In the Field

Southall’s Agricultural Resort Pioneers the Farm-to-Table Movement

By: Erin Byers Murray

When Paul Mishkin, founder of Southall, the 325-acre property just southwest of downtown Franklin, Tennessee, first considered opening the property to visitors, he started small—maybe a bed and breakfast and a garden. But after he partnered with hospitality veteran Ray Minias (now SVP of hospitality) and former Hermitage Hotel executive chef Tyler Brown (SVP of culinary arts and agriculture), the idea blossomed. A farm would come first, they decided, followed by a resort that tied to all elements of the farm. “Southall is a luxury resort, yes. But it’s also a place for education, a place to explore,” says Brown. 

It took seven years for the team at Southall to move from a kernel of an idea to a luxury oasis in the heart of Tennessee’s rolling hills. Many of those years were dedicated to cultivating the land and installing infrastructure (i.e., moving a lot of water and dirt). 

Guests work with team members in the garden at Southall

The team was ambitious. Brown’s guiding vision encompassed everything from a Monticello-style kitchen garden with hydroponic and conservatory greenhouses. There’s also an arboretum, an orangery, and a multivariety apple orchard with a certified cannery. A demonstration kitchen and  farm stand help bring the delicious landscape to guests and visitors. And of course, acres of cropland. 

Water is the most integral part of an agriculture program of this scale. The team dug a 7-acre lake, now called Lake Mishkin, which irrigates the production fields as well as the 2,000-tree apple orchard. A large event center is now perched on one edge and the lake will be a launchpad for kayaking and paddleboarding. 

Soil is the next essential element of the operation. The team collected dirt from across the acreage, crafting the ultimate blend to build out a multitiered kitchen garden that now stretches out along one edge of the property, its rows aligned and spaced out so that visitors can get up close with the crops. 

Chef Farmer Tyler Brown prepares meal with fresh flower garnishes, grown in the gardens surrounding Southall

And that is the point of every minute detail that’s gone into Southall’s farm, which is built for interaction and learning. Brown himself has been on an educational quest and a personal pilgrimage of discovery these past seven years. His lessons have included seed saving, researching plant and crop varieties, tracking growth cycles, and meticulously studying each harvest from the past several years to determine how best to utilize all parts of the land. 

There has been a project to introduce Bambara groundnuts to the property, the grafting of 43 varieties of apple trees, and constant foraging to determine what the hillsides might provide. When the doors to Southall opened, visitors could discover that as well.

Guests arriving at Southall find a 62-room resort as well as 16 cottages spread amongst the hills, all of it constructed with a stark, minimal design that stands out from the pastoral surroundings yet conveys an efficiency of space. Even with the main inn, cottages, 15,000-square-foot spa, event space, greenhouses, and farm-related buildings and offices, the property is still 93 percent green space. 

Tying all elements of the farm together will be Southall’s restaurants, available only to guests staying at the resort for the time being. Inside the inn, there’s Sojourner, an all-day restaurant and bar space serving everything from pastries at breakfast to bar hits like a take on a seafood tower or a selection of sandwiches throughout the evening. 

Mary Amelia is the dinner-only dining room with around 60 seats and an open kitchen design. It will offer a prix-fixe-style menu that focuses completely on the moment of the season. It starts with a welcome bite—one fleeting taste such as a radish pulled from the ground that day with a pat of butter, or a sliver of aged country ham—and then moves into the seated meal, which Brown sees evolving both with the seasons and with the life of the restaurant. 

“The whole thing is based around what product is at its zenith in that moment,” says Brown. “We want to be very simple with how we approach our endeavor here. Mother Nature does most of the work and then we just highlight her preparations with flavors that are easily discernible and give one a moment of pause.” 

Fresh-Picked Moments at Southall

Those moments will be wrapped up in every experience at Southall. Besides communing with the natural environment, there will be plenty of hands-on activity. Brown himself will lead garden and greenhouse tours or give guests a chance to go deeper with a “farmhand for a day” experience. It might involve planting or harvesting in the afternoon followed by a nosh and a drink inside the Jammery, all with the intention of giving people access to the daily happenings of the farm. 

The Jammery at Southall in Franklin, Tennessee

Beyond the gardens, guests can experience apple picking or a cider tasting in the orchard, where they can also come to know the massive pollination project underway there. Beekeeper Jay Williams has been nurturing some four million bees in the property’s apiary for several years, and Southall’s honey has already won awards. 

Guests can also take part in cooking demonstrations and cannery operations at the Jammery in an effort to understand extending and preserving each season. There might be a greenhouse tour to see blankets of hydroponically grown leafy greens and the hybrid striped bass aquaculture system on-site, or a walk through the orangery followed by a fleeting taste of citrus pulled from the trees. That’s all on top of the luxury spa, two outdoor pools, a hilltop pavilion with its own primitive kitchen, more than five miles of hiking and biking trails, a ropes and obstacle course, archery, falconry, and more. 

“I think a big piece of what we’re creating is fleeting, right? It’s a moment in time and that’s the experience we want to capture for people on any given day,” Brown says. 

From memorabilia and menus that might feature imagery of the biodynamic calendar or a fruit or leaf of the day to the welcome bite at Mary Amelia, Southall will provide all of the little elements that will help you soak up that precious moment in time. Brown ties it back to one of the restaurant’s names, Sojourner. “We want to represent that throughout—to just be in a space for a short passing of time.”

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