The life that took two young people away from their family farms in rural Tennessee took a stunning turn several years later. The diagnosis of cancer challenged Verlinda Waters to overcome the disease and get strong again. As her husband, Dave, supported her in this effort, and as their sons went off to college, they felt their lives were destined to be back at the farm.
Dave said, “In 2002 we returned to the farm to start farming organically.”
Dave had the opportunity to apply his animal husbandry degree, after a long military career. They actually have two farming homesteads between them, 15 miles apart down a country road in East Tennessee. They started raising grass-fed beef cattle and pastured hogs. Later, they added poultry.Verlinda says what she learned after her cancer diagnosis led her to believe it’s not red meat that’s the problem, it’s where it comes from. “There’s cancer-fighting properties in good red meat that’s grown on grass.” So she eats naturally raised beef and pork, in moderation, and provides a personal testimonial for customers.
The Waters run River Ridge Farms, dealing directly with customers at farm markets in Knoxville and Chattanooga. They also sell via Just Ripe and Three Rivers Market in Knoxville. They provide a variety of unique products, such as a gourmet sausage for Three Rivers Market customers.
The Waters are striving to bring back the wholesome quality of farm products that their grandparents were accustomed to, when nutrient rich soil, more natural growing methods and smaller farms were the norm. The couple admits the life they’ve now chosen is not easy. But they’re determined. They spend twice the average price for hog feed, buying only organic grains such as barley, corn, field peas and alfalfa pellets, hoping for healthier hogs and a better product for consumers. They try to only breed hogs for new litters during the warmer months, so there’s no need for enclosed farrowing houses. They mob graze the cattle on a variety of nutrient rich grasses, moving them from field to field.
Verlinda said, “I know that there’s an argument that small farms cannot feed the world, we have to have those big conventional farms to feed the world. But there have been studies that that’s not true, that small farms can and probably do feed the world a little bit better and a lot safer. It would just be awfully nice if we had a lot more small farms again.”
*Thanks to River Ridge for the samples of grass-fed beef.