Tennessee Alumnus

Corporate to Country

By Chandra Harris-McCray

In their own style of cuisine, Anna, 5, and her sister, Katie, 4, concoct a mud pie from squishy, sloppy rain puddles.

“Delicious!” says Kathy Gunn (Knoxville ’92), as she pretends to taste her daughters’ dandelion- and insect-layered goo. Her oldest daughter, Morgan, 8, circles around their farmhouse on a tricycle, and just a few feet away, Kathy’s husband wrangles cattle.

“This is as close as we get to a vacation,” she says.

The cows don’t take a vacation and neither do Kathy and Josh Gunn after leaving Atlanta and their big-city jobs in 2002 to start a family and a grass-fed beef business on 1,200 acres of farmland 45 miles north of Nashville.

A farming legacy that dates back to 1904, Green Hill Farms is where as a boy Josh (Knoxville ’97) chased horses and rode in his grandfather’s tractor as they plowed the ground for wheat and corn.

“I didn’t grow up playing video games,” he says. “I grew up in the fields, cropping with my granddad, and I loved it.”

Josh remained close to his farming roots even when he and Kathy lived in Atlanta. An agricultural economics major, he worked for large agricultural companies and trained farmers in using new products and technology. Kathy achieved her dream of working in a “tall glass building” when the consumer electronics company where she rose through the ranks to become the director of business intelligence relocated from Knoxville to Atlanta.

Two years into their swank life in Atlanta, the Gunns found out they were going to have their first child.

“It was time to go back home,” Josh recalls. And although Kathy, the daughter of a retired UT engineering professor, always considered herself to be a city girl at heart, she was willing to swap her suits and stilettos for jeans and muck boots “if it meant our children would be raised near family and experience a way of life that was simpler and closer to nature,” she says.

“Nothing prepared me for waking up at 3 a.m. on Christmas Day and finding my husband—the cattle whisperer—gone to chase cows that had escaped from the pasture,” Kathy says.

It was a rude awakening that Kathy’s mother-in-law, Melanie Gunn (Knoxville ’71), received 39 years ago as the young bride of David (Knoxville ’72). They still live on the farm in a two-story Victorian-style home.

“I never thought I would fall in love with a farmer,” Melanie says. “I didn’t know the first thing about farming. I remember I wanted to plant a small garden in our backyard, and I went to the co-op store looking for 10 ears of corn and pork and beans. I can laugh now at the silly mistakes I made, but David’s mom was there to take my hand and teach me, and now I am taking Kathy’s hand, and we are learning as we go.”

From sunup to sundown, Josh, a seventh-generation farmer, works with his father managing the cattle operation, which includes Gourmet Pasture Beef, their successful enterprise that supplies premium beef to more than a dozen restaurants and hundreds of customers. At farmers’ markets, the menu even includes suet—the fat of a cow—that has been transformed into lip balm, skin wax, and other beauty products.

Kathy manages the day-to-day business operations and says although work beckons 24/7 in return for a smaller paycheck and a 15-minute drive to the nearest grocery store, the children “make mud pies, daydream, and run around in circles collecting bugs.

“So every day is a good day. Being close to the dirt keeps us humble and puts life in perspective.”

For more information about the Gunns’ farm, visit www.gourmetpasturebeef.com