Scott Broden, Daily News Journal, April 2, 2016
MURFREESBORO — John L. Batey’s 209-year-old family farm eventually could end if city officials decide to extend Veterans Parkway through his property north to Interstate 24.
“It would be gone,” the 73-year-old farmer said as he rocked in a chair on the front porch of a restored family log cabin that serves as the farm’s store.
The 400-acre Batey hog farm on Baker Road near Blackman Road west of Murfreesboro is also home to Wilbur, the pig whose photograph served as the cover for a 2006 edition of “Charlotte’s Web,” a children’s novel by the late E.B. White.
“He’ll be 10 years old in May,” Batey said.
The idea to extend the five-lane parkway is listed as one of the many road projects in the 2025 Major Thoroughfare Plan on the Murfreesboro government website.
Batey hopes he’ll get the chance to provide input on any plans to extend Veterans Parkway through his farm in the remaining rural part of the Blackman community.
“It can change,” Batey said. “It’s a line on a paper right now. That’s all it is. We know it’s going to change. This whole county’s economy has changed. There’s got to be a better way of transportation. There’s a lot of changes coming.”
Other farmers have sold their land for development in the Blackman community. The former Williams family farm sparked much of the thriving growth on land that became Blackman High, Blackman Middle and Blackman Elementary, Bob Williams said. The family then set up a farm in Coffee County that’s southeast of Rutherford County.
Like the Williams family, Batey has sold part of what was his 600 acres of farmland, including land to the Rutherford County Board of Education for Brown’s Chapel Elementary School on Baker Road. He also developed part of the land for the Jamison Downs subdivision with 62 large brick homes off Blackman Road. A short drive south from there is where the Shelton family farm has a proposed residential development for 750 houses.
Although Batey accepts the changes that come with growth, son-in-law Brandon Whitt hopes to preserve the Batey Farms tradition of producing locally grown food, including pork.
“A five-lane Veterans Parkway right through here puts us out of the hog operation,” said Whitt, noting how the farm meets the demand from the local food movement. “People want to know where the food is coming from, and that it’s coming from a source they can trust and interact with. We have no better marketing strategy than the simple authenticity of having a 200-year-old farm still in operation.”
Customers who travel to the farm will spot the well-preserved barn that dates back to about 1872, the large tractors and silos, a lake, crops growing in the fields and a historic family cemetery. Those buried there include Batey’s ancestor James Bass Jr., the son of James Bass Sr., the man who settled the county’s oldest continuous farm in 1807 on a federal government land grant for military service during the Revolutionary War. Alfred Blackman Jr., Batey’s great-grandfather, who donated the land and timber to build the original Brown’s Chapel school and church (now called Blackman United Methodist), is also buried in the cemetery.
Those visiting Batey’s farm also may spot some of the hogs behind the fences that Whitt pointed out from the porch of the cabin store.
“We offer a unique experience for the customers and the friends and neighbors,” Whitt said.
Whitt wants to see the farm continue to thrive for all of the extended members of the Batey family, including 10-year-old Emmaline Whitt.
“I want to be a farmer,” said Emmaline, who as the oldest of four children of Brandon and Katherine Whitt also hopes to be a veterinarian. “I want to work with animals.”
Brandon Whitt and his father-in-law noted how their extended family members are the first to eat the food grown on the farm.
“We want to continue to provide that local product into the future,” Whitt said. “It adds culture. It adds diversity to your community. You can’t make that stuff up. What we have is that authenticity. There’s a need to hold onto the way of the past but also embrace the ways of the future.”
Contact Scott Broden at 615-278-5158. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.