Raising Up the Next Generation of Family Farms

By Claire Sullivan

The Colvin Family has a rich agricultural history, supplying residents of the Chattanooga area for over a century with good, wholesome food. From Grandpa Rigsby selling produce at Chattanooga's curb market to Steve, Val, and 7 of their 13 children continuing the trade, the Colvin Family relies on generational teaching and delight-directed learning as cornerstones of honoring tradition and carrying on the family farm.

In the early 1900s, Grandpa Rigsby, packed his harvest in a mule wagon that he rode almost 100 miles round trip to sell his fruits and vegetables. Steve Colvin was born and raised on a 160-acre farm near where Grandpa Rigsby worked and lived. He would help on the farm harvesting tomatoes and sweet corn to make extra spending money during the summer months.  And now, a short drive away from his childhood home, the tradition continues at the modern-day Colvin Family Farm. The family works side-by-side to provide natural and sustainably grown vegetables, herbs and fruits as well as pastured eggs, chicken and pork for their CSA, farmers markets, and their new online farmers market.

Sharing the joys, responsibilities, and lessons inherent in the family heritage, generational teaching means, in part, that each of the Colvin children offers a unique contribution to the farm and its functioning– the children even helped to build the house in which the family now lives. Val remembers all the children lined up next to Steve, holding the framed front wall of the house.

“We like having a multi-generational farm, where all the generations are working together and learning together,” says Val.

Steve and Val provide hands-on opportunities to contribute to the farm, but honor the individual interests of each of their children. Val says she adjusts the curriculum to suit what her children are most passionate about pursuing.

“Some people call it delight-directed. It’s the concept that what you’re interested in is what you’re going to be more willing to work towards,” Steve adds.

Delight-directed learning is a homeschooling style of teaching that uses children’s natural interests and motivations as a means to teach concepts and acquire skills. While the subject matter may be directed by the child, the form and structure of the learning is set by the teacher and informed by the child’s proclivities and strengths. An important emphasis is on showing the child that their learning directly relates to the “real world” and, vice-versa, how real interests can be explored and learned from.

When the oldest Colvin boys were 12 and 13 years old, Steve and Val helped them start a CSA for families in Dayton, TN. With the assistance of their parents, the boys tended 100 square feet of land and a few raised beds to supply 25 local families with chicken, strawberries and value-added goods from their bees.

“We’ve been homeschooling children for thirty years now, and the gardening, animal work and carpentry work are just a natural way to show the kids why they spend so much time in their math books,” says Val

Steve and Val tend to the future of their farm and family with sincere love and interest in cultivating each in a way that will sustain for generations to come. While there may be occasional challenges to managing home, school, and work all at the same time, the Colvins are enthusiastic about their method of rearing the next generation of family farmers.  “We want to make an impression on other people that you can do this and still be happy,” Steve explains. 

 For more information on Colvin Family Farm, visit their website, or visit them at farmers markets across eastern Tennessee including Chattanooga's Main Street Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings.