help on the farm, begins school at the University of Tennessee in the fall, Ottinger will likely look for an intern to assist at the farm in exchange for food and housing.
“It’s amazing to me that young people would want to do that,” he says. “I’ve got a son who lives in Madison, Wis. He goes out and helps some friends on their farms. We usually talk to him every Sunday. After he tells me what he’s done over the weekend, I say, ‘I couldn’t have paid you to do that at home.’ ”
And if that’s not enough farming, Ottinger also has a garden that he grows for himself and his family. “We have just a little family garden that we don’t sell out of,” he says. “We have potatoes and tomatoes, okra, beets, beans and the typical garden vegetables. We grow what we like to eat.”
Ottinger and his family enjoy growing the foods that they like to eat. He says that if the food is good to eat, then that’s what he likes to grow.
“I was born a farmer,” he says. “I’m the first generation that has actually worked off of the farm. If you go back in my family, they were always farmers. So I grew up with it and even though it was hard work, I enjoyed it.”
For information about visiting Buffalo Trail Orchard, call 423-639-2297.
Fresh Apple Pound Cake
3 cups plain floor
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped peeled apples
1 cup broken pecans (optional)
½ cup golden raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Combine oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in bowl: mix until well blended. Add dry ingredients: beat well. Stir in apples, pecans, and raisins. Spoon batter into well greased and floured 10-inch bundt pan and bake for 1 hr 15 mins. Let cool on rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Prick top of cake with fork. Glaze while cake is still hot.
Apple Cider Glaze
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup apple cider
Combine all ingredients in small pan. Bring to a boil stirring until sugar is dissolved. Spoon over hot cake.