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FEATURE FRIDAY: Weaver family carries on farming tradition

Story and photo by Susan Campbell, Thunder Radio

In the southern Coffee County community of Calls, the Weaver family has been farming since the Civil War.

Ray Weaver assumed the farm operations in 1971, and, with his wife Elaine, added row crops, hogs, sweet corn and cattle. They also raised a family, and, in 2002, their son Jamie graduated from the University of Tennessee and joined the family business, adding a vineyard, pumpkins and a retail meat business. Ready to take over the farming operations in the future are Jamie’s three children, Sarah, Elliott and Grady.

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Ray and Elaine have a second son, who serves as director and campus minister at the Wesley Foundation on the campus of MTSU.

“John has the love of farming, but he is a minister,” Elaine said. “God called him first. He has two little boys and they love to come to the farm and dress like Papa, riding the combine.”

Weaver’s beef, pork and lamb can be purchased at Harvest Local on the Manchester Square, or at the Winchester, Tullahoma and Murfreesboro farmers’ markets. Delivery is also available. The vineyard’s grapes are sold to Bean’s Creek Winery in Manchester.

“Our meat sales have done really well because people want to know where their meat comes from these days,” Ray said. “We take it to a USDA plant to process, but we know how the animals are raised, how good they are taken care of and how special everything is to us. There are no antibiotics or hormones in our meat.”

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The Weaver Farm produces grapes on eight acres, row crops on 600 acres, sweet corn on 20 acres and pumpkin on less than an acre, and raises cattle, finishing pigs and sheep.

Ray and Jamie both say their love of the land is what keeps them in the business, which is not always easy.

“I always had a love of the land and wanted to farm,” Jamie said. “I Just enjoy working with livestock and land and the challenges of growing different products. It is also a joy working in a family setting and building on what others have started. Sarah, Elliott and Grady are very helpful with the farmers markets, feeding livestock, and they have their own sheep they tend to.”

The Weavers practice good stewardship practices such as no-till, cover crops, and reducing inputs to conserve and enhance the resources they have been given. According to the family, each person plays a vital part in operating the farm. Ray and Jamie take on the main load of daily farm tasks. Elaine runs errands and keeps the family fed. In addition, Ray and Elaine work the farmers’ markets with the help of the grandchildren, and the entire family pitches in during sweet corn and pumpkin season.

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Running a working farm does not come without problems, however, with the most pressing problems being finding labor in a tight market and the ever-increasing cost of doing business.

“The biggest problem for farmers today is that input has gone up so much more than the prices,” Ray said, meaning the cost of operation has increased at a faster rate than the retail value of their products.

Jamie echoes his father’s sentiment. “The biggest challenge today is being able to do enough to provide a decent income. The cost of doing business makes it tough to have enough profit to make a living. This is the reason we started the meat business – to capture more of the consumer dollars. Family farms are still the backbone of agriculture and rural America. In my opinion, family farms are the best way for a family to work together and raise kids,” Jamie said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, family farms remain a key part of U.S. agriculture, making up 98% of all farms and providing 88% of production. Most farms are small family farms, and they operate almost half of U.S. farm land, while generating 21% of production. Midsize and large-scale family farms account for about 66% of production; and non-family farms represent the remaining 2.1% of farms and 12% of production.

Caretakers of the Land

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Weaver Farms is in the Southeast Soil and Water Conservation Society Hall of Fame for its no-till farming practice. No-till farming is an agricultural technique for growing crops or pasture without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till farming decreases the amount of soil erosion tillage causes in certain soils, especially in sandy and dry soils on sloping terrain.

“We’ve got ground that hasn’t been tilled for 30 years,” Ray said. “The cover crops we plant enhance the no-till. No-till is good in itself to help with erosion, but the cover crops on top of that build the soil up. We are big in cover crops. We have seven different cocktails we put out. We change it according to what crop we’re going to put out the next year. Jamie will try things such as turnips, radishes, legume, clover, winter feed, rye grass or wheat. It’s a mixture.”

The Weavers have been recognized both locally and statewide for their conservation and environmental efforts and are active in many soil conservation and farming organizations. The Coffee County Soil Conservation District named Jamie the 2013 “Young Conservationist of the Year” for his sustainable soil and farming practices. He was also a runner-up for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Young Farmer of the Year. Ray is Tennessee Board Member for the National Soil Conservation Association and has received the Tennessee Farm Bureau Distinguished Service Award, Both Ray and Jamie have been named National Soil Health Heroes.

To learn more about Weaver Meats visit, @weaver_farms on Twitter or email

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Ray and Elaine Weaver are often seen with their meat truck on Wednesdays at the Tullahoma Farmers Market at Trinity Lutheran Church on the corner of Wilson Avenue and Cedar Lane. Their meats are also available at Harvest Local on the square in Manchester. –Photo by Susan Campbell

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