By Pam Windsor
Photography by Pam Windsor and Jon Giffin: waterfall photo
A Tennessee family’s decision to leave the fast pace of the big city for life in the country proved to be so rewarding they wanted others to enjoy it, too. They found an unusual way to rent out space: eco-friendly huts.
Tucked away in the Tennessee countryside, Forest Gully Farms offers a place for people to get close to nature and even live off the land a little bit.
Arriving guests will find Jon Giffin ready to offer a warm welcome and show them the lay of the land. They’ll see the sleeping huts, and the huts that serve as a kitchen, a bath house, and even a playhouse for kids. For those planning to forage for food, he’ll show them how to identify fruits, vegetables, edible plants and nuts, then take them to the nearby chicken coop where they’ll get their eggs.
“We’re doing much more than renting out the huts,” Giffin explains. “When people come out here, they get to experience what it would be like to live on a homestead. They get to feed the chickens, harvest the eggs, gather vegetables and harvest fruit depending on the time of year and what’s available.”
One family or group rents the property at a time. They have full access to two sleeping huts (each hut is equipped with two single beds and a queen bed that pulls down from the wall), and the huts for cooking and bathing. All have electricity, heat, and air conditioning.
“People are surprised by how comfortable it is,” says Giffin. “A lot of people don’t like camping or roughing it but when they come here, they can be outside, experience nature, and enjoy it, where maybe they wouldn’t be able to somewhere else.”
The idea to create Forest Gully Farms evolved naturally. Giffin and his wife, Mandy, bought the property after deciding to leave the stress of running a busy wedding photo business in Nashville for a calmer, slower-paced life in rural Tennessee. They wanted to see if they could live off the land and provide for themselves and their children. They bought chickens, began planting fruits and vegetables and, as they grew into the lifestyle, saw the potential to share with others.
They decided to split their 30 acres in half, with their house on the first 15 acres, then huts for paying guests on the other half.
“We wanted to build something that would merge into the land,” says Giffin. “We didn’t want buildings that would block the view of nature. There are deer that walk around here and all sorts of stuff, so the huts have really become part of the land.”
The huts are covered with dirt which is a great insulator.
“I learned about the farm from a Facebook post,” notes Chris Lisle who lives in the Nashville area. “It said check out these cool hobbit huts where you can stay in the countryside of Tennessee. I clicked on the link, it took me to an Airbnb site, and at that time I think the best available weekend to book was probably 8 months away.”
He booked the date for a couples’ weekend with his girlfriend and another couple. By the time the date rolled around, only he and his girlfriend were able to make it so they had the entire place to themselves.
“It was nice because there was a fire pit and we were able to be still and quiet. There’s a beautiful hike down to the waterfalls and we just enjoyed nature and the solitude with no electronics, no television, no radio, no telephone, and no internet. We had a really nice weekend.”
They made plans to return later with their kids.
“It wasn’t as quiet,” Lisle says with a laugh. “At the time, the kids ranged in age from 11 to 16. Some got in there with the chickens, others threw the football, but we all went for hikes. We made campfires, cooked, and made s’mores, and everyone enjoyed the uniqueness of it.”
Anthony Robinson from St. Louis, Missouri, discovered the farm after seeing a YouTube video of a family that visited. Robinson came with a group of eight adults.
“I’m interested in gardening and permaculture which is probably why I stumbled upon it,” he recalls. “We had a fantastic time. We ate muscadine grapes, some other fruit, and he had some chickens there, so we ate all of their eggs.” He laughs. “You can’t beat fresh eggs.”
They were also struck by the incredible view of the sky.
“We sat out by the fire, and the nighttime sky was amazing. Nobody else in our party had ever seen anything like it before. By that, I mean you could see trillions and trillions of stars. You could actually see the Milky Way, because there’s no light pollution out there.”
Robinson also has plans to return with children.
In addition to nighttime stays, Giffin gives daytime tours depending on availability. He shows the property for the first hour, then leaves guests to explore and forage for a second hour. He enjoys showing all that’s available in what he calls the “Food Forest.”
“We have stuff planted everywhere,” he says. “The goal is to make it where it doesn’t look like rows of crops, but blends in with the surroundings.”
His love of what he and his wife have created shines through in his excitement to share it with others.
“I think we’ve done a good job of providing something special for people when they come out here.”
For guests who want to venture off the property, there’s a nearby General Store, a place to go horseback riding, and an entrance to the Natchez Trace less than two miles away.
To find out more, check out Airbnb, GlampingHub.com or www.forestgullyfarms.com. The nightly rate is a flat fee for the entire property.
Did You Know?
PRESIDENTS DAY HISTORY
Presidents Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February, but that wasn’t always the case. The holiday was established in 1885, originally to honor President George Washington, and was celebrated on his February 22 birthday. The holiday became Presidents Day in 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. It now honors Abraham Lincoln, who also was born in February. Some workers still get the day off, but it’s mostly celebrated by retailers with Presidents Day sales.
PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
The Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration, currently administers 13 presidential libraries. The presidential library system formally began in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his papers to the federal government.
However, private foundations, historical societies, and some states operate libraries and museums for the earlier presidents, including The Hermitage which is managed by the Andrew Jackson Foundation. Another example is Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by the State of Illinois.