Good neighbors make all the difference. Just ask Bonnie Bratton.
Her husband, David, was a seventh-generation farmer. He owned a 250-acre farm in Shady Grove that his grandfather had purchased in 1917. He raised corn, soybeans, pigs and cows. When David died suddenly in 2012, it was right in the middle of the harvest season. Immediately, the Shady Grove community came together to help.
“They left their own crops in the field to help us,” Bratton says. “Some neighbors harvested the corn, others the soybeans. Some took it to market. Others brought lunches for those who were working. Everyone just dropped what they were doing and pitched in. It was so very touching and generous of them.”
But it was also proof of what she’s known all along – the agriculture community is exceptionally tight-knit.
“It’s interesting that in a rural community, you actually live far apart but are so close,” Bratton says. “In other places, people might live right next to each other, but not know one another very well.”
A supportive community has been especially important to Bonnie as she continues to run Bratton Farms. In addition to the soybeans, corn, hay and oats that are part of the operation, Bonnie grows a 3-acre pick-your-own patch that includes kale, turnip greens, collard greens, mustards and other greens, all of which are Pick Tennessee Products. She has loyal customers who have been visiting the farm and picking the greens for 20 years.
A Recipe for Success
Recently, Bonnie Bratton has added another venture to her plate, inspired by the legacy of her husband and supported by the agriculture community.
“David had a passion for barbecue,” she says. “Around 2008, he got a smoker and started experimenting with a sauce recipe that he made in our kitchen. A fellow barbecuer really liked it and started using it in his catering business. That’s when a light bulb went off. ”
David and Bonnie decided to sell the sauce at the local farmers market. “Lots of family and friends told us how good the sauce was, but when strangers started buying it, we knew we had something special.”
The Brattons had just finished their first year of farmers markets sales when David died. Bonnie knew she had to continue the work. “David took a lot of pride in developing his recipe and then being able to share it with other barbecue lovers,” Bonnie says. “I wanted to continue what he started because it was important to him.”
The result is Bratton’s Best BBQ Sauce. Bonnie doesn’t make it. “David was always a much better cook than I was,” she says. “The Nashville Kitchen & Cannery bottling company makes it using David’s recipe and then bottles it. I sell it.”
Cooking might not be her specialty, but selling certainly is. In the first year of large-scale production, Bratton’s Best is already available at 30 stores in eight Tennessee counties, including gift shops, restaurants, farmer co-ops and more. It is also a Pick Tennessee Product.
Bonnie is focused on growing the business, possibly expanding into grocery stores. But it’s not the sales that matter. “The opportunity to share something that David created with others who will enjoy it gives me a chance to continue his legacy and keep his memory alive.”
Bonnie Bratton still doesn’t know how she made it through the fall of 2012, but she knows a couple of things. “You have to have a purpose to help you through those tough times and a lot of great neighbors to support you. I was very fortunate to have both.”