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In hog heaven with the Sentelles

Sometime in the middle of the 19th century, Minnie Sentelle’s great-great-grandfather left his native Missouri to build a new life homesteading in present-day Greene County. 
His name was William Roscoe, but everyone called him “Tanner Bill,” and his hard work carving out a life on that farm began a legacy, unbroken so far, that has kept the land in his descendants’ hands and continuously farmed for more than 100 years. 
“Up in the house, there’s an old picture of him on a mule with his two six-shooters,” said Minnie Sentelle’s husband, Jimmy. 
That image reminds the Sentelles of the rich history behind them as they take their turn and take on the challenge of farming full time, raising hogs for their new business, Sentelle’s Homemade Sausage Co.
“We’ve always raised a few hogs,” Minnie said. “Then Jimmy retired from GE a few years ago, and that’s when we turned it into a real business.” 
The company was officially established in November 2010. 
 The Sentelles are constantly busy. At times they have had as many as 44 hogs on the farm — currently they have 22.
“There’s been a time or two I’ve thought, ‘Maybe I ought to go back to GE,’” Jimmy said with a laugh. “But to spend the time on raising something that I know everything that goes into it — that’s worth doing.”
Minnie, too, dedicates long hours to the farm in addition to her full-time job as cafeteria manager at Hal Henard School in Greene County.
The Sentelles run the business with help from their son John, a full-time manager at Lowe’s, and his wife, Cassie. Their daughter Ann also pitches in as much as possible despite a brain injury nine years ago that affected her eyesight and compromised the function of one hand.     
Minnie and Jimmy hope the skills they are cultivating with their children will help the family farm continue to thrive in future generations, just as they depend on skills learned from Minnie’s parents.
“Not a lot of people know how to really cure hams,” Jimmy said. “[Minnie’s] dad’s recipe is so good. Any country ham is going to have a bite of salt to it, but his recipe isn’t nearly as salty, and it’s much better.”
The Sentelles use a traditional method of curing meat, which can only be done over the winter months when cold temperatures allow the curing salts to take effect faster than the meat would otherwise spoil.
That means, they explained, that when the quantity they produce in a given winter is gone, they must wait until the next winter to make more.
The farm’s overall production is also on a smaller scale than many others because the Sentelles stock Berkshire hogs, a heritage breed that grows slower than most. 
“That’s why commercial growers don’t like it,” Jimmy said. But the quality, he said, is superior. “Last year our pork was served at Jonesborough’s Farm to Table dinner, and the chef was thrilled to be able to find Berkshire pork locally.”
According to Minnie, the Sentelles are “really picky” about their product. “We don’t use nitrates or preservatives, and out of every batch, we fry up a piece to taste test before we sell it,” she said. “We want to make sure our products are the best they can be.” 
The family’s dedication to their farm comes not just from the legacy they are continuing, but also the personal satisfaction of working their own land and seeing the tangible results.
“We always hoped to do this,” Minnie said. “This is our adventure.”
You can find the Sentelles on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Contact the Sentelles at [email protected] or 329-1306.