Martha Kern: Generations of farming

Susan EspirituEast Knox, Our Town Neighbors

My family bought the acreage we now live on just a few years ago in an area scattered with farmlands and subdivision development. The primary concern from the heirs selling the land was not negotiating the price with us but gaining an assurance of our motivation for the purchasing. Fear of the multi-generational family land being decimated into tracts for spec homes by investors was their main unease. Blessed we are to live on the beautiful expanse next to our own family with the developing civilization reasonably out of earshot.

Martha Kern

Some of the same apprehensions were echoed by Martha Kern in our recent conversation. Martha is a full-time farmer and has been for 50 years, managing Strong Stock Farm most of her life. A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in animal science, Martha is an expert gardener, cattle-woman and conservationist. Her office is her tractor. She recounted the pandemic years when all of us were ZOOMing on our computers as we worked from the confines of our homes. Martha and her husband, John, were zooming too, but atop a tractor or horse as they covered their 1,000 acres of rolling pastures and woodlands along the several miles of the Holston River in East Knox County known as home to seven generations of Martha’s family.

Martha moved in to her grandmother’s house right after high school and began working with her father until he died in 1986. It was then her husband, John Niceley, also a UT graduate in animal science, helped his wife manage the farm as an expert cattleman and horseman. They have raised four children (and countless pseudo children) on the farm, and now have three grandchildren, who hopefully will be ninth generation farmers.

Angus cow and calf

Angus cattle at Strong Stock Farm

The farm now just does grass-finished Angus cattle which all are descendants of the original two registered cows Martha’s father started with in 1942. Martha is very proud of the fact that she does everything without the use of any herbicides, pesticides or commercial fertilizer because, “I feel like it is what is best for the environment,” she states emphatically.

All Martha’s family are passionate about open spaces and the future of farming. “I guess if I have something that I would like for people to take away, it would be the importance of eating locally sourced food. It is what will enable farm land to stay in production and not fall victim to the ever-growing pressure to develop all our land.” All of their meat is sold locally in Three Rivers Market.

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