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!

Grilled Corn with Herb Butter

Does the thought of lighting your oven make you want to pull your hair out/scream/cry/ move to Alaska? Us too. It’s approximately 1 million degrees outside, so we’re grilling whatever we can whenever we can. Tomatoes? Yup. Peaches? You betcha. Corn? Forever and always. Especially when it’s local, no-spray Silver Queen corn. Sweet, smokey and slathered with herb butter, this grilled corn recipe is one of our favorites. And it’s so easy! Promise you’ll never boil your poor little cobs into oblivion ever again.

Herb butter:

1/2 cup (4oz) Happy Cow Creamery butter

1 cup Tyger River herbs packed (such as basil, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon)

1 garlic clove

the zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp lemon juice

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper

Pulse ingredients in a food processor until herbs and garlic are chopped and butter is creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Grilled Corn:

4-5 Ears Silver Queen corn with husks still on. (Thicketty Mountain Farms)

Prepare your grill for medium-medium high heat. Grill corn without shucking or soaking for 25-30 minutes, rotating corn every 10 minutes. Your husks will blacken; they’re supposed to! Shuck your corn and slather with 1 tablespoon of herb butter.

Herb butter will keep tightly covered and refrigerated for 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

 

Easiest Berry Cobbler

Summer in the south means you get to eat all the cobbler. All of it. We’re taking advantage of the seasonal fruits and berries and doing it right: with lots of butter and a little bit of cinnamon. This recipe is almost too easy and can be adapted to yield a variety of tasty cobblers. Swap out the berries for peaches and raspberries, use brown sugar instead of white, leave out the cinnamon or add toasted pecans to the topping. Really, the sky’s the limit. Here’s what you need:

If you prefer more fruit to topping, cut the topping recipe in half.

4 cups fresh, local black or blueberries (Abbott and Gentry Farms)

1 tbs lemon juice

2 local eggs (Putney Farm)

1 1/2 cups sugar plus 1 tablespoon

2 cups Carolina Ground whole wheat flour

4 1/2 ounces Happy Cow butter, melted

3/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Put your fruit in an 8-inch baking dish and gently toss with the lemon juice and 1tbs sugar. Using your hands or a fork, stir together eggs, sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large bowl until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pile topping over fruit and drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly. Serve warm or at room temp with whipped Atlanta Fresh heavy cream or Jeni’s vanilla ice cream.

Tomato Pie

Tomatoes are in season, and we’ve got more than we know what to do with. There’s only one solution: tomato pie. We’re filling it with local tomatoes, corn and cheddar because that’s what you do when you live in the south. Make it once, and you’ll be hooked. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you. 

Here’s what you need:

1 Swamp Bakery pie crust (leave refrigerated until ready to use)

1/3 cup Swamp Kitchen mayonnaise mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 3/4 pounds heirloom tomatoes (we’ve got local ones from JBo, Sandy Flat and Tryon Mountain!)
1 1/2 cups Silver Queen corn from Thicketty Mountain (from about 3 ears), divided in half
2 tablespoons finely chopped Tyger River basil or dill, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives, divided
1 3/4 cups coarsely grated Ashe County cheddar, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

First things first: peel your tomatoes. Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to an ice bath. Peel the tomatoes with your hands, then slice crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Using a spoon, remove the seeds then layer your tomato slices on a paper towel, sprinkle with salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Blot with a paper towel to remove excess juices. Arrange half the tomatoes in the pie shell (overlapping) and sprinkle with half the corn, one tablespoon dill or basil, 1/2 tablespoon chives, generous pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and one cup of the grated cheese. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil/dill, chives, salt, and pepper. Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the filling and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is bubbly and cheese is slightly brown.

*keep an eye on your pie! If the crust is browning too quickly cover the rim with foil.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen originally from Gourmet Magazine 2009