|Known for its spectacular mountain views and abundance of pristine lakes, Loudon County, Tennessee, is also known for the beautiful neighboring Sweetwater Valley. Located in the midst of what is often called the “Lakeway to the Smokies,” the valley is home to one of the region’s most popular attractions, Sweetwater Valley Farm (17988 West Lee Highway, Philadelphia, Tennessee 37846; 865-458-919). This east Tennessee business, conveniently located off of both Interstate I-75 and near I-40 East, is a family affair that has evolved into much more than a farming operation.|
John and Celia Harrison both grew up in the area and have been married for more than 30 years. When looking for a place to start farming, they chose to stay in the place where their families had lived for generations. They purchased an interest in the dairy farm in 1987, became the sole owners in 1992, and first produced cheese in 1998. Today, their children work with them to operate a dairy farm, creamery, café and agritourism business that draws visitors from across the region and beyond. John says while he’s a farmer by trade, he takes great pride in producing high-quality products. As Sweetwater Valley Farm has become a household name in these parts, the products and experiences the business offers are growing, as is its popularity throughout the country.
“We are a dairy farm, primarily, and I really enjoy the farming side of things,” John said. “But it gives me a great sense of pride to produce a product that we are recognized for, a high-end product, unique to this area. I think the public is very curious,” he continued, “as to where their food comes from, where the products come from and I think we’ve always viewed ourselves as an educator as to how cheese is made.”
The Harrisons, along with two of their children who are now involved in the business (Mary Lyndal is a marketing director and Charles works in crop production), invite visitors to spend a day at the farm, shopping, eating and touring. At the farm’s store, visitors can taste and purchase many varieties of cheese. Approximately 300,000 pounds of cheese are produced annually on this working dairy farm and the cheese-making process is visible through a viewing window.
Next, many take the Red Cow Tour for an in-depth glimpse of the workings of the farm. In addition to learning more about dairy operations and the cheese-making process, visitors also see the latest technology in the dairy industry in action here. Sweetwater Valley Farm is home to Tennessee’s first Lely XL robotic facility. Eight robots are used to milk 500 Holstein cows daily.
The next stop is the Seed to Sandwich Café, which features delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and fresh milkshakes. Of course, Sweetwater Valley products are front and center on the café’s menu.
The farm is home to 1,500 dairy cows and produces 30 varieties of cheese. As a farmstead cheese producer, the Harrisons control the entire process, from growing their own crops to feed the cows to using their own milk to produce the cheeses. The one-hour farm tours are conducted Tuesdays through Saturdays and can be booked online. The café is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you go
Many visitors choose to balance a day on the farm with time exploring the classic downtowns of Loudon County. Lenoir City delights history lovers with its well-preserved architecture and classic streetscapes. The traditional storefronts are home to locally-owned shops and boutiques with unique finds and hometown charm. This is also home to a portion of the U.S. 11 Antique Alley, which begins in Lenoir City and continues south through Loudon County. The neighboring town of Loudon sits beneath its trademark historic water tower and is also home to beautiful historic buildings and a town square complete with picturesque fountain. This 1800s riverfront town is an idyllic setting for strolling the streets, shopping the local specialty shops and enjoying the small-town vibe.
City parks in both Lenoir City and Loudon offer a variety of outdoor activities, including walking trails to explore. There is also a host of other activities, attractions and exciting events throughout Loudon County, as well. Lodging options include national hotel brands along with numerous camping locations.
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