Farmer Ike Simpson and his wife, Lisa, have created a truly special experience for everyone that comes to visit their farm in Simpsonville, SC. Pulling up to their farm, you are literally pulling right up to their beautiful home that has been around since the 1870s. The land dates back to the original 300 acre farm that can be traced back to the King of England and the founding Harrison family. On a little over an acre of land, Farmer Ike grows some of the juiciest, tastiest, beautificent heirloom tomatoes we have ever eaten!
Farmer Ike started growing tomatoes as hobby after retiring from being a school teacher for 38 years. His wife, Lisa, and his daughters Kristi and Caroline call Ike a Renaissance Man, because he has so many talents and interests. Lisa says he is a “Man’s Man,” playing football at Furman University while in college, then later transitioning to be a high school football coach, while also being a landscaper on the side. He loves plants and growing things, and he and his daughters even used to grow flowers and were florists for a bunch of weddings in the Greenville area. When Ike decides he wants to do something, he truly does his energy and whole heart into it.
Upon arriving at the Simpson house, you will see a sign that touts “Real Tomatoes” and this simple statement is something that we couldn’t agree more with. Not only are the tomatoes naturally grown, without any sprays or chemicals, the relationships that Ike and Lisa have cultivated with their very simple roadside stand are also very real. You will see a table full of beautiful heirlooms and other vegetables with the whole Simpson family ready to greet you. If the family isn’t there, don’t worry the tomatoes still are, you can buy them based on the honors system. It’s pretty incredible! Ike and Lisa’s two daughters and grandchildren get together daily to run the farm and the stand. The young grandchildren not only help with the harvesting, but they also work on honing their math skills while checking customers out at the stand.
Ike and Susan have been selling their tomatoes from their front yard for about 5 years. They love the interactions that they have with the people that come to buy their crops. They continue to do it year after year, they say, for the personal connections they have made. Some of their best friends are those people that have come from all over to visit their farm. There is even a 96-year-old WWII Airman Veteran that drives an hour and a half every other day to visit the stand and buy tomatoes.
In addition to the love and community that overflows at Sterling Fields Farm, Ike has created a very unique specialized tomato farm. He currently has over 600 tomato plants this season that include various types of heirlooms such as the African Queen and Cherokee Purple as well as plump, red slicers known as Better Boys. Ike will buy a few new seeds every year, saying the best come from individuals that he knows throughout the area rather than from magazines. His main source of seeds though, come from his impressive personal, seed bank of tomato seeds that he has saved from previous generations of tomatoes. The seed saving process is a very simple fermentation and drying process that anyone can do in a glass of water. To do this, you put the seeds with the inner tomato guts in a glass and cover them with water. Over the course of a week, bad seeds and unneeded tomato innards will float to the top of the glass. You discard this top layer every couple of days and top off with fresh water. You repeat this process for a week, until you are left with only clean, clear water and seeds on the bottom of the glass. You then dry the seeds out on a paper towel and “Voila!” you have tomato seeds that you can then use to plant next year.
Ike also loves experimenting with creating his own, new varieties of tomatoes by naturally cross-pollinating two different species of tomatoes. He will use a paint brush to do this once the tomato plants start flowering. It was so cool when he showed us all of the seeds he had saved over the years and the differences in the varieties that he had crossed. He says it takes about 5 to 6 generations to create a stable, reliable, new tomato variety. They are all so delicious, ask one of his grandkids, they eat them like apples!
Lisa says that Ike has stacks and stacks of books on tomatoes and is ever growing his knowledge and skills on the best growing practices. He currently uses a very sustainable method watering his tomatoes by creating trenched, graded rows so that no water is wasted and no extra energy is expelled. He also uses only organic fertilizer when needed as well as chicken manure. To help with pest control and disease resistance, he uses a grafting technique where he plants a very hearty tomato plant into the soil and then grafts an heirloom or slicer plant onto that original plant stem. We’re pretty sure Ike is a tomato growing genius!
At the end of every tomato season, Ike will knock down all the dead tomato plants in his cultivation area. He adds any branches, grass clippings, or other natural plant waste that he has on his property and burns everything. This process dates back to farming techniques that have been around for centuries before synthetic chemicals were invented. This scorching technique not only prevents any microbes, fungus, or bacteria from being able to infect and grow in the soil, it also puts beneficial nutrients back into the soil to create a healthy starter soil for his tomato crops the following year. He will plow this soil in the winter to further expose it to the cold air and kill off disease.
We love when we get to see Ike in the summertime when he hand delivers his beautiful tomatoes to SRCG! He wants our customers to know that the best way to store tomatoes is to cover them with a dish towel on your counter out of the sun. This keeps the ethylene gas they give off contained and preserves the flavor of the tomatoes themselves. Keeping them in a sunny windowsill will make them taste bitter because sunlight will convert the sugars in the fruit to starch. Great tip!
Farmer Ike, Susan, and the rest of the Simpson family were all so hospitable when the Swamp Staff came to visit. We could have hung out and chatted with them all day long! We love farmers that not only love what they do, but love the people they are doing it for. Hurry up and come taste the deliciousness of Ike’s tomatoes for yourself while they are still in season!