I recently had the opportunity to eat a simple but delicious meal prepared for some of my colleagues and me at a place called Lone Oaks Farm. So I’ll write up a quick review of that meal to follow my form here, but the purpose of me writing this post goes way beyond writing about a great meal.
I may have mentioned it before on this blog, but I work in IT, currently for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. I’ve worked in higher education IT for most of my career, and I’ve been with the Institute since late 2013. The Institute is composed of four units, one of which serves as its outreach unit, UT Extension. 4-H is part of UT Extension, and that’s where my trip to West Tennessee comes in, and why I ended up eating a great meal prepared by Chef Allen Cain.
After a day of meetings to work on developing a strategy to improve and support the IT infrastructure at Lone Oaks Farm, we were treated to dinner.
Dinner was served buffet style, which was nice because it let me decide how much of each item I wanted. Once I’d tried them all, I was glad there was enough left for seconds.
Everything on this plate was great. The salad had just the might mix of veggies and whatever dressing it was tossed in was good. The sweet potato medly to the right of the salad was outstanding. I don’t know how he did it, but Chef Allen made sweet potatoes exciting and flavorful. The shrimp were great, but I’ll be honest, I worked my way through them with my mind on the steak. The steak was marinated and grilled to perfection, and the second one I snagged off the buffet (yes, I took the last one) was just as good as the first. The cream cheese-filled pastries were also delicious, but I limited myself to two of those.
So that’s the review of the meal – it was outstanding. The one thing I hope is that I will spend another night at the farm when Chef Allen prepares some of the trout you can catch right behind the main building.
I don’t have the words to describe just how beautiful a place Lone Oaks Farm is. Lone Oaks exists on 1,200 acres of some of the most inspiring land I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a clear idea in my head of how large 1,200 acres was before spending a few days on the farm.
What I can tell you is, especially since some of the cabins are located deep within some of the wooded areas, reachable by twisting trails, 1,200 acres is big. My boss and I stayed in a lodge at one end of the property and one of our coworkers stayed at a cabin at the other end. Driving to pick her up each morning took 5-7 minutes.
This is just one of the cabins/houses at Lone Oaks, one of thirteen. It’s called the Waterfall Cabin because it sits next to a lake with its own waterfall. I’d love to drop our son off at my parents and take my wife out here for a romantic few days away from it all.
There’s too much about Lone Oaks for me to go into here – check out the website if you want the incredibly interesting story of its history and plans for its future by UT.
The Experience – Why I Love My Job
I made a second trip out to Lone Oaks Farm recently – in fact I left Knoxville at nearly 9PM and drove the 5.5 hours to reach the farm so I could be there for an early morning meeting the next day. I was exhausted the next morning, but the work being done at Lone Oaks is important, and I was happy to do it. While the purpose of the trip was to work on the networking, IT, and video conferencing needs of the farm, what I saw that morning before breakfast cemented for me why I love my job and am so proud to be a part of what the Institute of Agriculture and UT Extension does across our state.
As we drove up to the Sale Barn for our breakfast meeting, I saw a large group of kids, probably pre-teens, playing volleyball outside. Considering I was working on about 4 hours of sleep, volleyball was the furthest thing from my mind, but those kids soon came inside and I realized they were staying at the farm as part of its role as a 4-H camp. What happened next took my breath away with its quiet power and simple goodness.
Chef Allen had prepared a pancake breakfast for everybody that day, and the 4-H kids were gathered at several large tables near us. Gary Rodgers, County Director and 4-H Agent in Hardeman County, got the kids’ attention and said to them something like, “As is our habit, we guys will wait for the girls to go through the line and get their food. Once we all have our food, we’ll give thanks.” And that’s exactly what they did.
And just like that, I was wide awake and excited about the day and our mission at Lone Oaks in a way that I hadn’t fully understood before. Here was a man, modeling courteous, respectful behavior, and reinforcing it with a group of boys and girls. I was raised in the South, in Tennessee, and this resonated with me. I knew right then that, even though I don’t want my 4 year-old son to grow up any faster, I look forward to the day that he can be in 4-H and be exposed to examples of leadership and citizenship like those kids at Lone Oaks have in Gary. Knowing that the work I do helps just that one part of 4-H and UT Extension be more connected, more technology-enabled, makes those trips across the state more than worth it. I didn’t take this pic, but it shows Gary working with some 4-H’ers.
If you have a chance to schedule an event of the kind Lone Oaks Farm can host, even if it’s just staying a night or two at one of the cabins, you should do it. You’ll see a place like no other you’ve seen before, and you’ll be supporting the great programs of Tennessee 4-H.