The state Department of Agriculture is renaming one of its divisions, and in the process restructuring it under the hopes of better helping agriculture- and forestry-related businesses grow and prosper in Tennessee.

The Agriculture Advancement Division of the department will now be known as the Business Development Division.

A press release issued from the department this week indicated the newly reconfigured and rebranded division will “prioritize agricultural economic development by increasing profitability and viability of farm and forest businesses, which are vital to Tennessee’s rural and overall economy.”

The Business Development Division‘s areas of focus will include both farm-direct marketing and international commercial promotion. The division will also administer crop and livestock subsidy programs.

Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said the division’s primary strategic emphasis is fortifying ag and forestry’s economic roots in rural Tennessee counties.

“With this renewed focus on business development, we will work to expand opportunities for agricultural innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship — areas that are crucial to any state’s future success in the agriculture industry,” Hatcher said.

Keith Harrison, a long time veteran of state agriculture department marketing and outreach programs, will lead the division.

Upon taking office in January, Republican Gov. Bill Lee declared that stimulating rural economic growth is a central priority to his administration. One of Lee’s first official acts as governor was to assign all state agencies to develop initiatives to improve how they serve rural communities.

“Despite such growth and prosperity, Tennessee’s rural citizens face challenges unique to their geography that often require a unique response,” Lee declared in his first executive order, issued Jan. 29.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Congressman John Rose, May 10, 2019:

Rose Fights for Small Businesses in Rural Communities

Link: https://johnrose.house.gov/media/press-releases/rose-fights-small-businesses-rural-communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, marking the midpoint of National Small Business Week, Congressman John Rose (TN-6) advocated for the proud small business owners in rural communities of Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District at the House Financial Services Committee meeting. He strongly encouraged his fellow committee members to support his proposed legislation that would allow entrepreneurs in rural communities to receive the capital formation technical assistance available to many other small businesses across the state and nation.

“Small businesses are truly the engine of growth in rural communities,” said Rose. “The vast majority of the 19 counties in Tennessee’s Sixth District are rural, and the workforces in these communities depend on job opportunities provided by entrepreneurs who build their businesses from the ground up. The men and women who operate and work for these enterprises are some of the hardest working people I have met. Startups, family businesses, and local companies in rural communities are often overlooked. Yet, their challenges deserve the same attention other innovators and job creators would receive. This is commonsense reform and a great step toward empowering entrepreneurs by leveling the playing field for small businesses in all types of communities across the United States.”

The legislation, H.R.2409, adds rural small businesses to the mission of the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation and will require the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to consider any adverse effects of regulations on rural small businesses. It was introduced on April 30, 2019 and reported favorably out of the House Financial Services Committee on May 8, 2019. Congressman Rose introduced the legislation with Reps. Cynthia Axne (IA-3), Alex Mooney (WV-2), Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Chris Pappas (NH-1), and Denver Riggleman (VA-5). The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Congressman John Rose represents Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District and resides in Cookeville with his wife, Chelsea, and their son, Guy. The Sixth District includes Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Robertson, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale, White, and Wilson counties as well as portions of Cheatham and Van Buren counties.

Press Release from Tractor Supply Company, May 8, 2019:

Tractor Supply Market Day Highlights Local Artisans, Producers and Craft Makers
Free event invites community to shop homemade, homegrown goods on Saturday, May 18

Carthage, TN (May 2019) — Carthage is full of skilled makers, bakers and producers, and the Carthage Tractor Supply store is bringing these talented individuals and businesses together for a community-wide, family-friendly event.

On Saturday, May 18, from 8:00am until 4:00pm, the store will host its annual Market Day event featuring local vendors and their homemade and homegrown goods.

Market Day is a free event, featuring items such as crafts, candles, produce, baked goods and more in tents outside the Tractor Supply store, located at 59 Dixon Springs Hwy.

This year’s vendors and community partners include:

New Creations by Amanda Morales
On site 8:00am to 4:00pm

SCHS Band Boosters
On site 8:00am to 4:00pm

“As members of this community, we strive to do whatever we can to support our neighbors,” said Catherine Chapman, store manager of the Carthage Tractor Supply store. “Market Day allows us to highlight and support the great talent we have here, while creating a fun event everyone can enjoy.”

Local artisans, farmers and craft makers interested in selling their goods are invited to register at TSCeventpartners.com or visit the local Carthage Tractor Supply store before May 15. While participation is free, all vendors are responsible for complying with state and local ordinances. Contact the Carthage Tractor Supply store at 615-735-2684 for more details or information about participating in the event.

To learn more about Tractor Supply Company and Tractor Supply Market Day, visit TractorSupply.com/MarketDay.

About Tractor Supply Company

Tractor Supply Company (NASDAQ: TSCO), the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, has been passionate about serving its unique niche, as a one-stop shop for recreational farmers, ranchers and all those who enjoy living the rural lifestyle, for more than 80 years. Tractor Supply offers an extensive mix of products necessary to care for home, land, pets and animals with a focus on product localization, exclusive brands and legendary customer service that addresses the needs of the Out Here lifestyle. With more than 29,000 team members, the Company leverages its physical store assets with digital capabilities to offer customers the convenience of purchasing products they need anytime, anywhere and any way they choose at the everyday low prices they deserve. At March 30, 2019, the Company operated 1,775 Tractor Supply stores in 49 states and an e-commerce website at www.TractorSupply.com.

Tractor Supply Company also owns and operates Petsense, a small-box pet specialty supply retailer focused on meeting the needs of pet owners, primarily in small and mid-size communities, and offering a variety of pet products and services. At March 30, 2019, the Company operated 176 Petsense stores in 26 states. For more information on Petsense, visit www.Petsense.com.

News Release from Tennessee Tech University, April 5, 2019:

Link: https://www.tntech.edu/news/releases/18-19/day-on-the-hill.php

State leaders learned more about Tennessee Tech University’s Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge, an initiative that will accelerate rural innovation and collaboration across the state, at the recent Tennessee Tech Day on the Hill at the state capitol.

Tennessee Tech representatives carried the message of the grand challenge, which is an effort with ambitious but achievable goals that harnesses the capabilities of a campus while inspiring imaginations.

Rural Reimagined focuses on developing and supporting success throughout rural areas in Tennessee that can be replicated to help rural areas throughout the country and the world.

Tech President Phil Oldham shared his excitement for the work that was led by faculty leaders and more than 50 other work group members to shape the priorities and actions of the university. Tech’s director of its Center for Rural Innovation Michael Aikens says the university will focus on harnessing all academic disciplines to transform rural living.

“Rural Reimagined is a grassroots effort, and is squarely in line with Gov. Lee’s visions for rural transformation,” said Aikens. “It is important the legislature know about our goals for reimagining the rural landscape, so that they can assist with support, awareness and action in the communities they represent.

“Having the legislature on board with Rural Reimagined sends a message to their constituents and communities that they are committed to helping and improving their rural areas,” Aikens said. “Support from the legislature will legitimize both Tennessee Tech’s efforts and Gov. Lee’s call for action in rural areas.

Besides legislators, Tech officials were also able to interact with other public figures, medical doctors and student interns, helping energize the Tech students who are currently interning on the hill.

“We were able to have discussions with our student interns about development of a student advisory board for the grand challenge,” said Aikens. “It is our hope to establish a diverse set of student voices on this board. We think it is critical that political science majors have a seat at the table.”

Tech has already been assisting rural areas with career readiness certification; a remote area medical clinic; a small business development center; a cybersecurity education, research and outreach center; a STEM mobile unit for K-12 student success; water quality research to monitor and protect natural resources; and, archives of rural history.

For more information on Rural Reimagined, go to www.tntech.edu/grand-challenge.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, April 2, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/news/2019/4/2/local-farms-creating-unforgettable-memories-this-easter.html

NASHVILLE – With spring in the air and warmer weather within reach, farms across the state are offering exciting activities for the upcoming holiday. From riding ponies to getting pictures with the Easter Bunny, you can spend a whole day of family fun making memories that last a lifetime.

According to mental health professionals, holidays can be a time of stress. The thought of cooking and planning activities can be overwhelming.

However, local farmers are stepping up to the plate this Easter holiday. Tennessee farms are providing the ultimate stress relief that is sure to entertain the whole family.

“At our farm, there are no mad dashes — just a day filled with nonstop Easter egg hunts, farm-wide scavenger hunts for older kids, and, of course, pictures with the Easter bunny!” said Jimmy McCulley of Amazin’ Acres in White County. “We encourage you to bring your camera to capture the amazing memories with farm animals, the bee line zipline, the jumping pillow, milking a cow or goat, racing ducks, and more!”

One farmer has been planning events for years. “At Falcon Ridge, our annual Easter egg hunt provides families the opportunity to enjoy a day on the farm,” Bart Gilmer of Hardeman County said. “Our visitors can hunt eggs, get a picture with the Easter Bunny, visit the Petting Zoo, and much more without the work of planning an event.”

Don’t have kids and on the hunt for an adult Easter adventure? Look no further. “It’s time to find your inner child and get hopping to Lucky Ladd Farms for Nashville’s famous Bunny and Brew – Adult Egg Hunt,” said Amy Ladd of Lucky Ladd Farms of Rutherford County. “We will have live entertainment, fun lawn games, pre-hunt lite bites, and all-you-can-drink brew and coke products.”

Don’t get stressed — hop on over to the farm this Easter and let the farmers do the planning. The sounds of laugher and joy of all ages will fill the air making for life-long memories.

Go to www.PickTNProducts.org or use the free Pick Tennessee mobile app to find a farm near you. Follow “PickTNProducts” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more about current seasonal recipes, products, and activities.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 18, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/news/2019/3/18/grant-program-announced-for-specialty-crops-.html

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).

“The SCBGP supports specialty crop producers through funding for research, education, marketing, and innovative projects,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. said. “Tennessee is an agriculturally-diverse state producing a wide range of specialty crops that can benefit from participating in this program.”

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture administers the grants, which are authorized through the USDA. SCBGP funds are granted to enhance production and competitiveness of specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, floriculture, and other nursery crops.

Universities, institutions, cooperatives, producers, and industry or community-based organizations may submit a proposal for funding. The program aims to support projects that directly affect multiple Tennessee producers and have a positive, long-lasting impact on Tennessee agriculture.

Previous grant funding assisted the Appalachian Region Wine Producers Association’s efforts to designate two American Viticultural Areas in Tennessee, emphasizing the distinction of grapes grown there. The University of Tennessee used grant funds to compare lettuce yield and quality using drip and overhead irrigation on biodegradable mulches.

“The SCBGP has allowed us to address real issues for Tennessee producers,” Dr. Annette Wszelaki, Plant Sciences Professor at the University of Tennessee, said. “From production practices to food safety, the SCBGP has given us the opportunity to provide demonstrations, solutions, and education to our specialty crop growers statewide.”

Eligible individuals and organizations must submit proposals using the 2019 project template. The project template, performance measures, and information required to apply are available online here.

Proposals are due by April 4 and should be submitted by email to tn.scbg@tn.gov. First-time recipients have a funding limit of $25,000. Early submission is encouraged.

For more information about the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, email tn.scbg@tn.gov.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Jan. 25:

LINK: https://www.tn.gov/ecd/news/2019/1/25/commissioner-rolfe-appoints-sammie-arnold-as-assistant-commissioner-of-community-and-rural-development.html

Arnold will lead TNECD’s efforts to promote opportunities across rural Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe announced today the appointment of Sammie Arnold as TNECD’s assistant commissioner of Community and Rural Development.

Arnold, a native of Dyersburg, Tenn., has been with the department since 2013 and most recently served as assistant commissioner of Strategy and Legislative Affairs.

“With 80 of Tennessee’s 95 counties deemed as rural, our commitment to these areas of the state is a top priority for our department. In just three short years, the number of high-quality jobs in rural counties increased from 50 percent to nearly 65 percent, and we remain focused on continuing this growth,” Rolfe said. “Sammie’s wealth of knowledge of the state is matched by his genuine ambition to help expand opportunities across rural Tennessee, and I look forward to seeing the great things that will be accomplished under his leadership.”

Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Lee issued his first executive order, requiring all state executive departments to issue a statement of rural impact and provide recommendations for better serving rural Tennessee. It is the first step by the administration to accelerate plans to address the 15 Tennessee counties that are designated as distressed.

TNECD offers a number of programs and grants aimed at assisting rural communities to build assets and prepare themselves for industrial recruitment. Since 2017, the department has provided more than $34 million in funding to rural communities throughout the state. In addition, companies have invested $3.5 billion and committed to create more than 17,000 new jobs in rural communities over the past two years.

In 2018, TNECD landed 127 projects representing nearly 21,000 new job commitments. Of those projects, 54 percent located in rural counties, an increase from 45 percent in 2014.

“I am tremendously thankful for this opportunity. As a rural Tennessean with deep small-town roots, I am incredibly passionate about supporting our rural communities and protecting their way of life,” Arnold said. “Governor Lee has asked us to be aggressive in developing creative solutions to help our rural communities that are struggling. My team and our department are up to the task.”

Press Release from the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, January 18, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/twra/news/2019/1/18/cwd-update-given-at-first-tfwc-2019-meeting.html

MEMPHIS — An update on the status of chronic wasting disease (CWD) was presented during the first meeting of 2019 which concluded Friday at the Duck Unlimited national headquarters.

Chuck Yoest, CWD coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, made a presentation on the agency’s chronic wasting disease response. Yoest informed the commission the agency has sampled more than 4,800 deer this season in Tennessee. Also, he shared that 62 samples from Hardeman and Fayette counties have been confirmed CWD positive.

The agency anticipates more positive CWD results from these areas since it is placing a heavy emphasis on sampling there according to its response plan. Yoest also said that public meeting held in Bolivar earlier in January in regard to CWD, had an attendance of about 400.

Jamie Feddersen, TWRA migratory gamebird program leader, gave a preview of the 2019-20 season. Changes in the federal framework require the TWRA to update its proclamation each year. The changes presented at the meeting were based mainly on hunter input.

Anticipated federal rules will now allow states to have Jan. 31 as the last day of duck season. Previously federal rules prevented states from having duck season any later than the last Sunday in January. Hunter input indicates the desire to end the duck season Jan. 31. The agency recommends the Reelfoot Foot Zone phase 1 season be Nov. 16-19 and the statewide phase 1 season Nov. 29-Dec. 2. The Reelfoot and statewide zone phase 2 season would be Dec. 7-Jan. 31.

For woodcock season, there was support to provide more hunting days in January so the agency is proposing a split season. For crow, there was support for more hunting days in cooler weather, The agency is also proposing a split season for crow.

There was a presentation from Ducks Unlimited representative DU’s Dave Kostersky. On his annual visit from DU Canada, he reported that there was another dry fall and again officials were hoping for a wet spring in the habitat corridor. He annually makes the visit to provide an update on the partnership and conditions in Canada.

Frank Fiss, TWRA Fisheries Division chief, presented an overview of the fish dealer license to address TFWC questions about license requirements. A fish dealer license is required for bait dealers, fish farmers and operators of pay lakes. In Tennessee, anglers who fish at a licensed pay lake are not required to have a fishing license. This exemption is common among most surrounding states.

Dale Hall, Ducks Unlimited chief executive officer, was honored by the TFWC with a resolution. He has been DU’s top official since 2010 and previously served the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for 31 years, the four as its director.

The commission will consider four rulemaking changes. The TWRA is establishing rules regarding public record requests and will consider changes to the fees associated with motorized boat registrations.

The commission’s established a permanent Tennessee’s Native Son license. When initially created, the Native Son license had an expiration date of Feb. 28, 2019. The change allows the TWRA to continue selling the Native Son license into the future.

The commission passed an amended rule in regard to permit and access fees for non-motorized vessels the rule creates a permit for outfitters that establishes minimum operating standards and associated fees.

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE UPPER CUMBERLAND TOURISM ASSOCIATION, AUGUST 28, 2018:

Level of visitor spending in Upper Cumberland climbs to all-time high

Nashville – Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Kevin Triplett announced today Tennessee tourism’s direct domestic and international travel expenditures reached a new all-time record high of $20.7 billion in 2017, up 6.3 percent over the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association. The announcement was made at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

For the 12th consecutive year, tourism topped $1 billion in state and local sales tax revenue, reaching $1.8 billion. That marks a 7.6 percent increase over 2016, higher than the national growth of travel related state tax revenues of 4.6 percent. Tourism also generated 184,300 jobs for Tennesseans, a 3.1 percent growth year over year.

The 2017 direct domestic and international travel expenditure for the Upper Cumberland region reached an all time high of $420.9 Mil. Overall the 14 counties in the Upper Cumberland saw a 6.3% increase in their tourism spending. Two of our counties see more than $100 Million – Putnam – $132.03 Mil and Cumberland – $121.54 Mil.

Chambers of Commerce in the smaller UC counties operate on very limited budgets and they cooperate with all the 14 counties and the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association on joint promotions.

“It is important to understand that travel & tourism creates jobs, drives economic growth and helps build better societies. The Upper Cumberland of Tennessee is a prime example of this, as our region and its natural beauty is expected to attract more tourists in the coming years” said Ruth Dyal, director of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association. It will be vital for Upper Cumberland communities and private sectors to work together with the public to ensure that tourism growth is sustainable, inclusive and benefits everyone.”

Commissioner Kevin Triplett said. “The authenticity and Southern hospitality from our communities and partners gives visitors an unbeatable experience and inspires them to return. The numbers show Tennessee is a destination of choice for visitors around the world. However, we would not have these numbers if not for the capital investments, renovations and dedication made by tourism partners across the state to deliver great experiences that create wonderful memories.”

To view the full report, click here. For more information, contact Ruth Dyal, executive director for the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association at 931-537-6347 or by email at uctourism@gmail.com.

Cool respite from stuffy summer doldrums; Backwoods-style river adventures inside McMinnville city limits

Set amidst a remarkable panorama of thickset woods, rolling pasturelands, rugged mountain slopes and soaring yonder plateau scarps, McMinnville has for two centuries served as a regional hub of commerce, culture and active leisure.

Writing for the intro to the 2009 “Images of America Series” photography book celebrating the town’s bicentennial, authors Monty Clell Wanamaker and Chris Keathley described how “the sheer exceptional beauty of the ancient and mystical mountains and forests with their spiritual attributes” mesmerized early 19th Century travelers and settlers in what is now Warren County.

So too did “the numerous rivers and streams overflowing with fresh water” that twisted down valleys and cut through the land.

“It was that beauty and grandeur of the region that enthralled the area’s first white settlers,” wrote Keathley and Wanamaker, who passed away at the age of 79 in January. “It would draw to its wilderness many anxious, industrious and learned men who had come to build their homes and lives. And so it was that McMinnville came into being.”

You could say the area has always attracted people who appreciate exploration and seek adventure.

Mickey Heath at Smooth Rapids

So in 2012 when four hometown buddies who grew up together decided to start up a kayak-rental and shuttle service to help introduce visitors and locals alike to the aesthetically fertile Barren Fork and Collins Rivers, they were actually on pretty solid ground historically.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boathouse

Early on, they really didn’t envision their enterprise evolving into a full-service launchpad and laid-back landing zone for paddle sport river recreation. It started off just a side hustle from the back of a pickup.

“We bought some boats and were renting them out of our truck — when we’d make a little money we would invest it back in the company,” said Mickey Heath, who along with Michael Lockhart and brothers Jimmy and Todd Barker founded the company that came to be Smooth Rapids.

Located just a few blocks from Main Street McMinnville and the town square on a formerly rundown piece of backstreet river-bottom residential property, today Smooth Rapids is a buzzing restaurant, campground and outdoor music venue.

These days, renting 100-150 boats makes for a pretty good weekend, Heath said, adding, “If you were to tell me that six years ago, I would have said you were crazy.”

Smooth Rapids Outfitters sits on the banks of the Barren Fork River, which gathers from a web of runoff veins in western Warren County. It flows eastward for 23 or so serpentine miles before meeting the Collins River, a tributary of the Caney Fork, just east of McMinnville. The Barren Fork’s lower eight miles shape a lovely and languid course through and then around the edge of town.

Smooth Rapids is aptly named. The lower Barren Fork’s mostly unhurried currents make for typically mellow paddling, requiring only elementary navigation maneuvers.

“This is not whitewater kayaking. It’s more lazy river floating — that’s what the rivers around here are like,” said Heath.

The beauty is hypnotic, though, somehow enhanced by the knowledge you’re floating near a population center, which is often easy to forget as scenes of secluded sylvan riverscape float placidly by.

Learning to Love to Float

Because of the Barren Fork’s gentle descent grade, beginners of all ages can get the hang of handling a kayak in short and safe order.

Smooth Rapids puts a special emphasis on hosting and organizing floats for kids. Getting youngsters out on the water, piloting their own boat, can be a highly enjoyable confidence-building experience they’ll long remember and draw on.

Heath said all the Smooth Rapids crew tend to “love pretty much everything to do with the outdoors.” So introducing kids to the river who may never have had an opportunity to paddle before is exceptionally rewarding, he said, especially if they’re from more urbanized areas or at-risk backgrounds and maybe don’t often get the opportunity to get out and genuinely encounter nature.

As for the food-serving side of the business, Heath said the river “feeds our restaurant.”

Their decision to open a restaurant was based on straightforward and consistent observations made though firsthand market analysis. “When people get off the water, they are typically hungry. When they get here, they are ready to eat,” Heath said.

The moving-waters theme is apparent on the Smooth Rapids restaurant menu, where you can dive into a fleet of appetizers and craft brews. The entrée list contains a boatload of chicken baskets and sandwiches with names like the River Monster, the Riviera, the Daytripper and the Barren Fork Burger.

Confluence of Commerce and Recreation

In addition to their aim of luring people into a lifelong paddling habit, Smooth Rapids is seeking to promote greater visitation to the region by hosting festive outdoor events like the Aug. 3-5 reggae festival and the Sept. 22 McMinnville Mountain Crawl, an annual endurance-testing “adventure race” consisting of caving, biking, and kayaking around the vicinity.

Heath said he’s big believer in the idea that the rising tide of Warren County tourism commerce will ultimately lift more than just Smooth Rapids’ boats. All McMinnville profits from raising the area’s profile for dynamic outdoor-recreation potential, so it behooves local businesses to work together to make everybody’s visit a memorable one, he said.

“We really consider ourselves partners with the other restaurants in town — we don’t look at them as competition,” he said. “We all work together, because if somebody is going to come into town, maybe like to take in a show at Cumberland Caverns, then they may go to Collins River BBQ on Friday night and then come eat with us on Saturday night and then go to another restaurant on Sunday afternoon. This is what you want, everybody working together to keep that out-of-town traffic in the community having fun and spending money.”

To get in touch with Smooth Rapids, call 931-452-9251 or visit online at smoothrapids.com.