Featured #swampfarmer: Bethel Trails Farm

Steve and Michelle Ellis are behind all the healthy and happy livestock at Bethel Trails Farm! Wanting to stay near to family in Greenville and Clinton while also having the freedom to raise any livestock they wanted, Bethel Trails is located in a very serene part of Laurens County.

Steve and Michelle opened the farm in 1999 after realizing that their daughter was getting headaches from the MSG fillers found in a lot of meats sold in conventional grocery stores. They started with just a few egg laying hens and have grown to include over 200 forest foraged pigs of the Tamworth and Berkshire heritage. The farm’s chickens (both meat and egg laying), pigs, cows, turkeys, geese, and a super cool emu named Maybelline have lots of room to move around.

Walking around the farm, you might have ten chickens come clucking and running by. Or, you may have a line of pigs following you to the lake that is located on the 30 acres of forest that they are free to roam around in, duly named “Hog Heaven.” Be careful though, Maybelline the emu has been known to sneak up on you with no consideration for personal space! All of Bethel Trails’ sheep and cows are grass-fed and grass-finished, with the sheep also eating ground cottonseed in the winter.

Bethel Trails Farm’s meat chickens are all pasture-raised and supplemented, when necessary, with a low-GMO, no preservative, no animal bi-product feed that utilizes natural minerals found in kelp and seaweed. All of the egg-laying hens roam the farm wherever they please and have been caught cuddling with piglets most days. The forest-foraged piggies have tons of acorn treats that they can find themselves. The pigs also receive a supplemental feed in the winter months to make sure they are completely nourished and receive the correct amounts of protein to grow happy and healthy!

Bethel Trails Farm approaches all aspects of farming with sustainability in mind and at the core of everything, allowing their animals to be animals and live in a natural and happy setting. Steve and Michelle have been supplying us with pasture-raised chicken, pork, lamb, and eggs since we opened! Five fateful years ago, Steve gave owner Jac a sample of pork chops, and they were the best pork chops Jac had ever tasted in her life! SRCG is proud to have continued their relationship with Bethel Trails Farms for the past five years and we look forward to continuing to bring their great products to consumers for many more years! Stop by the farm on the first Saturday of every month on Bethel’s “Farm Day!”

 

FUN FACTS: Farmer Michelle has purple hair, which is pretty hip, but she might not be the hippest Ellis – her daughter Bailey is owner of Radish Kids, a handmade clothing brand for rad kids! Michelle has one of the kindest hearts we know and is a part time nurse as well, we don’t think she ever sleeps! Farmer Steve can build just about anything from restoring cars, to hardwood floors and the structures that exist on the farm! Also, Steve’s favorite joke at the moment: What do you call a flock of emus in the South? The answer, Emy’alls! Hehe.

 

 

 

Featured #SwampFarmer: Bio-Way Farm

Farmer Chris Sermons! Photo: Jon Hedden

Do you know the Asparagus Man? Who lives on Bio Way? No? Well, that’s probably because Chris Sermons, who started out only farming local asparagus, has since grown Bio-Way Farm into a beautiful landscape of food and natural wildlife.

 

A beautiful, edible landscape. Photo: Chelsea Peeples

The farm is Located in Ware Shoals, SC where Chris utilizes the techniques of permaculture and crop rotation techniques to grow delicious veggies on 4 acres. With sustainability at the forefront of his mind, Chris has focused on maintaining and growing the natural biodiversity of the rest of his land and promoting native plant growth. The land and farm began as a hunting retreat in 1987 with mostly all crops and trees being planted to draw deer into the area. Chris decided to completely turn the direction of the farm in 2004 when he took it over. He wanted to preserve and help the natural landscape as much as possible.

 

Native Plant Starters…Photo: Ashley LaPrade

Permaculture is a very intricate design aspect that works with and preserves natural ecosystems. Using resources and energies sustainably are important factors in this to minimize the impact that a farm, or even small garden, has on the surrounding land. Through crop rotation, cover crop use, and minimal use of water from a creek on the property, Bio-Way Farm eliminates waste of nutrients while also keeping the soil healthy and ready to use for future generations of planting.

 

The start of something yummy! Photo: Jon Hedden

In 2006, the farm became Certified Organic, which is a huge process for a smaller farm to undertake. If he were to ever need to add fertilizer to the fields or spray a fungicide, Chris would use only Certified Organic materials, but chooses to forgo using anything if possible. To clear underbrush, turn over soil, and restore land naturally, Chris has two goats that might look familiar to you…they once belonged to Tanya from Possum Kingdom Kreamery of Goat Yoga fame. We love that our farmers not only work with nature, but with each other as well. It’s a very supportive community!

 

The World’s Tallest Wild Lettuce! Photo: Chelsea Peeples

Chris is so dedicated to preservation, sustainability, and good, clean food that he has taken the means necessary to be a part of the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food is a global organization that has very strict qualifications for it’s participating farmers to be a part of. It challenges people to “slow down” in the current fast-paced system of growth and focuses on monitoring the impacts that easy and quick food commodities have on our health and the environment in which we live. Did you know that we host the Upstate Slow Food Earth Market at SRCG every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month? It’s the only one of its kind in the country and brings all of the vendors to one place for you to conveniently shop!

 

Mushroom logs…Photo: Ashley LaPrade

Chris is constantly tackling new projects to promote biodiversity on his land and awareness to the importance of local food. He does it all himself, with a few extra hands from the people that he hosts from the WOOF program. This brings people from all over the world to his farm to help and to learn. Feeling like you want to check out the farm after reading this? He has an AirBnB cabin on the property that’s calling your name! You’ll be greeted by two of the sweetest pups, Evey and Wilbur, and will want to be best friends with Chris’ stepmom who graciously plays host to all of the travelling farm hands.

 

Photo: Chelsea Peeples

We are so fortunate to have Bio-Way Farm and eco-conscientious Chris as a part of our #swampfarmer family! Try all of yummy cherry tomatoes and lunchbox peppers that Chris is bringing us right now! And you can’t forget about all of the beautiful eggplant that is in season from Bio-Way and that we are using on our Swamp Pizzas.

Featured #SwampFarmer: Whispering Pines Farm

Farmer Debbie and Baby Goat! Photo: Jon Hedden

Farmer Debbie Webster is a recent, wonderful, and compassionate addition to our ever-growing #swampfarmer family. Located in Mauldin, SC, Whispering Pines Farm is a multi-purpose facility that puts community, friendship, and health above all else.  Farmer Debbie took over the stables at Whispering Pines in 1990 and has grown the farm to include over 200 goats and sheep, as well as cattle, chickens, and ducks! Does she ever sleep?!

 

Is this real life? Photo: Julie McGuire

Life’s all about “helping people or nothing,” Debbie told us on our visit and her selflessness and passion astounded us. Debbie has a pretty miraculous story of how and why the farm has grown and evolved over the years. With an extensive background in caring for horses and volunteering in and managing stables, Whispering Pines from 1990 to 2001 was mainly used for these purposes. She has created a safe, calm, and therapeutic space where troubled children and children with disabilities can connect with nature and bond with animals. This intangible way of giving back to the community warmed our hearts so much.

 

I Love Ewe!

Sometimes, unforeseen curve balls get thrown our way and a bad car accident in 2001 left Debbie with a broken neck that would forever change the course of her life. Although the car accident left Debbie with injuries that would prevent her from being able to ride horses, she didn’t lose her want to provide a safe haven for children or for giving back. The fateful introduction of sheep to her farm in 1998, allowed her to pursue a new path for Whispering Pines. A lot of the animals on the farm are ones that Debbie has rescued and nursed back to health. Whispering Pines adopted it’s first sheep when it was left after a live Nativity that occurs at the farm every year. It was a Christmas Miracle! Shortly after this, Debbie discovered that her daughter had sensitivity issues with cow dairy and it seemed so fateful to now have an alternative wooly source!

 

Sleepy Sheep…Photo: Chelsea Peeples

The staff at SRCG got an insider’s look as to why Whispering Pines goat and sheep milk products taste so good. The super cuddly creatures couldn’t wait to have their turn at being scratched behind the ears! With over 25 acres to roam on, Debbi instills pasture rotation procedures so that each flock or herd always has fresh grass to munch on.  To make sure their bellies are full, Deb always make sure to have a ton of fresh alfalfa hay on hand as well. The sheep and goats expend a LOT of energy to produce milk and feed their young so their diets are supplemented with a local feed that is milled in Georgia, when needed.

 

Photo: Chelsea Peeples

Never had sheep’s milk products before? It’s probably because Whispering Pines is the only licensed sheep milk dairy farm in all of SC! There are many health benefits to enjoying dairy products made from sheep milk and they all just happen to be super yummy too. Farmer Debbie informed us that sheep milk has been found to be more easily digested for those with a lactose intolerance. Sheep milk also contains an insane amount of protein in it at over 15g per cup! Have we convinced you to try it yet?! If it’s sweeter taste doesn’t hook you, the higher vitamin and nutrient content most definitely will.

 

One of our owners, Mary, bonding with a babe! Photo: Chelsea Peeples

Whispering Pines makes a bunch of different SC Certified sheep and goat milk products. One of the lesser known ones, to some, is kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink that contains a ton of probiotics to help improve gut health and is high in vitamins and nutrients such as  B12 and calcium. It tastes similar to yogurt and is an awesome addition to smoothies! Debbie also make phenomenal goat and sheep milk cheeses such as manchego, parmesan, feta, and the fresh Ricotta that we currently use on our “Okrah” Winfrey pizza!

 

We left Ashley at the farm

It is so rewarding to be able to support a farm that is doing amazing things for not only the local food movement, but for the community as well! You, too, can meet Farmer Debbie and check out Whispering Pines Farm by attending one of her homesteading classes that she hosts at the farm. We’re warning you though, you might not ever want to leave after you get to cuddle with a lamb!

Featured #SwampFarmer: Sterling Fields Farm

Its a Family Affair!

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!

Such a Beautiful Selection

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.

Only REAL Tomatoes here!

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.  

Look for the White House

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.

Just a Few of the Seeds Ike has Saved

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!

So Beautiful!

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.

Ike explaining the finer tomato things in life

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!

The kiddos are ready to work!

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!

Featured #SwampFarmer: Gentry Farms

Farmer Mike!

Arriving at Gentry Farms in Gray Court and being greeted by the friendly and enthusiastic Farmer Mike Gault, was the equivalent of getting to visit your favorite uncle. We didn’t want to leave, especially after Farmer Mike let us pick and eat fresh blueberries while we got to see his farm! We highly recommend visiting for the pick-your-own experience and getting to meet Mike’s two furry farm hands, Gentry and Lily Beth.

Betsy and her yum yums!

Mike Gault and his wife, Lisa, bought the land that was previously owned by Bill Gentry (the farm’s namesake) in 2009. Both families have solid histories in both Gray Court and Fountain Inn. If you’ve lived in the Upstate for a while, you might recognize what was formally Gentry’s Hardware in downtown Gray Court or visited Gault’s Service Station in Fountain Inn that Mike and his family have run since 1975.

Look at all of those berry bushes

Approaching retirement, Mike knew that he wanted to enjoy life as a farmer, and originally purchased Gentry Farm to raise cattle on. Gentry Farm sat dormant for 8 years before Mike took over, so little to his knowledge the land came with over 10,000 blueberry bushes. On a fateful day, a staff member from the Clemson Agriculture department came across the notice that the land had taken new ownership and called Mike to let him know about the sweet berry deal that he had just acquired! After learning that the blueberry bushes had been around for over 25 years, Farmer Mike says that he just HAD to keep it going. He cleared up the land, inspected the bushes and now has over 3,500 berry bushes that are well over 30 years old and going strong!

Beautiful, Yummy, and Fresh!

The well established, Certified SC Grown blueberry bushes produce some of the sweetest and most beautiful berries that we have ever tasted. Due to the age of the bushes, Farmer Mike has absolutely NO NEED FOR CHEMICALS OR SPRAYS!  His theory is that they have survived this long without tampering, so why would there be a need to change a good thing. The soil at Gentry Farms gets tested regularly by Clemson Extension and he hasn’t had to add fertilizer or any other minerals to the soil in over two years. At this point, he knows by trial and error, by sight and touch when the optimum time for harvest is. It’s pretty impressive!

Fresh Berries and Mike’s trusty sidekick, Gentry!

The blueberries are super fresh when they arrive at SRCG, with the majority of them being picked the morning of delivery. We got to drive around the property with Mike and Gentry and see the beautiful gallons of berries coming straight from the field to the shed where the moisture from them is dried using screens and fans. No high tech machinery needed when you have such a beautiful product to begin with!

We got to tour in style!

Farmer Mike has such a big heart and we hope that you get to meet him some day, he never meets a stranger and you will immediately feel like his best friend. He puts so much love and positivity into his business and says that Gentry Farms exists for the people and the community. He also raises cattle and has over 60 right now, but says he will never be able to bring himself to eat them because they are “his girls.” Can he turn our hearts to mush anymore?!

We are so lucky to have so many farmers in this area that are truly passionate about farming and community. Farmer Mike is a gem and someone that we get excited to see every time he delivers his delicious berries! Come fill your bellies on berries!

 

**FUN FACT** People not only visit Gentry Farms for the blueberries, but for a dose of history as well. As we were driving around the property he pointed out a graveyard that dates back to the American Revolution that people from all over the country come to visit that are the ancestors of Martin Dial. So cool!