photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
article by VANELIS RIVERA
A road of packed earth and gravel met the wheels of my subcompact as I neared Compton Farms. The winding path, damp from the week’s downpour, was a turn from the paved side streets of the homely neighborhood generously tucked away from the wailing commotion of Arkansas Road. I knew I wasn’t lost because of a circular, hand-painted sign read “Compton Farms,” featuring a tractor rolling over grass. An Old Flatbed International K5 truck joined the area’s welcoming committee, artistically repainted with blush pink, forest green, and marigold yellow flora, and yellow and white Lantana and grasses from Sammy’s Plant World lined the cargo bed. A makeshift scarecrow named Chester Copperpot styling a straw hat, orange bandana, torn-up jeans, and Compton Farms’ shirt leans on the driver’s door. The whimsy extended down the road as wildflowers sprouted randomly, reminiscent of that Dolly Parton song, “Wildflowers don’t care where they grow…” But, the true majesty of the place, besides the rich land and its domesticated occupants, is the deep river blue modern barn house whose cupola and chicken weathervane tower their watchful eyes over the farmstead. The whole place feels like a dream, which is how it began.
“Heck,” informs Brent with a frank tone, “I spent my summers digging taters and shooting, you know, with my grandfather.” Aiming to pass along a healthy work ethic and appreciation for growing to their children, the Comptons decided to use some cleaned-off property to begin planting. “It was pumpkins the first go around,” says Brent, later adding cantaloupes and watermelons. One row swiftly became twenty-eight, covering close to one hundred yards. The boy quickly took a liking to the outdoors, working the land shirtless like his father, sporting rubber boots and shorts. Soon enough, they had enough yield to sell their pumpkins at the Monroe Farmers’ Market. “Kids loaded the pumpkins, they cut the pumpkins off the vine, they helped me load them in the trailer. They helped customers pick out a pumpkin. They’d tell them all about it,” beams Brent, proud to have taught his children life lessons through the process of growing and selling a product. Around that same time, Lissy’s father fell ill. The unimaginable loss forced them to evaluate what was truly important to them. “We got to thinking a lot harder about healthy living and sustainability and not really being dependent on people and stuff,” says Brent, adding, “I could care less about ever being wealthy. My opinion on being wealthy is teaching my kids how to be independent.” For the Compton family, this meant a departure from the concrete jungle to greener pastures.
The Comptons decided that they needed more property. They started looking at twenty to forty acres, even looking as far as Choudrant. A lot of the prospective acreage was grossly underdeveloped, which dampened their spirits. Even in the midst of second-guessing their resolve, in the back of their minds, they kept coming back to the land that Lissy’s parents owned. Naturally, Lissy’s mother acquiesced. At that point, the Comptons weren’t rushing to act, but then the “damndemic,” as Brent calls it, hit. Being quarantined indoors drove him “up the wall,” so the pair decided that they should go ahead and “freakin rock” their plans. They got in touch with builders, received help from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for a future pond, and jump started a deep water well. “I’ll never tap out of water, you know,” Brent laughs.
n the midst of all that “riff-raff,” the couple started to educate themselves further. “We aren’t interested in the quickest, easiest thing to do. We just want to do what is best for the land. And the name of the game is regenerative farming,” says Lissy. Inspired by the book Dirt to Soil by farmer Gabe Brown, who Brent says is “one of the original gangsters of regenerative farming,” they took a trip to North Dakota to tour Brown’s Ranch. There, they were able to see the difference in soils that had either been tilled or had synthetic fertilizer used on them. “Brent and I are not delusional. We did not grow up in farming families, and we realize we have a lot to learn about everything,” continues Lissy. Already convinced that she wanted to pursue no-till farming, use cover crops and compost, and have the animals use the land “just the way that God intended,” she made sure to keep a consistent quest for knowledge. They hired an advisor out of Texas named Theron Boudreau from Integrated Acres who encouraged Lissy to create a “wishlist” for the property. She listed everything from a growing area, pastures for future livestock, composting area, an orchard, beehive expanse, and a designated flower field. Though the journey has been slow and arduous, Brent reveals that “Everything just kind of kept falling into place.” Some projects may still be pending, like the arrival of livestock, but what they have now is exactly what the family needed. “My kids love it,” says Brent.
By June 26, 2020, they commenced building the metal barn house constructed by Deryle Shipman with Shipman Building Services. Their plan was to build a potentially functional barn that they would live in for one or two years while they planned their “forever home,” says Lissy. For the Comptons, the moving process was also an opportunity to purge distracting clutter. “After living through Corona quarantine, I have the overwhelming desire to live very simply,” she adds. “I don’t want all the excess. And I just want us to be as sustainable as possible.” Lissy sketched the layout of the house herself. The first floor includes the kitchen, living room, barn alleyway, main bedroom, and the youngest child’s bedroom. Meanwhile, the upstairs, a smaller space, consists of attic space and the older kids’ shared bedroom. “I want to make this place as basic as possible and just encourage our kids to run and play outside,” she says.
Walking through the contemporary and elegantly minimalist barn, it’s hard to imagine the crisp white walls ever being occupied by aloof equines, soiled hay, and eager flies. Everything fits the space. The kitchen, though small, makes use of the high, exposed ceiling. Open, wood shelves line the walls displaying art, plants, and only two dish sets. At their previous home, they had substantial cabinet space, and it wasn’t until the move that they realized how much “extra” they had—stuff that had found its way to the back of the cabinets, things they didn’t even like, and superfluous bowls of Tupperware that never got used. Now, extra nicknacks like baseball gloves, flashlights, and hats have their place in seagrass utility baskets placed in a five-shelf shelving unit that also showcases books and a minibar tray. Across from those funky orange shelves is a wood-top kitchen island illuminated by a five-light, Sputnik-looking linear chandelier. The exposed kitchen faces the cozy living room. While sparingly decorated, the area still packs eccentricity thanks to a pair of vintage, burnt-orange floral swivel rocking chairs that belonged to Brent’s great grandmother and an olive-green velvet sofa. Already unique in its spunky interior design, the first floor is made even more exceptional with the barn’s alleyway, marked on each end by garage doors that are usually left open on cooler months. At the moment, it serves as the family’s dining room and hallway. An aged wood table, handmade by Phillip Williams from Oak Ridge, seats eight and functions as the family’s “everything” table. “Look at it, arts and crafts,” says Lissy pointing to some silver glitter glue smudged at an edge. Closer to the first-floor bedrooms is a mahogany piano, adorned at the top with deer antlers, a fur throw, a large, orange abstract painting by Meredith Pardue, and a Crosley Coda Shelf System record player with the record Pancho & Lefty at the ready. “I’ve got old vinyls from my great grandparents,” says Brent, whose music fandom can be witnessed in the form of posters, mounted records, and the conga drums in the couple’s bedroom.
The main bedroom is easily Lissy’s favorite room, principally because of the striking mural she and her daughter Phoebe painted. The color scheme is predominantly purple because her father was a huge LSU fan. Giant purple irises take the stage as bumblebees graze around in shades of lime green, indigo, and turquoise. Adding to the personal touches in the bedroom is an incredibly special piece adorning the bed—a white quilt with a fan pattern made from Lissy’s father’s multi-colored and patterned ties. The couple opted for an open closet as a strategy to keep laundry clutter at bay. “It makes you immediately trim out the fat,” says Lissy, though she admits to storing all her formals at her mother’s just in case her girls ever want to peruse her classic frocks. “Yeah, I couldn’t part with those,” Lissy laughs.
Though photographs will make Compton Farms seem isolated, it’s not quite that unreachable. It walks the line of town and country, and though dream-like, the project from conception to present is only possible because they didn’t just imagine it, they worked for it. Intermingling work and play, the Comptons take advantage of their lifestyle, playing games of catch and throw down the barn alleyway, chasing the free-range chickens out of their kitchen, and waking up to a calming sunrise. A lot was left behind to make farmstead living possible, but as the Comptons note, they have found far better things ahead.
Follow Compton Farms on Facebook and Instagram to learn more about what they grow and upcoming workshops.