As large food corporations continue to absorb much of America's agriculture, many local planters continue to maintain independence.
But freedom comes at a price.
Owners of Beauchene's Berry Farm Alice Beauchene, 82, and husband Roy, 88, have operated their 10.66 acre farm in West Knoxville for 30 years.
"We are retired codgers and it keeps us busy," Alice Beauchene said. "We usually lose money on the farm but we write that off as a service to the community – ask our good customers – and as something to keep us active."
Both Alice and Roy Beauchene are former UT employees. While Alice worked in the computing center, Roy was a professor in the nutrition department. Beauchene's Berry Farm produces blueberries, blackberries and some vegetables.
Customers of the farm are able to pick their purchases straight from the field.
"By patronizing us," Alice Beauchene said, "our customers know where the produce comes from and how it was grown."
Olivia Gross, sophomore in social work, affirmed Beauchene's view.
"I think it's really important that people know exactly where their food comes from," Gross said. "And I think it's really important that the people that are providing the food are getting the cut they deserve."
However, Alice Beauchene said owning a small farm is not always idyllic. Property taxes are discounted for farms that reach a 15-acre minimum, a size beyond Beauchene's reach.
"That prime piece of property on Middlebrook Pike – a farm of 102 acres – paid only $98 more than we and it will probably be sold for about $11 million," Alice Beauchene said.
Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-19-2013.pdf) show a national trend toward fewer farms with a corresponding growth in the size of large farms, illustrating a consolidation of the nation's food production.
In 2012, 34 percent of the nation's farmland was owned by farms making more than $500,000 per year.
Ironically, these large farms make up 6.2 percent of the total number of farms. Farms making less than $10,000 in sales, on the other hand, constitute approximately 53 percent of U.S. farms.
Despite the growing clout of large food corporations, David Cantrell, owner and operator of Black Oak Farms, a local beef and fruit farm, said he believes small, independent farms can still thrive.
"With experience, the ability to learn, attention to details and willingness to change, anyone can compete with corporate America," Cantrell said. "We learn to grow crops and livestock. The key is to market them at a profit."
While farming for a large distributor offers certain advantages, Cantrell does not concern himself with the implications of contract farming such as filling a quota.
"It would be painful to have to purchase 1,000 bushels of peaches and sell them at a loss to fill a contract," Cantrell said. "This is what can happen when a summer hail storm wipes out their crop and they experience a total loss."
Notably, locally grown foods are typically pricier than produce shipped to supermarkets like Wal-Mart or Kroger. But students like Emily Hoffman, junior in graphic design, see the value in purchasing from area farmers.
"The food tastes better and there's no concern about harmful chemical pesticide residue," Hoffman said. "Additionally, buying locally keeps the community unique and distinctive."