Reliving History

Engineered Spirits - Misty Upper Field

Down on the Farm

I’ve been gardening in Tennessee for most of my life now and I am often asked how we grow food and flowers here without pesticides and other chemicals. I’ve been an advocate of organic methods for years and I try to get better at living that way all the time. But one thing that often strikes me about these conversations is that there seems to be a general perception that ideas like companion planting, making compost, collecting rainwater, etc. are new ones. 

Growing up in rural Tennessee in the 70s, we did all those things. They were practices that my mother taught me and her parents had taught her, and their parents had taught them. Even when I was a teenager, our family didn’t have access to bagged potting soil and mulch, power tools, or modern pesticides and fungicides. Those conveniences were just plain expensive. So instead we pushed around our wheelbarrows of aged manure, compost and leaf mould to improve the soil, mulched when we had leaves or straw to use, and hoed the weeds that came up when we didn’t. Most of the time we handpicked any bugs that were eating our vegetables. Sevin dust was available at the co-op, but we avoided using it because we felt it must be bad for the butterflies and bees. We knew we needed those to pollinate our fruit trees. We harvested our produce by hand, cooked it, canned it, or froze it, and then saved the seeds of cherished varieties to keep them going.

It was a lot of work, but I remember it fondly, because time spent shelling peas or shucking corn was also family time. I guess it was not so very different from the techniques people had used for centuries here to grow food to eat and flowers to enjoy, in the years before Home Depot, Walmart or Amazon.

So, what we’re doing at the farm is not so much trying something new, as it is returning to something older. We’re using the resources we have there already, or that we can get locally for free. 

Even though we’ve got a lot to do before the distillery can open its doors, you can already see these ideas slowly taking shape all over the farm. We could have torn down Papa’s old workshop, but instead we’re going to renovate it and use it as our headquarters. The old trench silo will have a new life as our barrel storage house. We’re restoring the spring house to its bygone glory. The trees that have fallen down over the years will now decompose in our permaculture beds, nourishing the farm’s clay soil for our botanicals. To reduce how much we have to mow, we’re planting a wildflower meadow in the orchard. In a few years, we hope we can just mow the paths and leave the rest tall. And so on and so forth. 

We realize we won’t always be able to accomplish everything we want in the way we want to, and many of our projects are going to take even longer to complete than they would if we just did the convenient thing. But these are our guiding principles. And that’s why the projects I mentioned are already underway. Because, when it comes to making a long-term change, there’s no time to start like the present.

We’re mindful of that present and we’re looking forward to the future, but we’re also turning to the past for inspiration and wisdom, when people lived on their own land, within their own means, and bartered or bought the things they couldn’t produce themselves from neighboring farms and craftspeople. No matter how many mistakes our ancestors may have made in life, no matter how many things they got wrong, there are quite a few things they got right. And we’re here to celebrate that.


Engineered Spirits - A View through the Trees

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

A phrase I grew up hearing was “honest and hardworking”.  People would say that about someone and I knew that person was respected. I guess there are other ways to earn respect, but being honest seemed to be one of the best accepted.

The other day, I was asking Uncle Ralph some questions about growing fruit and he warned me that, “You might be leading your ducks to a poor pond.” Other than making me laugh, this phrase also contained a lesson. Even though Uncle Ralph is an expert in botany, he is humble about it and didn’t want me to blindly follow his advice without doing my own research. He was being honest in that, as much as he knows, he doesn’t know everything.

Honesty typically speaks to other characteristics like that. If someone is honest, they also tend to be humble, social, helpful and thoughtful. They probably put people at ease. If someone is honest, you don’t worry about them trying to deceive you.

Being honest doesn’t always have immediate rewards and, sometimes, it has less desirable consequences. Sometimes it causes you to reflect on what you believe and sometimes you have to change that too. But as long as you’re honest, you don’t have regrets. Why would you want those? Life is tough enough as it is.

If someone asks an honest person something they don’t know much about, they’ll truthfully say, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to go look that up.” Without thinking anymore about it, you know an honest person will do exactly what they said and will get back with them with an answer. 

Some people will say this or that product is handmade or handcrafted. That’s a popular buzzword in the distilling industry nowadays, with few definitions. When we say one of our products is handcrafted, we’re being honest. We mean that we cooked, fermented, distilled, bottled, and labeled everything you taste (in most cases, we grew it, too). If we sourced a base alcohol, we will tell you that upfront, so you’ll know exactly what you’re drinking. We’ll also be transparent about everything we used during our process, botanical or otherwise, so that if you ever have a question, we’ll have an answer. And if we don’t know, well, don’t worry; we’ll go look it up and get back to you.

We aim to be part of that honest and hardworking group. Being honest may sound really hard, but we’d rather have your respect. And no regrets.