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June 2012
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The Peery Farm

Story and Photography by Vicki Hunkler

An 1,800-acre farm well-known in the world of agriculture lies in the heart of Hickman County. Because of the Peery family's dedication to conservation and use of precision farming technologies, Springhill Farms won the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award last year.

In 1967, Jerry and Valarie Peery bought their first piece of land together, about 10 years after he began farming on his own. Since 1985, they have been 100 percent no-till on every acre of cropland. The family feels a responsibility to leave the land in better condition than when they began farming it, and they strive to uphold this legacy.

Unless you are a farmer, you may not realize the importance of what the Peerys have accomplished with the land, but we can understand that their farmhouse, built on the original property, is where their lives are centered.

The Peery house is a resting place at the end of the workday. It's the place where grown children and seven grandchildren leave their footprints on a regular basis and where everyone gathers for the holidays.

Regardless of the season, the views of the landscape and wildlife from the house are peaceful, yet stirring. Jerry is the mastermind of the land operation, but Valarie is the creative, "artsy" one who puts her talents to work inside the house.

"Our original home burned in 1982," she explained. "We had an old home that was about 85 years old that we had put our heart and soul into: old beams, old wood, and pieces that meant so much. It was like a death, but God was good: people just gave us so many things after that happened."

Valarie said the fire happened very quickly. "Jerry ran to get the hose and the fire department came, but it was too late. It was considered a total loss."

The Peerys began the rebuilding process immediately and did much of the work themselves. The house is about 5,000 square feet with five bedrooms and a finished basement.

"The beams in the living room came from a man in Oakton, Kentucky. We bought poplar wood for the walls and I whitewashed them. The floors are No. 2 pine and Jerry pegged them. When we were building, the neighbors would stop by and help. Jerry had always helped people and they returned the favor many times over," Valarie recalled.

"I'd always been a collector of antiques and people brought us so many items that we still have. Fortunately, I was also able to restore a few antiques from the fire." An English hall piece came from a sale in Paducah in the 1970s. Hard work on her part restored it to its original condition.

"The ladies desk came from a garage sale in Clinton. The first piece I refinished was the walnut hutch in the dining room," she continued.

A linen chest came from Walker Antiques and another piece from the old Cairo library. "I use a mix of English and local antiques."

A handsome highboy was one of four in the memorable Irvin Cobb Hotel in Paducah. She found the pencil poster bed and lingerie chest at Lamon's Antiques. With her dimpled smile and energetic demeanor, Valarie takes on many projects: she loves collecting, painting and antiquing furniture, and isn't afraid of hard work.

A table from the old courthouse (later Mendel Mehr's Pharmacy) in Clinton cost only $20 at auction. Hickman County residents may remember Dr. Crume. Valarie found an antique chair at his estate sale. She claims she needs to update, but a few new pieces like the side table from Sisters 'n Friends, the painted sideboard from Thomas Furniture, and a cherry corner cupboard add a touch of "new" to the home.

Antiques enhance the warmth already created by the wood beams, pine floors, wood-burning fireplaces, and natural color palette used throughout. Valarie keeps the same natural colors and textures even when decorating for Christmas.

"I store everything for Christmas in a room in the full basement. I don't put my tree away. It stays year-round right where it is now," she mentioned. Soon after Thanksgiving, Valarie begins decorating "with a little help from a talented friend" who helps with the tree and the mantel. Burgundy silk ribbon edged in gold weaves through the greenery on the wide white mantel in the main living room. Gold encrusted pears and pinecones nestle within the evergreens. On each side of an oil painting are two pottery vases of bare twigs extending toward the ceiling.

An ivory urn filled with silk burlap poinsettias edged in metallic gold graces a large antique desk near the stairwell. Carolers with their lips pursed in song and other collectible figures decorate yet another fine antique table - cedar branches and pinecones are tucked below their feet. A large wreath, again in natural subdued colors, hangs above the doorway leading down a hall filled with family photos.

Moving into the open kitchen, it's easy to relax and enjoy the inviting atmosphere. Vanilla Nut Crème is on the label of a large glass cookie jar; Pepper Supreme, olive oils, and orange slices and cinnamon sticks floating in a tall glass container have a special place at the end of the tile topped center island. A host of pots and pans hang from the rack above the island.

The rectangular table and a wide antiqued green cupboard are the focal point at the end of the spacious kitchen. Miniature fruit trees, old pewter goblets and tankards, and oval platters add special interest to the handsome piece. Fruit mixed with burlap ribbon accents the greenery resting atop the scalloped cupboard.

A window seat outfitted with comfortable cushions is where extra guests can join in and have a view of the farm through the paned glass window. Warm fall tones are used on the walls, the valances, and the decorative pillows on the window seat.

An antique basket in the corner holds plum, muted blue and green hydrangeas.

Whether you're having supper on Sunday or Thanksgiving turkey, the kitchen-dining area exudes the spirit of the season and the family who enjoys it. Rich burgundy and ivory accents are used in the more formal dining room nearby.

Moving down the re-salvaged wood staircase to the basement, a more casual setting is decorated with all things natural for the holidays.

"I love the large pine cones on the tree," Valarie said. The tree is trimmed with bronze balls, doves with silver wings, angels, and bows of black and tan houndstooth pattern. The ribbon coordinates with the gift wrapping. The wood burning fireplace is adorned with more large pine cones, bronze, pewter and ivory encrusted balls like those on the Christmas tree. Seven stockings for the grandchildren hang from the mantel where a rocking horse stands below. Paper whites in a pot tied with the same houndstooth ribbon and an antique clock surrounded with greenery add special touches. When the holidays are over and the decorations are put away, Jerry and Valarie Peery's house and land remain rooted in history and family tradition.

The family feels a responsibility to leave the land in better condition than when they began farming it and they strive to uphold this legacy. n

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