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Strong Stock Farm: A Rural Welcome



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By Susan Alexander
Photos by Ben Finch

At Strong Stock Farm in East Knox County, Martha Kern and John Niceley preserve history and protect open spaces. They also raise some mighty fine cattle. 

The black angus cattle they favor are all descendants of two calves purchased by Martha’s father in 1942. They are raised on a grass-only diet and sold locally to Three Rivers Market. Some local caterers and restaurants, including Good Golly Tamale, rely on Strong Stock beef.

The farm’s 900 acres of rolling pastureland border the Holston River and provide views of the Smoky Mountains and House Mountain. Just down the road is Chesterfield Farm, John’s family’s property, which includes another 350 acres.

Martha Kern and her brother, Albert George Kern III, are the seventh generation to oversee Strong Stock Farm.  Martha said her four children and two nieces also are committed to maintaining it as farmland. 

Preserving the past

Martha’s family heritage includes some of Knoxville’s oldest and best-known personages. J.C. Strong arrived in East Tennessee in 1804 and helped to settle the city. Sophronia Strong was the ancestor for whom a dormitory at the University of Tennessee is named. Family members also include the founder of Kern’s Bakery and maternal grandfather H.P. Ijams, whose South Knoxville property Ijams Nature Center now occupies. 

Martha has lived on the family farm for 45 years. She thinks she has lived there longer than any preceding family member. 

The white frame farmhouse where they live dates to the 1820s and has expanded with additions over the generations. It is the second home to be built on the property; the first was a log cabin, she said. 

The house, which Martha jokingly referred to as “an unfunded Blount Mansion,” boasts original built-in cupboards and pine and walnut paneling and floors. Newer sections of the house include a spacious dining room with sliding glass doors overlooking a large covered porch and rolling hills beyond. 

The house contains lots of family memorabilia, including a secretary from J.C. Strong’s original Knoxville residence, family portraits, a music box from Europe that belonged to her grandmother, Civil War-era hats, paintings and a plethora of old books.

Sharing with others

In addition to being a working farm, Strong Stock Farm is “a reluctant event venue,” Martha quipped. Though they happily host parties for area nonprofits – Remote Area Medical, Knox Heritage and Ijams among them – they also occasionally open their space for weddings and other special occasions. In fact, it was a wedding for 500 people last spring that prompted them to clean out a barn and convert it to “The Party Barn,” complete with tables, sound system, festive Edison bulbs and a big firepit behind it. 

That wedding was a weekend-long event. Many of the guests pitched tents or parked their campers for the weekend, and to accommodate them John and Martha added two showers to an old granary beside the Party Barn. Maps and a schedule of events directed guests to a variety of activities.

“There were caterers and event people here from noon to 2 a.m., from Thursday through Sunday,” Martha said.

Whenever they welcome groups, they do it with the idea of promoting agriculture and open spaces. “Fewer and fewer people have experienced living on a farm,” Martha said. “It used to be people would say they grew up on a farm, or their parents grew up on a farm. Then it was their grandparents did. Now you don’t hear it hardly at all.”

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