As a child, Sue Bagwell dreamt of living on a farm. But before she knew it, she was all grown up, working as a nurse and living with her husband Doug (an engineer) in a house that overlooked an unkempt neighbor’s yard in a dreary suburb. Finally, though, a mission trip to Kenya inspired the Bagwells to make a change.
“We helped build a church and a school, and we also worked to provide famine relief,” Sue Bagwell said. “This was the first trip we went on [to Kenya] together, and the gracious people led rural lives that we wanted to experience ourselves. We wanted to get closer to nature.”
So, despite the reactions of friends who sang the “Green Acres” theme song upon hearing the couple’s announcement, the Bagwells decided to flee the suburbs in search of flowing fields and scenic settings. In 2003, they purchased Walnut Hills Farm — 50 acres in Bethpage, Tenn. — and today, they’re not just farm dwellers; they’re masters at producing all natural, grass fed beef without hormones, steroids or artificial additives.
But that, of course, didn’t happen overnight.
“Growing beef was just going to be a hobby, a little business,” Sue Bagwell said. “We didn’t know if we’d make any money in it or not. We thought we could make use of our new land and do something productive with it for the people.”
And even though they’d found their quiet piece of land, they were still new to farming. But as luck would have it, Doug Bagwell found a farmer in Sumner County who was willing to teach him everything he knew.
“The man had been farming all his life and had a wealth of knowledge to share with us. It was a great situation, an ideal situation,” Sue Bagwell said.
Before long, the Bagwells were benefiting from their unique tutor, and though they started with about six cows in 2003, they now have about 40.
“Our bulls are bulls, we don’t add anything to try to make them steers,” Sue Bagwell said. “We finish our beef with nice hay, oats and soy, and that gives the beef a great flavor without adding any unhealthy fat. This process also adds Omega 3 acids to the beef.
“Even if people don’t buy our beef, we want them to know the difference between our grass fed and unhealthy corn fed beef. If the fat is a nice creamy tan color, that’s evidence of grass fed beef. If you see a piece of meat and you see a very white colored fat, that is evidence of corn fed beef. I like to pull out a rib eye steak and show a customer so they can see the difference. Everyone always sees those white globs of fat in the grocery store, but we have a nice straw color to our fat, and our cows are much leaner than other cows.”
On Saturdays, the couple sells their beef (and occasional goat meat — they also own South African Boer goats) at a stand (with a full freezer) at the Nashville Farmer’s Market. They are also a part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Tennessee, which brings the farmer and consumer together.
Walnut Hills Farm dishes out just about any cut of meat you can imagine. In addition to their goat meat, they provide steaks, roasts, short ribs, brisket, London Broil and even organ meat. Bagwell said their most popular cuts of meat are the filets and rib eyes, which always sell out quickly. Trendy steaks like a Del Monica or a petit tender are also very popular.
“A lot of people ask us if they can get our beef at the store, but we really enjoy selling it to the public and meeting people at the Farmer’s Market,” Sue Bagwell said. “We like helping them find something that they like and know is healthy for them; it is very gratifying for us.”
After all, it’s a new way of life and a dream come true.