From OutLoud! to out in the country

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For sixteen years, Ted Jensen and Kevin Medley operated OutLoud! Books & Gifts, and for many of those years it was one of the original nuclei of the Nashville gay community. “There wasn’t anybody around at that time that didn’t end up there at some point,” Ted Jensen said. Now, former OutLoud! owner Jensen, along with his partner Robert Parker, is launching a new business endeavor sure to appeal to environmentalists, locavores and foodies, an LGBT owned and operated farm providing community supported agriculture (CSA).

Jensen is well-known in the Nashville LGBT community. The history of OutLoud!, once Nashville’s de facto community center, lies in Jensen’s own coming out experience. “In college, I was on the way to a Crusaders for Christ meeting,” he recalls. “Somehow, instead I ended up at Virginia Tech’s gay student group. I really began coming out at the point, but I was confused. The church of course said it was wrong, and what little I knew about gay culture—mostly drag queens—made me confused about where I could fit. Libraries and bookstores were where I did my research.”

It was the frustration of trying to find his place that inspired the store. “OutLoud! was supposed to be a safe place for anyone to come and be who they were: gay, straight, bisexual, and questioning. Over the years, especially when we were in the process of closing,” Jensen recalled proudly, “I had parents come in and say it was a safe haven for their kids, that their children would have died without it.” Unlike many traditional gay spaces, OutLoud! was a family friendly environment and was a sanctuary for young and confused people.

In 2002, six years after opening the store, Jensen and Medley bought a farm in Hohenwald. It was a private retreat, and they originally intended to operate the store and make the farm self-sustaining. “When the economic crash came,” Jensen said, “around the same time you saw the collapse of small booksellers, we just couldn’t maintain the store. We officially moved to the farm on May 1, 2010, and continued to commute to the store daily, but we just couldn’t keep that up. We closed up in 2012.”

Around that same time, Jensen and Medley met Robert Parker, who is now Jensen’s partner. Parker had farmed and helped operate a small CSA in Liberty, Tennessee. Parker said, “They needed someone on-hand with experience, so it was a good fit for us all.” Ted had already worked for ten years to build up the soil with cover crops, so the farm was nearly ready.

After about six months, Medley and Jensen separated, and Medley left the farming operation. “Kevin and I were in the public eye a lot,” Jensen said. “We’re still best friends. We just have different passions and different paths.” They do, however, still hold the lease on the stretch of Church Street that now includes OutCentral, Canvas, and WKND, and subleasing to those businesses provided them with some income, until a prolonged legal battle dried up that revenue stream.

Parker explains, “We never intended to make a business out of the farm. Our original goal was to be off the grid, and sell or donate excess produce.” Once their other revenue stream dried up, however, Jensen and Parker had to think about how they could monetize their farm. Given Parker’s experience with the CSA model, they recognized a number of options.

In the CSA model, the customer makes a commitment to a set number of weeks. “They’re buying into the farm, the real food experience,” Parker explained. Cudge Hollow offers customers an advantage, however, Jensen said: “Since we’ll have Amish farms providing backup produce, customers don’t have the same liability. Crop failure won’t mean our customers lose out.”

Also, in many CSAs, customers get food they don’t like. Cudge Hollow will be a customer-selected CSA. “The customer selects what they want. People meet at a central location and each customer gets to fill a half-bushel as they see fit.”

Right now the farm is producing milk products—including cottage and feta cheeses, yoghurt, butter, etc. Jensen says the immediate goal is “getting weekly subscribers for winter produce—milk, cheese, and eggs. Starting in the spring, we’ll be offering produce. We’re gonna specialize in a few crops and supplement with produce from Amish and Mennonite farms, naturally and sustainably farmed.”

Jensen and Parker are organizing their weekly drop off locations and are actively recruiting subscribers one taste test at a time. I had the opportunity to sample some of their milk-based products at OutCentral this month: their vanilla yoghurt is both pleasantly less tart that some commercial yoghurt, as well as richer and more flavorful. The same can be said of a fabulous farmer’s cheese. But by far my favorite is their cow’s milk feta, which is tangy and a bit salty, perfect for salads.

The couple is eager to educate our community about their farm and the importance of supporting local, sustainable agriculture. Jensen added, “We hope that our friends will support our new mission, to help usher in the new phase. It’s not OutLoud!, but it’s still all about community.” For more information about Cudge Hollow Farms, visit http://www.facebook.com/CudgeHollowFarm.