Shop, play & stay at Stillwaters Farm
Lest the goats get a bad reputation, let me tell you about the first time an animal tried eating my notes during a research trip for work.
I was touring Stillwaters Farm in Henderson, Tennessee by golf cart. Stillwaters owner/farmer/resident artist Valeria Pitoni was driving; Clementine the donkey was following – nudging closer each time we stopped to eye a bunny in the grass or a cow in the meadow – begging to be petted. When I slacked, you can guess how she alerted me. Have you ever tried wrestling a notebook from the mouth of an attention-hungry donkey? It’s not easy, folks. Neither is it easy to stay angry with an animal this friendly.
Friendliness runs at Stillwaters Farm, where Valeria and her husband Rich care for Clementine and a menagerie of mostly miniature animals including several other donkeys, zebu cattle, sheep and horses. Valeria likes having the miniatures around – she says they can be “less intimidating” than full-sized animals to small children, and welcoming visitors of all ages to the farm is one of her favorite activities. Her wide smile is as warm as the sun when you arrive, and though it’s been more than a year, my family still talks about the morning we spent cuddling up next to old Newman (Stillwaters’ elderly sheep who “manages to run when he hears the food bucket,” Valeria muses) and knobby-kneed Seymour, a wild deer that befriended Valeria and her Great Pyrenees dogs. Seymour still edges by the farm from time-to-time, as if to check in. It’s not so different from me calling Valeria to ask about every animal we met on her farm by name. I’m happy to hear that Tiger Lily the horse was adopted by a young girl; that Violet has given birth to a mini zebu bull named Franklin; that the donkeys might be pregnant; that there are new yard babies running about. It’s like catching up with family.
So here’s a farm-fresh idea for you: Grab a friend (or the whole family). Call Valeria to schedule a farm visit. For $6 per person, she’ll give you a personal tour that includes a meet-and-greet with all of her lovable animals, plus a jaunt around the back of the farm to eye for wild critters.
It’s a scene so pastoral, so country-quiet (save the occasional bray or bark), you might not want to skip right back to the city. Rent Stillwaters’ pretty cottage in this case – two bedrooms with a full kitchen and bath, fronted by a colorful garden.
You may also want to time your visit with the farm’s open house on Dec. 1. From 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Valeria will be celebrating the grand opening of her silo shop where she’ll sell her hand-made soaps, soy candles, creams (some made with roses grown on the farm) and natural art like gourds and antlers. The remainder of the property and even the cottage will be loaded with other artists and craftspeople conducting demos and selling their creations (Valeria is especially excited about hosting woodworkers and an artisan who designs ornaments from dried okra). Santa Claus will make an appearance and there will be hay rides – plus plenty of benches “so you can pause from the hustle and bustle [of the holidays] and take in the good stuff,” Valeria adds. Outside of the open house, Valeria’s silo shop will be open by appointment, and she promises: “If you come shop, we always find an extra few moments to go scratch somebody, and our veggie garden is always available for you to buy from.” (Presently, she reports an abundance of “super-hot peppers.”)
Of course, you can still find Valeria at the West Tennessee Farmer’s Market. Though the market operates year ’round (Tuesdays through Saturdays from 6 a.m.-5 p.m.), the season is still at its strongest this month and next, and Saturdays are grandest: Expect more than 40 vendors selling anything from catfish and Madison County honey to wooden swings and wrought iron yard art. Arrive early to savor scratch-made doughnuts – market ambassador Nona Brummett describes them as “delicious, warm, sweet [and] big” – and reports that they sold out by 10:30 a.m. last weekend.