By Terence Corrigan
UNIONVILLE, Tenn. — Although they lost all their cows to sickness just three years after starting their dairy operation at the beginning of the Great Depression, Wallace and Ida Nash prevailed. The Nash family dairy operation thrived in the Central Valley of California for nearly 80 years, run by three generations of the Nash family. The fourth generation of the family – including Cody Nash and his sister Stephanie – has established its place with the family farm; which is now located in Bedford County, Tenn.
The family members involved in the farm operation today are Cody and his wife Kara, Stephanie, and his mom and dad, Terry and Steve.
The Nash family had moved the California farming operation once before, nearly 80 years earlier, to Conejo, a small rural community south of Fresno. In 1935, Howard, became the second generation of the Nash family to run the dairy operation, growing the business from 30 cows to 200 and from 60 acres to 280. Howard ran the farm for over four decades, passing it along to his 20-year-old son, Steve, in 1979.
Steve, like his father and grandfather before him, grew the diary operation: from 200 cows to 1,200 in 20 years.
Loss of a cow herd and a Great Depression weren’t enough to force the Nash family out of the dairy business in California, but by the mid-2000s declining prices for milk combined with the rising cost of doing business in California and increasing government regulations and tightening restrictions on water use, caused the family to start looking throughout the country for greener pastures.
The settled on Tennessee, Cody Nash said in an interview at their 500-acre farm just north of Unionville. “Tennessee is pro-Ag and pro-business. The state Ag department is really great to work with,” Cody said. “We looked at a lot of states before we decided upon Tennessee. It’s a real good fit.”
The Nash Family Farm milked for the first time in Tennessee on Christmas Day 2013. “I think we milked 11 cows that first day,” Cody said. “It was so cold. It was so cold. The milk froze in our tank. It was quite an ordeal.”
Today, the milk around 1,200 cows twice daily, producing 8,000 to 9,000 gallons a day. When they started in Tennessee, they were hauling their milk with their own trucks to a Dean Foods processing plant in Birmingham, Ala. – 160 miles one way. Following the Dean Foods bankruptcy, the market turned in their favor – a rare thing in dairy farming – and the Nash’s now haul their milk just 30 minutes to Heritage Farms Dairy in Murfreesboro.
The Nash’s moved their entire operation, including 1,800 cows, tractors and other farm equipment, over 2,000 miles from Fresno to Unionville with just a one-day stopover in San Antonio, Texas to give the cows a break. “All the cows made it,” Cody said, “except one and one had a calf on the way over so it was a net-zero loss.” Also coming along with the Nash family were many of the dairy farm’s 20 employees.
As part of the move to their new home in Tennessee, the Nash family changed their record-keeping from hand written notes to a higher tech system for monitoring and managing their herd. Cody used to stand alongside his dad taking notes as the cows moved into their places in the milking parlor. With the new system, the cows’ ear tags are scanned electronically and everything about each cow’s health and history is available on a touch screen – how much milk they’re giving, medical records, vaccination records, etc. – and when they leave the parlor they are guided through an automatic sorting gate system to send them to the proper free stall barn.
The new parlor setup also required some training for the cows. In California, the Nash cows were accustomed to entering their milking stations at a 45 degree angle and they were milked in front of their rear legs. With the new system, they make a full 90 degree turn and are milked between their rear legs. When the cows first started with the new setup, Cody said. “We had to move each cow (by hand) that extra 45 degrees. We had to retrain them.”
Climate control for cow comfort
An adaptation needed for dairy farming in Tennessee versus California was getting used to the higher humidity. In the Central Valley of California it routinely gets hot in the summer but the humidity is almost non-existent. It took some getting used to for the family and their employees. It also presented problems for the cows. In Tennessee, it gets hot and humid and the Nash’s California cows were not ready for it. “In California it would get to 110 degrees, but it’s dry,” Cody said. “Throw in the humidity and it’s a game changer. The cows were not used to it, they had to adjust to it.”
The cows did not get air conditioning but they did get some climate controls including misters, curtains and huge fans in their free stalls where they lounge around and eat between milkings. The fans create a 10-15 mph wind in the barns. “It keeps them real comfy,” Cody said.
Farm to table
Cody, a recent college graduate, is creating a new aspect of the Nash family business: marketing farm products directly to consumers. He graduated from Wilmington College in Ohio majoring in ag business with a minor in business management.
“Before I got into college I knew I wanted to do some sort of value added business, get our name on dairy products,” Cody said. He wanted to build a family brand, which has proven to be the road to success for smaller family farms.
While in college, he worked for the Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The Young’s operation combines a working dairy farm with a store that sells their farm’s bottled milk, their own cheeses and other dairy products and provides family friendly activities including a petting zoo and holiday festivals.
It was at Young’s that Cody decided he wanted to make ice cream. To that end, he enrolled in the 128-year-old Ice Cream Short Course at the Department of Food Science at Penn State. The seven day course is intensive, Cody explained: 10 hour days in the labs and classrooms. The college describes the course as “Taking you from cow to cone.”
Ice cream, Cody said, seemed to him to be the best way to begin directly marketing to the community. “I make all the ice cream myself,” he said. “This is a good way to get a lot of people in the door, to start building a brand.”
The Nash Family Creamery
On Sept. 17, 2020, the Nash Family Creamery opened, selling the ice cream Cody makes and products from other area farms. Cody and his mom, Terry, are the driving forces behind the store.
They sell meats from Potts Meat Processing in Wartrace (added at the end of February), beef from Pleasant Valley Farms in Shelbyville, honey from TruBee Honey in Eagleville, barbecue and hot sauces from Captain Rodney’s of Lewisburg, and fruit cider from Morning Glory Orchard in Nolensville.
The Nash family will be adding their own line of cheeses to the shelves by this summer. Also in the store they offer a wide variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and some options like turkey and cheese. Of course, they also offer ice cream, in homemade waffle cones or by the pint. (A note: try to get there and enjoy the aroma when they’re making the waffle cones).
The store is open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. They will soon be packing six of their most popular flavors in 8 ounce cups (spoons included) to be sold in local grocery stores. The phone number for the Nash Family Creamery is 931-294-2999.