Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our Hippie-Amish-Twelve Tribe Road Trip

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Our Hippie-Amish-Twelve Tribe Road Trip
Summertown and Pulaski

An intriguing thing about living in Nashville: another world awaits, just a short drive outside the city limits. Rural Tennessee can get pretty darn interesting and sometimes even a little weird. That’s one reason we enjoy road trips through the Volunteer State. We had a mixture of disappointment, discovery and moral soul searching on a recent expedition to Summertown and Pulaski. Watch how quickly a simple food foraging road trip turns into something else entirely.

Yeah, you already know the Summertown thing. We went to the legendary Farm. And it really isn’t that weird anymore. After 38 years the communal farming colony is well established, and the hippies have branched out into all sorts of vegetarian business ventures. We swung buy in hopes of purchasing some fresh mushrooms. Unfortunately, while they are leaders in helping people learn how to grow mushrooms (; they don’t sell any on location. Visiting season is over now so we’ll have to go back for a mushroom tour next year. We did visit the Farm Store. Most of it is just organic and veggie commercial products like you would find in any health food store. They do sell their own soy products under the name FarmSoy ( We picked up some firm tofu. Under the Healthy-Eating label they produce textured vegetable protein. It looks worse than it sounds, much like dry dog food. Don’t let the Purina appearance dissuade you: with a bath in boiling veggie broth these nuggets come to life. The Veggie Eater sautéed them in onion and used Greek yogurt to make a zesty cream-like sauce. Mixed with angel hair egg noodles the soy creation made for a great dinner.

All of this healthy living talk must have lead to a case of the D-Ts for the Meat Eater. Just down the road we made a sudden U-turn at the sign proclaiming Shaffer Farms Custom Meats. Inside was a meaty paradise of steaks, ribs and briskets, enhanced with the smoky aroma of the adjoining barbecue joint. The main attraction is the butcher shop. They take meat really seriously. We waited while one couple had a top to bottom explanation of every type of meat and cut. They make their own sausage, so after a search the Meat Eater bought some German smoked sausage. The Veggie Eater went outside to escape the carnage and the Meat Eater took the opportunity to cheat on the upcoming lunch with a quick and stealthy beef brisket sandwich from the Texas Barbecue joint attached to the butcher shop. The brisket was good: smoky and quite moist. It was a little light in the flavor department, but it did provide a nice antidote to all of that tofu talk. The sausage, cooked up later, proved to be wonderfully strong and super smoky, with herbs and hints of spiciness.

Driving through Lawrenceburg is a blast. You watch Amish horse and buggies go head to head with two lanes of busy traffic. Look one way and you see three of them hitched outside the Save-a-Lot grocery store. Look another and they are navigating through a mall parking lot.

Down highway 64 towards Pulaski we found Powder Mill Hill. It looks pretty cool from the outside: an old farm mill nestled next to a limestone rimmed creek. The creaking building is covered top to bottom in antique commercial signs. Hundreds of rusting antiques and regular old crap of every size and description are strewn around the mill. Cow skulls anyone? Unfortunately it’s rather touristy inside, with the kind of newly minted “Americana” stuff you can get in a million stores these days. It is put together in a fun way with genuine antiques mixed in with the “Americana” kitsch. The owners are a blast. They couldn’t be nicer and insisted the Veggie Eater keep piling more apples into a $3.50 a bag special. We hit a couple more places a bit like this down 64 East towards Pulaski. The blueberry and cream cheese fried pie from the Green Valley Country Store is the best the Meat Eater has ever sampled and well worth an extra stop.

Our destination of Pulaski had one primary reason: a supposedly good vegetarian restaurant named Staff of Life. The menu online looked promising and we had a reader tip us off with a good experience. Unfortunately Staff of Life is gone. The owners have moved on to Alabama, according to residents we quizzed. Thankfully we had another stop in mind for Pulaski: the Common Ground Bakery. And this is when things got weird.

Common Ground has been selling baked goods at the Nashville Farmers Market this year. The breads have a distinctive European taste and texture: hearty, grainy and robust. The sourdough spelt is a real eye-opener. We swing by the bakery and are pleased to find a café, saving us a Pulaski lunch dilemma. Now forgive us for not knowing about this, but Common Ground cafes and bakeries can be found around the world. They are run by the Twelve Tribes organization ( It’s a Christian sect that espouses giving up worldly goods and living a simple lifestyle outside of the money driven society. Sound a little like a cult? Well, they’ve certainly been accused of that and a visit to the café can’t tell you much at all. It’s a pleasant environment: a beautiful, historic home and a laid back tea room atmosphere. The menu is a simple collection of sandwiches, and salads. The tomato bisque is quite a bit like the bread: hearty, chunky and full of herbs. The bread is the star on this menu: even a sandwich filled with corned beef, roast beef, hot pepper cheese and provolone, gets some zing from the fresh and doughy onion roll.

Okay, we don’t hear a word about religion during our visit and if you don’t read the newspaper they give out (actually kind of hidden away) you might never realize that this place is religious. The women are dressed in a kind of Mennonite meets gypsy style. While it may not be obvious, it’s still clear something is going on here. They say nothing to us of any religious nature and everyone is laughing and having a good time, including the many locals who pack the place for lunch.

We get back home and do some research. The Twelve Tribes have been a subject of much cult debate. Do they beat kids and make them follow the Twelve Tribe lifestyle, whether they like it or not? Do they get so much flack because they rail against the big money, super church Christianity favored by so many today? Some quick internet research and a visit to their café isn’t enough information to form a valid opinion. We did appreciate this thoughtful television piece put together by the well respected Chronicle TV show in Boston. Take a look and see what you think:

Will we buy stuff from Common Ground anymore? Probably not. They seem like genuinely nice folks. I appreciate their commitment to an alternative lifestyle and quite frankly share their concern about big money religion. However, anytime there is a powerful church leader there is the danger of blind faith. While they say there is no such leader in regular worship, news reports point to one of the founders of the group, who started it in Chattanooga in the 1970’s. Elbert Spriggs is accused of making pronouncements and telling followers what to believe. That’s not what bothers us. If ex-members can be trusted, he says some pretty weird things. In our final attempt at fairness we include a link to the ex-members site. Check out the alleged quotes:

The traditional media also has many racist, homophobic and sexist quotes attributed to Spriggs. While attitudes like this could probably be found at many church groups in Tennessee, we cannot support them with the purchase of products or services. People have a right to believe what they want, but we don’t have to give them our money.

Who knew that good bread and a good lunch could be so complicated? We even debated saying anything about this on the blog, since we certainly don’t want to promote a cult or damn someone’s choice in religion. We have always promised honesty with our readers and we will continue that pledge with this entry.

Veggie Eater: What happens when you take an atheist vegetarian to a restaurant run by Messianic Christians? Good food and lackadaisical service. I ordered ice tea, I got water. I then ordered the lunch special, which was spanakopita with a Greek salad. Salad, soup, and Meat Eater’s sandwich all arrived promptly. The salad had baby red leaf lettuce, baby chard, and some heartier greens. It was topped with sliced carrots, cukes, red pepper, tomato wedges, and red onion. It was then generously adorned with cubed feta and lots of kalamata olives. The dressing was light and allowed the veggies to shine. Lunch was off to a good start. And then there was the wait. We probably waited at least 20 minutes after we had consumed the soup, salad, and sandwich for Meat Eater before the waitress returned to confirm that I had never received my spanakopita. Thankfully, when it arrived, the spanakopita was wonderful. I don’t know if they make their own phyllo dough but it was flakey and sinfully buttery. It was chock full of nutmegged spinach. The spinach mixture appeared to have been made from fresh spinach given the lack of mushy texture. It was then loaded with cheese, not the standard feta; maybe provolone? We then asked for boxes to take our treats home with us. Another 20 minutes passed and Meat Eater went up to the register to ask for the box and check. Lo and behold, she had forgotten the box…a really interesting day finished by a really interesting lunch.


ceeelcee said...

What a fascinating story! Thanks for letting me be a fly on the wall (in the buggy?) during your trip.

Eric and Katie said...

Thanks ceeelcee, it was an interesting day.

mIKES said...

Nothing like a collective who, in the process of living a "simpler" lifestyle, creates a rules set that reads as easy as the IRS tax code~~! With dress codes..

Just be good and helpful.

To all.

Thanks for all your efforts.

megan said...

Your first instinct was probably more accurate than what you read on the internet...I think if you had a good sense about them & their business, you should follow your own intuition and not someone else's allegations.

I lived with them for 3 months and saw nothing but love for each other & their children. I also visited a number of their communities and there was consistency everywhere... they are beautiful people.

Eric and Katie said...

Megan: thanks for the insight. Yes, it could be good local folks with a nutty leader. The hard thing in deciding who is running a cult and who has an honest religion is that everyone these days does a pretty good job at PR, which makes it tough to cut through to the truth.

Brea said...

I happened upon this website while looking for information on area restaurants. Mistakenly thinking it was a blog about dining options, I clicked on it, only to find the blogger pointing out the bashing of people while the blogger bashed others in an arena for the whole world to read. Needless to say, I will not use this blog for "food" information in the future. Oh, and just so you know, I do not know anyone involved here...either the blogger or the people the blogger is dissing.

Anonymous said...

Twelve Tribes
The question about a closed cult-like group was answered right before your eyes: openness and visibility... that is why this Community opens cafes/bakeries where ever they live. They are not heavy-handed with sharing their love for Jesus, but if you had asked questions, they would have responded. I met some members of the Community in a social context (not religious) so have gotten to know more about the situation and visited at least four locations including Spain (they are international). You mentioned race: they are integrated! Members are free to leave (and return to) the Community.

Anonymous said...

I visited and stayed with a few groups of the Twelve Tribes aka The Community, in Boston, NH and Vermont. Members ARE NOT allowed to leave then come back! They are threatened with eternal hell fire if they leave! They are put out with nothing! This is a very dangerous cult, practicing all the cult brain washing techniques, such as wearing the same clothes, changing their names, living communally to enforce total control, all having the same jobs (no personal form of income) no personal checking or savings, no pay, total dependence, wives and children can be disciplined by other male members, total obedience or else, work work work, one head honcho (who lives quite differently from the rest,)whether they claim there is one leader or not, scare and fear tactics to keep members in place, using balloon sticks to beat their children, whether corporal punishment is warranted or not,lying as needed, and so on. I know....believe me I know. I didn't want them to be like that, as I had high hopes when visiting. They love bomb you to begin with, then after a short period, the truth comes out!