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Changing to maintain heritage

The Vannatta family adapts to continue their legacy
Story and photos by Hannah Lewis 3/17/2021

 

In the farm office, Drew, left, Linda, and Tracy share stories of the late patriarch of the family, Bobby Vannatta. The office is a memorial to him and his accomplishments.
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For more than 150 years, the Vannatta family has been farming the same ground in the hills of Middle Tennessee near Bell Buckle in Bedford County.


Some seven generations have drawn their living from the fertile ground, as each one worked to leave the family’s agriculture legacy in better shape than they found it.  


“The Vannattas came here in 1850 to farm this land,” says Tracy Vannatta. “Our family has been farming here ever since.”


Tracy, a member of Bedford-Moore Farmers Co-op, is the sixth generation of his family to carry on the farming tradition. He, along with his brother, Troy, and sister, Sharon Edwards, who both live and work off the farm now, were raised by their mom and dad, Bobby and Linda Vannatta, on the picturesque property. 


Bobby served as director on the TFC board from 1972 until 1980, then he became the Director at Large and served until 1983. He married Linda in 1956, and he spent his life devoted to his family, farm, and country he so loved, says Linda. He passed away in July 2012 at the age of 75.


“Bobby was dedicated to the family and worked hard to ensure the farm was profitable for the future generations,” she says. 


After graduating from Bell Buckle High school, Bobby served a four-year term in the U.S. Air Force where he was stationed in Colorado Springs and Lake Charles, La., before returning to the farm in 1959.


He was just as passionate about Tennessee agriculture, she stresses, stating that he tirelessly promoted the industry he loved so well by serving as he was needed on the local, state, and national levels in a variety of roles and organizations vital to the industry. In addition to his role with TFC, he served in leadership positions with the American Soybean Association, Tennessee Soybean Promotion Board, Tennessee Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers, and as Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture.


“We lived right here in this one little spot, but through Bobby’s travels - Brazil, Japan, Iraq, China, and South America - and his association with all these groups, we’ve been lucky, I think, to have an association with people with different ideas and perspectives,” says Linda. “We’ve learned a lot through those experiences, and we enjoyed that part of the farm life; the active part of it.”


Today, Tracy leads the family’s agricultural endeavors with assistance from his wife, Vida, and his son, Drew. Off the farm, Drew is a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture education.  


Tracy’s other son, Tyler, who is also a U.S. Air Force veteran, lives and works in Huntsville, Ala., but maintains a partnership with his brother, Drew, in their own herd of beef cattle. 


The family incorporated the farming operation in 1981 as part of their succession planning, and though Tracy manages the day-to-day activities, the operation is formally governed by a board of directors made up completely of family members Tracy, Linda, Troy, and Sharon. Tracy also manages his own separate farm under the name THV Farms, and the Vannattas all work together to keep the farms growing and profitable. 


“It’s one operation, but two separate entities,” explains Tracy. “I was fortunate to be able to stay on the farm, so I manage it all, but I only specifically own my part. It is still farmed like it’s all one farm.”


Between Tracy’s enterprise and the family farm business, the Vannatta family practices no-till farming of corn, soybeans, and wheat. They also operate chicken barns with Tyson and run several herds of commercial cattle. 


“We’re pretty diverse,” says Tracy. “We've been raising chickens with Tyson for 34 years now.”


As the Vannatta farm has grown and evolved over the years, the surrounding land and once-little-known town of Bell Buckle has changed as well, Linda points out.


“It seems that rural Bell Buckle has grown up around us,” she says. “You would always like things to stay the same, but you know they won’t. We just enjoy new neighbors and new friends, and change is necessary.” 


The Vannatta family is proud of their long history in the community and is dedicated to future generations being able to continue the farming tradition. 


“I am so fortunate to be able to earn my living doing a job that I love,” says Tracy. “Each year, we work to improve our acreage to increase our crop yields and cattle productivity. It’s a continuing challenge, but by using new technology and embracing change, we manage to stay ahead of the curve.”


Drew agrees, noting that farming together and upholding the legacy is a way to unite the whole family through their common love for the land, crops, and cattle. 


“I love seeing the land improve, and watching things grow,” says Drew, the seventh generation on the farm. “I’ll be learning the rest of my life. There are always interesting things to discover on a farm. It’s always entertaining.”


 
 
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