When Nick and Melissa Mooneyham bought the six-acre property they now call home in 2012, they had no plans to turn it into a farm and a full-time job for Melissa. The couple, who were living and working in Dalton, Georgia, just wanted to get back closer to home before they started thinking about raising a family. Nick has been working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the Dalton office since graduating from Tennessee Tech with a degree in agricultural engineering technology in 2008. Melissa, who has a business degree from Tennessee Tech, was working at a Dalton hospital in the IT department. The couple knew that a move back home would mean a long commute for Nick each day, but they thought that being able to raise their children close to their families — Melissa’s in Bledsoe County and Nick’s in Van Buren County — was worth it.
“The plan was always for me to be a stay-at-home mom and to have a job that I could do from home,” said Melissa. “After we moved here, I did a lot of sewing and selling crafts on Etsy. I remember one year I made hundreds and hundreds of burlap Christmas stockings between October and December. I still itch when I think of that scratchy fabric.”
“I didn’t have any interest in bees and beekeeping,” said Nick. “The bees and honey were Melissa’s idea. She had been in the beekeeping club in high school and wanted to get back into it. We started out with just one colony of bees in 2010. We did not expect to get any honey that first year, but we ended up with 5 gallons, and the bees made it through that winter. Melissa sold the honey at the farmers market in Pikeville and by word of mouth.
“That is where we came up with the name Hendon Honey Farm. It seemed fitting since we live in the Hendon community in Bledsoe County. In hindsight, we probably should have named it Hendon Farm since we do so much more today. Honey is only a small part of our operation now.
“When we bought this property, it was covered in trees, so the first thing we had to do was clear out the trees in the backyard. There was scrappy pine and some really big oak trees that had to be removed — not an easy or inexpensive chore. But we got them out, set up our hives and expanded the honey business. We even got into putting together and selling starter kits for people who wanted to get into beekeeping; we don’t do that anymore. We don’t have time. We still manage approximately 25 colonies, but they are now located in Pikeville on Melissa’s parents’ farm.
“The next addition to the farm were the blueberry bushes. We were able to plant approximately 150 bushes on that cleared land. When they started producing berries, we sold them at the farmers market as well. Then I got a great deal on two greenhouses. We got the first one up in December of 2018 and began starting plants from seed and growing vegetables and flowers to sell.
“Since I work for NRCS, I am up on all the programs out there to support small family farms, and I have seen what works and doesn’t work.
“We applied for and received a Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP) grant to set up the second greenhouse. This program provides cost-share dollars to agricultural producers for the purpose of making longterm investments in Tennessee farms and communities. We completed setup on the second greenhouse at the end of July this year. This new one will be primarily for starting and growing the early season plants.”
“I have always loved flowers — growing them and arranging them,” said Melissa. “My Grandma always had flowers, and I loved helping her, so I wanted to add flowers to our gardens and floral designs to our product list. Most of our flower sales throughout the year are for weddings — bouquets, boutonnieres and table decorations — but we probably do our greatest volume of sales on Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day.
“As the farm grew, I was spending most of my Saturdays — one of the days that Nick was at home — at the farmers market, selling our produce, flowers and other products. It was taking away a lot of our family time.
“When COVID hit, we lost the farmers market as a sales outlet and had to come up with a new marketing plan to sell all the produce we had coming in. That plan was to sell subscriptions for weekly CSA — Community Supported Agriculture — bags. This is where my marketing degree and online commerce experience paid off. Thank you, Tennessee Tech! I used these skills to set up our website and social media sites to promote the program.
“The website makes it easy for our customers to sign up and pay for our CSA products online. The bags feature a variety of seasonal produce. The mix varies depending on which fruits, vegetables and flowers are ready for distribution each week. We offer small, medium and large bags.
“Subscribers complete an online checklist to make sure they get produce that is compatible with their family’s preferences from the produce available. The website makes it easy for me to update the list weekly as the available products change and to promote new products. The website enrollment and payment features make it much easier to track our sales with dates and amounts. When I was at the farmers market, I knew how much money I had made at the end of the day but had no record of what or how much of each product I had sold.
“We have started each season with over 40 subscribers, but some of them have their own gardens, and as their produce starts coming in, those customers generally drop out of the program. We have ended up with about 30 members the past two years, and that was right about what we thought our limit should be.
“This program has worked out so well for us. We know we have guaranteed buyers for our produce. We package up the bags and deliver them to the customer’s doorstep or to a pickup point in the communities in our delivery area. Since Nick drives to North Georgia every day during the week, he can drop off bags on his way. We feel like our subscribers are family, and we treat them that way. Having grown up in the area, we do know many of our customers, but there are quite a few we have never seen because of the drop-off service. We feel like we know them, though, with all the online interaction.
“Since our customers are like family, we want to provide them with wholesome food that we would be proud to serve our own family. Although we are not a certified organic operation, we follow many of the OMRI — Organic Material Review Institute — procedures in growing our produce. We eat this stuff, too. We don’t put anything on it that we wouldn’t eat or wouldn’t want our children to eat.”
“Most of what we include in the bags or use in our floral products is grown right here on our farm,” said Nick, “but occasionally we supplement the bags with produce from other local farms or florists — businesses that we know follow the same high standards we do. These items might include strawberries in the spring, apples from Oren Wooden’s orchard in the fall or roses for a wedding bouquet.
“If we have a week where we don’t sell all our produce through the CSA bags, it doesn’t go to waste. We offer anything in excess to the Hummingbird Pastaria Restaurant on Signal Mountain — a restaurant known for its menu of entrees that include fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
“The great thing about the program is that Melissa doesn’t have to spend most of her Saturdays at the farmers market and that she gets to stay at home with our boys during the week. This business is all about family.”