AUGUST ON THE FARM
This month’s newsletter is going to be different from our usual where we talk about what we’re doing, or have completed, during the month. In this month’s newsletter I want to take you back to when this all started. I want to tell you what our dreams were and what we wanted our farm to become. I think, once you know the history, you’ll understand more about our farm and what it’s all about. This is more than a family farm, it’s a farm made up of the local community.
It’s hard to believe but Annie and I started farming way back in 1986. Back then we raised a small market garden, had a small 200 head laying flock, and sold our vegetables and eggs at the Walterboro Farmers Market when it was located under an old county shed next door to what is now Tire King. In 1987 we began raising some top hogs that we sold at the Walterboro Stockyards, the Smithfield buying station at Bells Crossroads, a Farm Bureau buying station in St George that bought for Carolina Pride, and feeder pigs that were sold to another farmer to raise to market size and sold to Smithfield. All in all we raised about 800 pigs and hogs annually which may sound like a lot now, but was just a drop in the bucket to what farms raised around here at the time.
Fast forward to 2004, Annie and I started talking about raising organic vegetables here on the farm and opening a market to sell to the local community. We weren’t satisfied with what was available locally so Annie had been driving to West Ashley to Earth Fare to shop weekly. This was a 50 mile one way trip and took around 3 hours or more when you figured in the drive and shopping time. The more we talked, the more we felt Walterboro could use a market that sold organic vegetables, dairy products, and dry goods; in 2005 Annie’s Organic Market was born.
Annie’s Organic Market brought in organic vegetables, dry goods, and dairy products through a large organic grocery distribution company. The market was located in the red metal building near the existing market and has Farm Store painted on the side. Our intent was to buy vegetables from the distributor only until we could get our soils built up and grow our own vegetables which would be sold through the market. We felt that, if successful, we could hire high school kids to work on the farm with us, providing them an educational opportunity and a chance to earn some spending money. We quickly learned, however, that our soils were incapable of sustaining an organic market garden. Our soil is sandy which allows nutrients to quickly leach out past the plants root zone. During this same time frame Keegan-Filion Farm had moved into the pastured broiler and hog market and had begun selling at the Summerville Farmers Market and to local chefs. Though we continued to sell at the market here at the farm, in 2007, Annie’s Organic Market was closed and we stopped bringing in any items from the grocery store distributor. The only thing we would sell at our market was going to be grown here on our farm, a neighbor’s farm, or come from a local food company. If you visit our on-farm market today, you will see that we only sell dairy from Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, pasta and take and bake meals from Rio Bertolini out of Charleston, lamb from G & M Farms (friends that are located about 20 miles from us), chicken and pork raised here on our farm, and beef raised on our farm and a partners farm, we no longer raise or sell any vegetables.
Another goal of ours was to support our local community whenever possible. We knew a strong local economy was beneficial to everyone and looked for ways we could help. Providing jobs for high school kids was only one way that we could achieve this goal and that many more opportunities existed. Over the years we’ve been a venue used by organizations like Low Country Food Bank and Low Country Local First as a place to hold fund raising events. Most of the events were nothing fancy but the Low County Local First event (the first Feast in the Field) held in 2009, was one for the record books. We had 150 people attend a pork and chicken dinner prepared by Chef Mike Latta using our chicken and pork. There was a big tent set up in one of our fields, music provided by a local jazz band, and local wines and beers provided by local wineries and breweries. Just as the sun was setting, the grand niece of Jack Daniels offered a toast to Uncle Jack and we all had a shoot of Single Barrel, the food was then brought out and everyone enjoyed a true feast in the field. The event was held another 10 years or so at other local farms before ending the tradition a few years ago. There were pictures and articles on our event on Google if you’re ever interested. I know FIG had several pictures up on Fliker.com and others that were taken by other people can also be found on Google.
Over the years our desire to help the community when possible grew. We conducted farm tours for local schools and opened the farm for “family days” to provide opportunities for people to learn about what we do and how food can be raised humanely and sustainably. We began working with local food banks and church food pantries to help meet the needs for food in underprivileged households. The more we became associated with the food pantries, the more we learned of what the real need was; it’s both shocking and sad that, even here in the US, we have people that are hungry.
In just the past year we’ve provided over 40 cases of eggs (600 dozen), whole chickens, chicken legs, and pork sausages to the local food pantries and, just this month, decided we would donate 10% of the revenue generated by our home delivery orders, during the month of August, to Charleston Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Title 1 schools, teachers, and students. We estimate that revenues generated from our 2 home delivery weeks in August will allow us to provide Charleston Hope with between $1,000 and $1,200 to use in their efforts. I know it’s a drop in the bucket to what is needed but even a little bit will go a long way.
As much as this newsletter is an opportunity to tell you what we’re doing here on the farm, it’s an opportunity to tell you what we’re doing with some of the revenue generated from your purchases and to say Thank You. You see, without your continual support, your weekly and bi-weekly purchases through home delivery, at the Port Royal market, the market here at the farm, and your membership in our meat share program, none of what we do would be possible. I also don’t want to minimize your support of the local chefs and restaurants that believe in buying from local farms. We need them to be financially healthy just as we do all of our locally owned businesses. Like us, a lot of our restaurant customers strongly believe in giving back to the local community. Several of our local chefs can often be found preparing a dinner for a local charity or group in need. The Low Country is a special place and we are more than proud to be a part of it.
We are privileged to have a customer base that cares as much about the local community as you do. Whenever we have had a “buy 2, donate 1” special, you’ve participated and made it a big success just as you have with this effort to help Charleston Hope. We can’t thank you enough or tell you enough how much we appreciate it or how special each of you are. We know that, as we continue to move through transitioning the farm to Amy and Jesse, the tradition of working to help the community will continue to be an important part of the farm, and the farm, an important part of the community.
We have lots to do in the next several weeks. Starting around the last week in August we will have 5 sows moved into the farrowing house and giving birth, this will be the first time the building has been full since the Covid outbreak began. We have soil samples to take prior to month’s end to get ready for the planting of our winter grazing; yes, winter isn’t too far off. There are still new waterers to set up, repairs and modifications to do to a few chicken houses, along with the daily chores. Oh and we can’t forget the constant need to mow or bush hog. The raised beds have been cleaned out and are getting ready to be planted in fall vegetables. I’m planning on planting a few pole beans, some collards, cabbage, broccoli, maybe some carrots and spinach, and possibly some cauliflower and rutabaga’s. We’re intending to put any extras on the counter in the market for you to help yourself to just as we did with the squash and tomatoes this summer.
The nephews and grand kids will go back to school this week leaving the farm a lot quieter than it has been for the past couple of months, at least for a few hours a day. Hopefully we can do what’s best to keep these kids safe and protect them from the Delta variant that seems intent on getting our kids sick. I’m sure we’ll miss them barging through the door wanting something to eat or drink and will miss the constant viewing of “Bluey” on one of the carton channels.
Thanks again for your support of our farm. We are always open to your questions and comments and look forward to seeing you at the Port Royal market or the market here at the farm. We’d also like to remind you that, when you’re shopping here at the farm, we encourage you to take a walk around, see how the animals are raised, and just enjoy some slow time in the country.
Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse