Riverplains Farm: Real Food from a Tennessee Family
When it came right down to it, the pull back to the farm was just too great.
Riverplains Farm stretches across 400 acres of rolling hills and bottomlands. The Holston River makes a bend as if to keep the verdant pastures in its grasp. Jennifer Niceley, Rachel Niceley and Anna Niceley Barreiro, the three daughters of State Senator Frank and Cyndie Niceley, longed for the verdant vistas of Clinch Mountain and returned to the farm in Jefferson County.
The trio pursued educations and careers in far-flung places, but “[f]or whatever reason, we all ended up back here and are dedicated to reinventing the farm and trying to make things more sustainable,” Jennifer says. For many years, Riverplains Farm operated as a dairy farm with Holsteins, but now it has beef cattle, hogs, chickens, corn, and vegetables. The farm near Strawberry Plains has been with the Niceley Family since the 1940s.
Historically horses have been important to the Niceley family. Rachel continues this tradition with horse training, carriage driving, boarding and fox hunting events. She also raises hogs.
Jennifer and Anna focus on food. Together with friend Misty Oaks, Jennifer and Anna own a catering business that hosts farm dinners. All of the food on the table comes from Riverplains Farm or other farms within Jefferson County. Long tables stretched across a pasture overlooking grazing horses or directly on the banks of the Holston River. I was fortunate to be a guest at such a culinary event, and I had the pleasure of experiencing their delicious, organically grown cuisine. Until the musicians tuned up their instruments, the only sounds that were heard were the distant clucking of chickens and the rush of water. Very little interferes with the quiet of the countryside.
In recalling a Harvest Moon dinner, Jennifer observed, “I noticed the dinner seemed to nourish people on more than one level. A lot of our guests don’t live on a farm, so for them it is a magical experience to come.” She says many people seek a rural escape, and a bountiful meal at Riverplains Farm is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.
Jennifer and Anna learned traditional cooking methods from their mother, Cyndie, who prepared daily meals for the farm workers. Friends gravitated to the family home, where gracious hospitality made everyone feel welcome.
Once she was on her own, Anna gained more experience by working in restaurants and quizzing the chefs about cooking technique. Nowadays, she handles the catering arrangements for the farm dinners, typically for groups of 30-40, and for weddings.
“The private parties are very affordable for what we offer—the quality of our food and the beauty of the farm,” says Anna, who juggles cooking and catering with being a stay-at-home mom, raising daughters Montalee, 3, and Maggie, 10 months. She and her husband, Dino Barreiro, a carpenter, live on the farm.
Jennifer praises her sister, saying, “Anna is a naturally gifted chef and baker.” She shares the story of Anna, who at age 5 made breakfast pancakes, asking her father to stir the batter because she was too little to handle the big bowl and spoon.
Anna, Jennifer and Misty are launching Mr. Canteen, a food truck to serve farm-inspired meals in Knoxville beginning in June. Heirloom vegetables, pasture raised chicken eggs, corn meal and grits, and Heritage pork sausage are available at several Knoxville grocery stores, such as Three Rivers Market. Grass-fattened beef is available through special order. Hickory Cane corn (an heirloom non-genetically modified variety) is grown at the farm, using no pesticides or chemicals. The corn is stone ground at a local mill. The chicken eggs are GMO and soy free.
During the summer, Jennifer’s work hours are sun up to sun down. “It’s very demanding, just the 200 chickens alone are demanding,” she says as she overlooks three huge garden plots ready for cultivation. “My role is the ingredients—farming what they are going to have at the dinners or on the food truck,” says Jennifer. She and her husband, Matthew DeBardeloben, live on the farm’s river bluff.
The family is dedicated to sharing the fruits of their labor and the gifts of their land. For East Tennesseans looking to be rural and quiet, Riverplains Farm provides a very special location for a farm-inspired meal.